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So I've been using Livejournal since it first came to be, but I haven't been here much lately since my Twitter is my lazy substitute for blogging.

But IMDB refuses to list my Twitter account on my IMDB Profile Page unless I also list a blog RSS feed link to go with it. I have a very hard time believing that all the actors that have IMDB pages also link to their blogs, but whatevs.

I'm not sure I'll be blogging here much since most of my fellow bloggers blog on their own web pages, or on their company's community areas, or Facebook, or pretty much EVERYWHERE but poor old Livejournal. But I promise to pop in here everyone once in awhile to dust out the cobwebs and say hello.

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By Bonnie Burton

To celebrate the holiday season, here’s a handy guide on how to make festive Santa (and elf) hats for your favorite action figures, statues and toys... oh yeah, and taxidermy!

What You Need:

1. Red and Green felt
2. Red and Green construction paper
3. Red and Green ribbon
4. Cotton
5. Craft glue
6. Needle and thread
7. Paperclips
8. Stapler
9. Scissors
10. Tape
11. Adult-sized Santa hat

Instructions:



1. Cut small circles of different sizes (to fit various heads of your toys/statues/taxidermy) from construction paper. These will serves as your guides to cut circles out of your felt, ribbon, fabric and other materials.



2. Take one of the circles and roll into a cone shape. Paperclip the edges together in case you need to reshape the fabric before you glue or sew.



3. Place the cone hat on top of different toys to see which one it fits. If you need to resize it, take off the paperclip and roll the cone again until you get the size you want.



4. Once you have the cone hat the size you want, use craft glue along the edges you want to seal. Keep the paper clip on so it can stay in position as it dries. If you want a fancier hat (especially if you’re using felt) sew the edges together instead of using craft glue.



5. To make the trim and ball for the hat, roll the cotton into little puffy balls and strips.



6. Next, glue the strips along the bottom and put a tiny cotton ball on top. Use your real Santa hat as a guide. Or just wear the hat as you make little ones.



7. Good job, you’ve just made your first Santa hat! Happy Holidays!

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Star Wars Holiday Advent Calendar



By Bonnie Burton

Counting down to the holidays can be fun, especially when you make this Star Wars Advent Calendar. You never know who will be peaking behind the door each day! Will it be a C-3PO reindeer? Or maybe Yoda baking cookies? Create this one-of-a-kind funny calendar for December using old Christmas cards and Star Wars Insider magazine cut-outs and print outs!

What You Need:


  • Star Wars Insider magazine & print-outs
  • White cardboard
  • Glue
  • Scissors
  • Old holiday cards and gift wrap scraps
  • Printout of numbers 1-31
  • Clear tape


Instructions:





1. Cut out the heads of your favorite Star Wars characters from old Star Wars Insider magazines and printouts. You’ll need 31 heads (one for each day of December).



2. Be sure to also cut out letters too so you can spell out “Advent Calendar” if you want.



3. Cut out images of Santa, elves, tree decorators, snowmen, reindeer and other holiday characters from old Christmas cards and gift wrap scraps. Match up Star Wars heads with different holiday cut outs and glue them on to create funny scenes.



4. See how many different kinds of scenes you can make with all the different Star Wars character heads. It may be easier to group characters together like the reindeer in this picture.



5. Place all your new cut-out scenes on a big piece of white cardboard to see where you want them to go on the calendar, then paste them down with glue.



6. Printout numbers 1-31 on a piece of paper (or handwrite them) then cut out all the numbers. These will be the “doors” on your calendar. Tape them over each of your character’s faces in a way that you can easily lift up the paper to see who’s hiding behind it. Add white glitter to the calendar to give it a sparkle-snow effect.



Make advent calendars for other holidays and your birthday too! Be creative!




Be sure to check out more geektastic holiday crafts in The Star Wars Craft Book by Bonnie Burton published by Random House.

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By Bonnie Burton

Why bother with the beaches of Maui or strolling through the alleys of Venice when you could be on your way to a leisurely vacation on the Moon of Endor? With the latest comforts of modern technology, a galaxy far, far away is not so far after all. Simply pack your bags and head to Disneyland, Disney-MGM Studios, Disneyland Paris or Tokyo Disneyland, where you can then hop aboard the StarSpeeder 3000 for an adventure you won’t soon forget. Welcome to Star Tours.

