How do you tell a $50-million-per-hour story on a $2-million-per-hour budget? That was the challenge that producer Catherine Winder faced when Star Wars creator George Lucas told her that his latest project, an animated TV series for the Cartoon Network, was going to debut as a feature film.
“I was a little nervous because it was enough to [have to] produce a television series of this sophistication and complexity and set up a brand new studio at the same time,” Winder told the Georgia Straight in a telephone interview from Marin County, California.
“And then to have to insert, in the midst of that, a feature film that needed to finish in advance of the television series—it was just a minor challenge.”
Star Wars: The Clone Wars debuted in theatres on August 15. Set between episodes two and three of the chronologically challenged Star Wars feature-film saga, The Clone Wars takes the series into a world of animation where no stone need be left unturned. In the movie alone, new heroes and villains are introduced and Jabba the Hutt’s family is explored.
Winder said she regarded the challenge that Lucas gave her as an opportunity. “We needed to do something fantastic in a constrained way,” she said. “I actually think that it was great to start with the feature film on television because the crew was already working at a certain pace and used to that.”
Budgetary constraints forced The Clone Wars team to think outside the box, Winder continued. “I absolutely believe it worked to our advantage.”
The Clone Wars marks the first animated Star Wars feature film and Lucas hasn’t been shy to note that he wanted to do something original with computer-generated imagery.
“We set out with the goal of creating a look that no one had ever seen before,” Winder said. “So we were drawing from all different facets to come up with this.”
Influences were diverse and ranged from 1965’s Thunderbirds television series—which was shot using rudimentary marionettes—to cutting-edge Japanese anime and manga.
Winder, a native of Toronto who started in the film industry in Asia, said that her animation background fit perfectly with the artistic style that Lucas and director Dave Filoni were looking for.
“I left Canada around 20 years ago to travel around the world, ended up in Japan, and started in animation over there,” Winder said. “It was excellent because it gave me this expertise really early on in my career that allowed me to move into the States.”
In addition to drawing on international influences, Lucas’s decision to create the animated film and series like a live-action production sets The Clone Wars apart from traditional CGI films.
“We wrote it from a live-action perspective [and] shot it that way,” Winder said. That meant using long camera shots, aggressive lighting techniques, and relying on editing instead of storyboards.
From the style of animation to the new characters and environments that the film introduces, The Clone Wars embarks on a new direction for the Star Wars universe.