In California, at the entrance to Disneyland’s Tomorrowland Spaceport, familiar old Star Wars friends C-3PO and R2-D2 welcome Star Tourists in a sleek, futuristic maintenance hangar as they wait for their turn to board the 40-passenger StarSpeeder 3000. As R2-D2 works diligently to repair a battle-scarred StarSpeeder, and other droids go about their business, guests hear a sales pitch for the latest intergalactic travel packages to not only Endor, but also Hoth. A speaker announces, “An addition of non-stop service to Hoth will begin soon. Ski caverns and the famed Echo Base of the Rebellion Forces. All on Hoth, the galaxy’s greatest ice planet.”

The drone of droid banter can be heard as guests turn the corner to the Droidnostic Center. Unaware that his comlink is still on, one of the G2 droids - who should be repairing a navigator - casually mentions that he would never get into a StarSpeeder 3000. The high-tech “nuts-and-bolts” factory is complete with girders, work lights, conveyor belt and liquid crystal wall displays.

Before long the guests enter the loading concourse and face the doors of the StarSpeeder and are asked to sit, stow their carry-on luggage under their seats and fasten their seat belts.

The action in Star Tours is virtually out-of-control from the moment the flight’s rookie pilot RX-24, or “Rex” for short, takes his seat. This is Rex’s first flight, and it soon becomes glaringly apparent that on Flight ST-45, passengers will experience a haphazard adventure filled with a dangerous jaunt through an asteroid field, a head-on battle with a massive Imperial Star Destroyer and other detours that involve dodging laser blasts and endless brushes with disaster. Just when passengers have a time to catch their breath, the StarSpeeder dives into the trenches of the Death Star to make that fateful hole-in-one.

Once the StarSpeeder is safely away from the action, it touches down, skidding into the landing bay. As guests leave the ship, C-3PO -- oblivious of the harrowing experience -- cheerfully says his goodbye, “We do hope you enjoyed your tour to Endor, and will come back soon…”



Bringing the Star Wars mythology to Disney parks was no small feat. Walt Disney Imagineering (WDI) and Lucasfilm discussed bringing a Star Wars attraction to the Disney parks for about six years before Star Tours opened.

The Tomorrowland attraction that would evolve into Star Tours began in early 1985, when George Lucas and key Disney managers met to discuss the possibility of collaborating on a new attraction at Disneyland. Soon, ideas were flying between the Lucasfilm headquarters in Marin County and WDI in Glendale, Calif.

VP of Walt Disney Imagineering Tony Baxter was a WDI concept designer during the initial talks between Lucasfilm and Disney, and also functioned as George Lucas’ co-director on Star Tours.

“George Lucas had captured the popular myth for the generation that grew up in the late ‘70s into the mid-‘80s, of Star Wars and Indiana Jones,” Baxter explains. “And Disneyland had always been the repository of whatever was guiding America with the strongest force. He understood the kind of mythology that touches people’s hearts, much like Walt Disney has done for generations of children. So, we went to management and said, ‘What do you think about developing a deal with George Lucas?’ and they supported us.

“When we first talked with George about doing Star Tours, I think he realized he wasn’t ready yet to do the prequels and that this was a very strong way to keep the Star Wars myth open and alive for the time that was going to elapse before he got serious about doing the next series of movies,” Baxter adds.

Lucas, who the media often nicknamed the "new Walt Disney," has been a fan of Disneyland since he first visited the theme park as a child with his family when it opened in 1955.

“I’ve always had an interest in doing something at the Park. I’ve enjoyed my visits to Disneyland,” Lucas said when the Star Tours attraction first opened at Disneyland in 1987. “The prospect of introducing the Star Wars characters at Disneyland just fascinated me.”

The first collaboration between Disney and George Lucas was the 3-D space-fantasy featurette Captain EO starring Michael Jackson, and directed by Francis Ford Coppola. At the same time, Lucas also began working with a team from Industrial Light & Magic, as well as Baxter and various Disney Imagineers, on the new Star Wars attraction. The new Star Wars attraction would combine new ride technology with specially shot film footage.


“Star Tours evolved from the first presentation we gave to George of a possible ride that was a little more complicated than our average attraction -- you could go every which way and choose the direction,” Baxter recalls. “George said, ‘Well that's great, but what can we do to get something going right now?’ So we looked around and found this fantastic device that was being used at the Air Force and the government to simulate
excursions into space. We thought it was a natural fit. We combined the space of fantasy that George had created with real world technology, and we ended up with an attraction that would give the general public a brand new experience.”

Making sure that the excitement of Star Wars more than just a visual and aural experience also proved appealing to Lucas. Star Tours would provide the first opportunity for Star Wars fans to actually experience such thrilling physical sensations as rocketing into hyperspace and blasting into a battle between Imperial TIE fighters and Rebel X-wings.

Star Tours was conceived as the first motion-based application where guests were put into a simulator in a theme park. Up until that time, simulators had been used solely by the airline industry to train pilots, and by the government to train Air Force pilots. (WDI explored the use of flight simulators as early as the 1970s, when it initially researched various technologies for Epcot in Florida.

“When CEO Michael Eisner and former Disney President Frank Wells came over to Disney, the first thing they saw was our proposal for Star Tours and they loved it,” Baxter says. “They put it into production right away and we cemented the relationship that not only developed Star Tours, but also the Indiana Jones rides, as the technology allowed us to do that.”

In 1985, Baxter and WDI show producer Tom Fitzgerald joined Lucas and a small group of Industrial Light & Magic designers at a story session at ILM’s Northern California headquarters.

“George had an interesting idea,” says Baxter. “There’s a public preconception that a Disney attraction is completely safe – because it’s true. But George thought it might be a nice twist to interject an element of ‘danger.’ He came up with the idea for the opening fiasco – the hitches are contrary to what one expects from a Disney attraction. You think you’re going to Endor, but the real tour turns out to be something quite different!

“Tony and I spent the following night holed up in our Sausalito hotel room pinning file cards on the wall to indicate story elements, special effects, and simulator motions,” Fitzgerald adds. “We were envisioning Star Tours not just as a film experience, but as a fantasy-adventure synchronized film, with simulated motion and terrific special effects.” By the next morning, they had the first draft of a concept for Star Tours.

“We were determined to combine a strong story line with a thrill ride, a hard thing to pull off,” Fitzgerald continues. “We also wanted to introduce at least one new character.”


Lucas came up with the idea of a pilot, who turned out to be Rex, the rookie pilot. Rex began as a “cosmic bus driver,” a counterpart, perhaps, to the wisecracking Jungle Cruise guides at Disneyland.

“We had to be selective when it came to deciding what fast curves to throw people,” Baxter says. “The attraction’s speed makes it a showcase of impressions rather than details. You don’t fly by the ice crystal in Star Tours; you go through it. You don’t have a nice smooth landing; you crash. As it turns out, you enjoy a story and a thrill ride, all contrary to the usual Disney experience.”

All of the original ideas behind the film would have taken 20 minutes, but it was up to Baxter and Fitzgerald to boil the adventure down to a swift 4 _ minutes.

“George had a catalytic effect on the project all along the way,” Baxter continues. “He was perceptive about our creative strengths, and helped us to reverse the tried and true by giving people what they don’t expect. It worked.”

By the end of the summer, all had agreed on the concept to be developed for the Tomorrowland attraction. Star Tours would feature scenic tours of the universe aboard the StarSpeeder 3000, operated by the first intergalactic tour “bus” company. R2-D2 and C-3PO would be part of the package, having resigned from military service to find new lives as Star Tours recruiters.

Lucas continued to work closely with the Disney Imagineers at the Glendale-based facility, proving instrumental as development of the attraction progressed. Industrial Light & Magic, under the direction of Dave Carson, went to work on the film, which resulted in the longest special effects sequence in film history. Skywalker Sound (then known as Sprocket Systems) undertook the soundtrack with Sound Designer Gary Summers at the helm.

Meanwhile, Imagineers took over the design and production of the Star Tours robotic factory, the StarSpeeder 3000, and the high-tech Audio-Animatronic droids that populate the enterprise.

Baxter and Fitzgerald travelled to the Lucasfilm Archives to uncover actual props used in the Star Wars trilogy. R2-D2, C-3PO, Chewbacca, and even pieces of the Death Star were sent to Walt Disney Imagineering to be refurbished and incorporated into Star Tours.

Disney’s Glendale facility buzzed with the sounds of people building the StarSpeeder 3000 as well as new animatronic droids and a couple of familiar ones as well.
Dave Feiten, former Disney Audio-Animatronics Programmer for Star Tours, was one of those hard at work to make the droids seem lifelike for the attraction.

“C-3PO was probably the longest-running animated figure we've ever done,” Feiten says. “Compared to a pirate, which is about 90 feet of animation, or Mr. Lincoln which is 40 feet, C-3PO is actually 900 feet of animation, with 22 moves inside of him.”

Anthony Daniels flew in from England to demonstrate C-3PO’s distinctive motions and to record his dialogue on the soundtrack. Daniels says he was dumbfounded at the realistic motions of C-3PO in Audio-Animatronic form. While other Audio-Animatronic characters at Disney duplicate living beings, this adaptation of C-3PO made him seem more real, even for a droid.

“Anthony Daniels posed for the programming on C-3PO, which gives the attraction a very authentic feeling,” Baxter says. “When you walk in there and hear those sounds and see these characters, it keeps the feelings towards the films vital and fresh.”

One of the StarSpeeders was mocked up for testing, full-size and operational, inside a metal building in the Imagineering parking lot. After ILM delivered a film animatic, showing the proposed action for each scene in a simple computer graphic format, WDI programmers went to work.

Watching the film on a video monitor, they used joysticks to synchronize the movements of the simulator motion base with the point-of-view actions on screen. This meant that if the onboard movie suggested the StarSpeeder was taking a sharp turn, the entire simulator would be tipped on its side. Speeding up towards the Death Star meant tipping the simulator backwards. And any sudden stops had the simulator tipping forward, making all passengers ever aware of their safety belts.

Many swaying movements were later eliminated by programers so that the motion sickness associated with roller coasters would be missing from the Star Tours attraction without sacrificing any of the excitement.

In June 1986, a group of 2,000 Disney employees and their families previewed a rough version of Star Tours.

“The response was phenomenal, “ says Fitzgerald. “It gave everyone involved the necessary blast-off toward opening day.”

Star Tours brought Tomorrowland well into the 21st century. “When Disneyland opened in 1955, Walt Disney set Tomorrowland in the near future – in 1986 to be exact,” Baxter explains. “The ‘futuristic’ technology portrayed in the original Tomorrowland was really current technology, available at the time. In Star Tours, we were looking at a techno-fantasy, a vision of technology that isn’t available today, and won’t be for perhaps another century.”

With a combination of new simulator ride technology and the popular mythos of Star Wars, it was no surprise that Star Tours became an instant hit with Disneyland visitors.

The Star Tours attraction at Disneyland (which remained open 48 hours straight after its premiere on opening day) was a huge hit with both Star Wars fanatics and people who wanted to see a revolutionary ride at Disneyland.

“We were open 48 hours because, in a way, we were opening up another Star Wars movie that was playing on only one theater in the world – at Disneyland,” Baxter recalls.

The Star Tours project not only made dreams of visiting the Star Wars galaxy into a reality for fans, but it also had a profound affect on the WDI team as well.

“What I dreamed of having with Walt Disney, I guess I got some of that with George because we talked a lot about the things he created,” Baxter confesses. “In Walt’s case, he was long gone and we often had to discuss in terms of, ‘Would Walt want to have his characters used in a certain way?’ So it was a unique to have such extraordinary characters and to be able to talk with the creator himself about how they might appear in a new form. That was a unique experience I have not had since.”

Today Star Tours is not only thriving as one of the most popular attractions at Disneyland, but also at Disney-MGM Studios in Florida, Disneyland Paris and Tokyo Disneyland.

“Fans come to the attractions with these expectations from the theater and I think we live up to that,” Baxter says. “We actually allow our guests for a few minutes to have an out-of-control adventure, and we survive. It’s all about survival; people go on roller coasters and all of these experiences because they want to test the limits in a safe way and feel better about themselves at the end in that they actually survived some perilous adventure.”

###

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By Bonnie Burton

During this holiday season, eat your meals in style with these fancy felt napkin rings of your favorite Star Wars characters! These napkin rings are easy to make and fun to use for any meal worthy of Jabba the Hutt.

What You Need:

Velcro circles
Scissors
Craft glue
Small googly eyes
Black, beige, gray, red, dark green, light green, brown and purple felt squares

How to Make Star Wars Napkin Rings:



1. Cut rectangles 2 inches wide and 7 1/2 inches long from the felt. This will be the body of your napkin ring.



2. Cut out a slug-like shape from the dark green felt and the exact shape but smaller from the beige felt. Glue googly eyes and a thin line of black felt for the mouth on the beige felt piece, then glue that on the green piece. Now you have Jabba the Hutt!



3. For Yoda cut a circle and two small triangles from the light green felt for his face and ears. Glue on googly eyes, a small green felt square for a nose and a small red triangle for a mouth. Yay for Yoda!



4. Cut out felt squares, 1 1/2 inches wide and 2 1/2 inches long, in different colors. Glue your characters on different squares. Then glue each character square on the left end of your long felt rectangle strips.



5. Repeat step 4 with different characters if you want to make a whole set of napkin rings. We made Jabba the Hutt, Admiral Ackbar and Yoda. Use other shapes of felt and experiment with making other Star Wars characters like R2-D2, Princess Leia, Ahoska Tano, C-3PO, Anakin Skywalker, Plo Koon and more!



6. Glue a Velcro dot at the end of your rectangle strip. (Most Velcro dots are self-adhesive so you may not have to actually glue it to your felt.) This will fasten your napkin ring to the other end of the felt when you wrap it around a napkin!



7. Now wrap your ring around a napkin and secure it to the Velcro dot to make a ring. Place next to your silverware at your next celebration dinner. Time to eat in Star Wars style!

Be sure to discover more fun crafts in The Star Wars Craft Book.

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words: Bonnie Burton

March 2012 marked the sad passing of conceptual artist Ralph McQuarrie. The legendary conceptual artist not only inspired filmmaker George Lucas making Star Wars possible, but also other future directors, actors, screenwriters and more, not to mention millions of fans worldwide. I asked some of my favorite celebrity Star Wars fans what McQuarrie meant to them, as well as gathered the best celebs tweets that celebrated this one-of-a-kind artist.

Read more about Ralph McQuarrie and his work on RalphMcQuarrie.com.

_____________________________________

Star Wars Prequels Producer Rick McCallum writes:
Ralph was the very first person I went to when we started prep on The Phantom Menace. When Ralph came to visit at the Ranch, he told me he just didn’t feel strong enough to take charge of the picture, but I felt sure I could convince him to change his mind. George and I were willing to work in any way that would make it possible for him to be part of the creation of the new trilogy. We had a great few days going over everything and finally when he told me he simply couldn’t take on the challenge because of his health, we took him into our conference room.

I showed him artwork from young artists from schools and visual effects companies throughout the world. We must have had at least 35 seriously talented artists work positioned throughout this big room. He walked around in total silence for nearly three hours, meticulously looking at everyone’s work and then he gathered Eric Tiemens, Ryan Church and Doug Chaing’s work and put them all together — then he sat down and looked at their work for what seemed like another hour and then suddenly he pointed at Doug Chaing’s samples and he exclaimed with urgency and a huge smile, “Yes, he’s the one!” And that’s how we hired Doug to become the Concept Designer on Episode I. And on Episode II and III, Ryan and Eric became the concept designers!

Ralph was a constant source of inspiration. We always had his art work hanging all over the art departments in the hallways and offices in London, Sydney and at Skywalker Ranch. There was never a single moment that I can remember not seeing someone looking, staring, or studying the beautiful and stirring images that Ralph created.

He was kind and decent — a consummate gentleman with a unique and beautiful perspective on our own world and those beyond. He will be sorely missed from our hearts but never ever forgotten.



The Clone Wars Supervising Director Dave Filoni writes:
Ralph set the standard for design in cinema. An entire generation of artists was inspired by his work. We all wanted to be Ralph. We wanted that job — designing starships and Stormtroopers, Jedi and Sith.

Every day on The Clone Wars we aspire to be like Ralph, to capture the magic that he gave all of us as kids. One of our most memorable days at Lucasfilm Animation was when Ralph came to visit, and we screened episodes for him. We wanted to show Ralph that his “look,” his vision for design, was alive and well on our show, and that we had respectfully studied his craft to make our Star Wars universe much like his.

We still use Ralph’s designs as inspiration, many of which have never appeared on screen before. Rakko Hardeen’s helmet was one of Ralph’s early Boba Fett helmet designs. There are countless examples of his influence on our show every week.

My wife asked me what Ralph meant to me, and I think I can sum it up in a way that many of my fellow artists feel. Without Ralph McQuarrie, I would not have the job I have today. I never would have considered it. I would not be half the artist I am, without his influence on my childhood. Thanks for everything Ralph. You will be missed, but you will live on in that galaxy far, far away.”



“To the world beyond the galaxy far, far away, Ralph McQuarrie was perhaps an unsung hero of the Star Wars universe but to the fans he was the intelligent design behind so many wonderful worlds. He was a visionary and an artist of the deepest imagination. Our universe is poorer without him.” – Simon Pegg, actor

Sad news. It sounds almost too cliche, but what he did with his bare hands and his tools of paint brushes and pencils not only influenced a young filmmaker in George Lucas, but an entire generation future filmmakers born after ‘77. It cannot and should not be underestimated.” – Colin Hanks, actor

“Thank you, Ralph, for creating a universe of adventure that has held a steadfast section of my brain from the first time my dad took me to see Star Wars, all the way through to today. You are a genius and a hero. The world is a lot less cool without you in it. May the force be with you.” – Mark Hoppus, Blink-182 singer/bassist

“The first images of Star Wars that I ever saw, were the pre-production paintings of Ralph McQuarrie. His artwork imagined a serious, mysterious, vast and completely new vision of a science fiction universe. Very much at odds with the too often silly, campy, or cold visions I was accustomed to seeing. In short, they blew my 12-year-old mind wide open.” – Hal Hickel, Animation Director Rango

“Star Wars would definitely not be what it is artistically and visually without the influence of Ralph McQuarrie. His magic and legacy will live on, just like the Star Wars saga and many of the other special films that have been blessed with his talents. He will be missed.” – Matt Lanter, actor The Clone Wars, 90210

“Ralph McQuarrie made science fiction feel like a reality we could live in. I will always cherish my Art of Star Wars books because they are filled with his brilliant illustrations. He will be missed.” – mc chris, rapper



“I was lucky enough to see Ralph’s concept art in the flesh within the archives of Skywalker Ranch. I was stunned by how vivid and luminous the images were. It was as if they were back lit with LED’s. Like a frame of Ralph’s imagination had been captured through alchemical means and preserved for the reverence and study of his disciples. For me, Ralph’s visions defined what SF should look like.” – Jesse Alexander, TV writer/producer

“Without a doubt, Ralph McQuarrie was a landmark definition of how we visually associate most sci-fi today. Star Wars alone would not have looked half as original, mind-blowing, or have even existed without his limitless imagination and creativity shaping the most important aspects of the original trilogy. He set precedence, changed the game and will be sorely missed.” – Joe Trohman, Fall Out Boy guitarist

“A truly gifted spark of creativity has just winked out of existence, which makes me sad… but at the same time, Ralph McQuarrie is a reminder to all visual artists, that we can shape amazing worlds and characters, with nothing but our minds and a little imagination. His work is an absolute testament to that.” – Ben Templesmith, comic book artist/writer

“A few years ago, I had the honor of touring the Lucasfilm archives. The highlight of that trip was seeing Ralph McQuarrie’s original concept art. To personally view these seminal works was as life-affirming an experience for me as seeing Picasso’s “Guernica’ or the Mona Lisa. McQuarrie’s images were the visual fountainhead of a story that ignited my imagination at a very young age and put me on the course to become a professional in television and film. Both his influence in our popular culture, and my gratitude for his work are beyond measure.” – Javi Grillo-Marxuach, TV writer/producer

“Ralph was the greatest. My favorite artist, plain and simple. As a child, it was Ralph’s wondrous images in Bantha Tracks that kept me going in the years between Star Wars films. Through his breathtaking paintings I discovered the craft behind the magic on screen. It was world building, universe building, life-changing art that forever altered the direction of my life. Star Wars made me fall in love with movies. But Ralph made me fall in love with film-making. He will be sorely missed but respected forever.” – Kyle Newman, director of Fanboys

“Ralph’s art was awe inspiring, and gave a lot of people joy and collectables. The most I can say is thank you SO much, and the most I can offer with a heavy heart are my condolences.” – Adrianne Curry, supermodel & reality TV star

“I had no idea that the creation of imaginative films started with art until my parents took my sister and I to see Ralph’s work in a huge Art of Star Wars retrospective in San Francisco when I was about 8. Before that I guess I had just assumed that Darth Vader himself was an actor, or that the Rancor really was a one of a kind beast that was trapped and forced to roar when the cameras rolled. When seeing McQuarrie’s early renditions of the characters displayed next to the costumes and props, which were next to a print of the actual film scene, I questioned why an artist would draw something different than what it was ’supposed’ to look like. My dad explained that it was the other way around, and that someone first had to IMAGINE all these things that we see on screen. Then I re-walked through the whole gallery and became obsessed with all of the original concepts and immediately said, ‘That’s what I want to do. I want to imagine things. I want to imagine everything.’” – Alex Pardee, artist

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When artist and animator I-Wei Huang builds robots he likes to mix his curiosity for electronics with his appreciation for the burgeoning genre of Steampunk. So when he recently unveiled his Steampunk R2-D2 known as R2-S2 (R2 Steam Too), fans and droid builders wanted to know more. Starwars.com's own Bonnie Burton tracked him down and picked his brain on how to turn everyone's favorite astromech into a Victorian-inspired machine.

How do your skills as an animator help when you make these cool creations?

Being an animator, you tend to see things in a different way, and can't help but notice subtle details of how things move and work, especially in motion of humans and animals. To be an animator these days, you sort of have to have a balance between being artsy-fartsy and techy-geeky. I like seeing mechanical things work, because it's visual. You can watch and study the transfer of power, and figure out how one thing drives another. When it comes to non-visual things, like electronics, I have a hard time grasping concepts of how everything work together.

Being an artist also makes you want to do something different and unusual. I just enjoy coming up with silly ideas that no one is dumb enough to try. I try to make steam contraptions that perform well mechanically, but are also aesthetic pleasing to the eye. Part of the draw of the Victorian steam technology for me is the attention given to making machines beautiful. Just because it has to serve a function, doesn't mean that it has to be ugly. I also gravitate towards making steam machines that resemble things in nature, in particular arthropods, or things with carapaces, shells or armor.

What is your background in robotics?

I have no background in robotics, just sort of figure it out as I went along, and still learning. I grew up watching all of the old Anime robot shows, so always had a strong interest in robots. But getting your feet wet in robotics is very intimidating, so I went with the ultra low-tech, mechanical approach. I'm still amazed that people call what I make "robots." I guess it all depends on how you define the term.

What fascinates you about Steampunk?

I actually didn't know what "Steampunk" is, until I've built several of these steam machines, and got blogged everywhere. One key word that kept popping up was Steampunk which is a genre of books, art, movies etc, that uses old Victorian technology in an alternate universe, or in a fantasy setting. Some examples of the well-known movies are Wild Wild West or Steam Boy. My main influences are more just sci-fi, with a hint of old technology, not necessarily all Steampunk. Playing with steam is just my excuse to play with fire.

One of my biggest influences in art is Hayao Miyazaki, who often design amazing machines full of character, and resembles some old, lost technology. And of course Star Wars fits the bill as well, a long long time ago... you know the rest.

What was the first Steampunk machine you made? What kinds of parts did you use? How did you hack it to use steam?

Some of the first steam machines were really simple -- lots of wheeled vehicles made from erector sets with a steam engine mounted on top. I learned a lot about mechanics playing with these simple engines and parts, such as how pulleys, gears, and sprockets work, and how you can gear down to make small steam engines carry around its own weight. My first steam contraption that I was really proud of, was the Steam Walker, which was a four-legged walking machine. It ended up winning the Gold Medal for the Kinetic Artbots category at RoboGames 2006.

What are the stories behind the Steam Crab, the Steam LocoCentipede and the Steam Trilobite Tank machines you've made in the past?

The Steam Crab was a failed machine. It had many issues with the chassis and legs, not strong enough to support the weight of the heavy engines and boilers. It was my first attempt at hacking together a R/C steam walking machine. Anything that doesn't perform up to standards is quickly scrapped for parts for my other steam projects. I later reused the two steam engines from the Steam Crab for R2-S2.

Wheeled machines are not as exciting to me as treaded vehicles. And a treaded machine are not as compelling as legged. So why not use a chassis with lots of legs that drives like a tank? I learned a lot building the Steam LocoCentipede; and it was a major pain. Making a steam machine carrying it weight creates a lot of problems, and add legs to the equation, it's quite a challenge. The centipede has a hard time producing steam, and fast enough for two very thirsty steam engines. It can only sustain very short runs before having to wait and build up steam pressure. I am now in the process of making a better centipede, with twice the size, and twice the number of legs.

Trilobites are probably my absolute favorite designs of nature. The Steam Trilobite Tank was designed short and cute to try and create the simple shapes of a trilobite. The steam unit was taken from my Steam Spider, which I was trying to finish in time for RoboGames last year. In the process of testing the spider, I blew out a crank. I still wanted to have a nice machine for the event, and the result was the Trilobite, which was rushed together in a few days, just barely in time to take home the Gold Medal for Best of Show.

So by now, you've heard about lots of my failed projects, but I think it's worth mentioning that not all of my attempts pan out. I have a lot of crazy ideas, and I do a lot of quick proof of concepts. Most proved that I don't have the skills or ability to make it work, and I don't bother to publish them on my web site. For ever successful machine, there are way more failures. But it's the few that do succeed, that makes it all worth while. You just have to have a vision, research into everything that you can for the project, and get your feet wet.

Why did you decide to make a Steampunk R2-D2 unit?

In the quest to make unique steam powered machines, I always look for interesting configurations that I haven't seen before with steam power. I started thinking about using a vertical boiler, and making a chassis that supports two steam engines mounted on the sides. The engines could be chain-linked to two drive wheels for skid steering, with a center supporting swivel wheel -- hey, wait a minute....that's Artoo!

What materials did you use and how did you hack R2-D2 so he could run on steam? What challenges did you face in making it?

After some searching through the Web, I found a suitable chassis/body -- the Hasbro Interactive Droid. The dimensions were about right; it fit a nice boiler that I had in the body. The problem was that I didn't have the heart to hack a perfectly working Artoo to pieces. I waited patiently on eBay, and in the mean time I tackled on many other projects. The idea sat on the shelf for many months, and finally an Artoo with broken electronics, showed up on eBay. Since no one else wanted a broken droid, I ended up winning it. Gutting it was very disturbing I must say, but seeing it come back to life under steam power, was very rewarding.

R2-S2 (R2 Steam Too) was actually a very simple project. I had to heat proof Artoo's body from the inside (with sheet metal and fiberglass insulation material) so that the nice plastic body wouldn't melt. Engines mounted on the outside fit perfectly, and chain drive connected to the gearbox also went without much of a hitch. The whole project took two weeks or so on my spare time. It was nice to have such a smooth project, it's something that just doesn't happen for me very often.

What was the reaction from fans at Maker Faire and RoboGames who witnessed R2-S2 in action?

Lots of audible laughter, ear to ear grins. Many people read the signs, or saw it run with steam shooting out of the sides, still had to ask for the confirmation "is this really steam powered? No really... it's steam powered?" And the kids loved it. Of course, how can you go wrong with everyone's favorite droid?

Any plans for a steam C-3PO or steam AT-AT?

I've had many people tell me the Steam Walker reminds them of the AT-AT. Perhaps I should have named it Luke SteamWalker? I'm not a big fan of C-3PO, sorry! AT-ST would be a better fit for a steam biped.

Why do you think Star Wars droids make much a nice transition to Steampunk?

The original Star Wars designs were very old-tech looking. After all it was a long, long time ago. The machines were just so well designed, simple, yet full of character. That's the aspect which is most appealing to me about Steampunk.

Would you ever like to see an entire Star Wars movie redone with Steampunk characters and machines? What in Star Wars would make you most excited to see it done in Steampunk form -- the vehicles, characters, Death Star?

Some old Star Wars machines, such as the AT-AT and AT-ST are some of my favorite robotic designs of all time, perhaps done correctly in Steampunk fashion would be really cool to see. But the originals are so nicely designed, that I'd hate to change any part of them.

Click here to watch a short video clip of R2-S2 in action.

To learn how to make a Steampunk machine, check out Huang's R/C Steam Turbine Tank tutorial on Instructables.com.

For more information on Huang's Steampunk robots, visit his site Crabfu SteamWorks here.

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  • 00:46:03: RT @FamousWomen: Worry often gives a small thing a great shadow. - Swedish Proverb
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Bonnie Burton
Name: Bonnie Burton
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