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"Well, I'm incredibly proud. It's a strange thing, because I know I was there and my name's in the credits and I remember so many things, but it almost feels like a different lifetime ago. Almost a different me. It was a different me, because I have 20 more years of experience under my belt. I count myself incredibly fortunate to have been at ILM during those times and to go from Episode I to II to III."
―Rob Coleman reflecting on Attack of the Clones[1]

Rob Coleman was an employee at Industrial Light & Magic (1993-2005) and Lucasfilm Animation (2005-2007). Coleman and his team worked on Jar Jar Binks, Watto, Sebulba, battle droids, Yoda, Dexter Jettster, the creatures in the Petranaki Arena, Clone troopers, and many more. He is the namesake of Coleman Trebor in Star Wars: Episode II Attack of the Clones. He directed five episodes of the 2008 Star Wars: The Clone Wars animated television series. He is a two time Oscar nominee for his animation work on Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace and Stars Wars: Attack of the Clones. He has also been nominated for two BAFTA Awards for his work on the 1997 film Men In Black and The Phantom Menace.

Biography[]

Early life[]

In 1980, Rob Coleman saw the Star Wars: Episode V The Empire Strikes Back when he was 16 years old.[1]

The prequel trilogy[]

"Regarding the Easter Eggs in the Star Wars prequels (I was the Animation Director on those movies), the "rule" was, animators could add something to the background as long as it did not pull the audience's eye from the primary focus of the shot. The "Eggs" added extra detail"
―Coleman on Twitter[2]

Coleman was the animation director for Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace, Star Wars: Episode II Attack of the Clones, and Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith. While working on the prequel trilogy, the "rule" was that animators could add something in the backgrounda as long as it didn't pull the audience's eye away from the primary focus of the shot. The Easter eggs were meant to add extra detail.[2]

The Phantom Menace[]

Rob Coleman was the animation director for the 1999 film Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace. He led many of the film's innovations involving digital characters, including early uses of motion-capture for the fully-CG character Jar Jar Binks, and he worked on Watto, Sebulba, battle droids, and many more.[1] Coleman also supervised a team of 45 animators responsible for over 60 digital creatures for the film.[3] Around three quarters of the way through the film, Coleman and his team realized that they would need to improve their performance in terms of animators acting. For Coleman, it was specifically the acting shots without dialogue. He felt that there was some resistance from Lucas that the digital characters weren't as rich and nuanced as the actors. Coleman spent many years of hard work on the film.[1] He also played a spectator in Jabba's private box,[4] but wasn't credited for the cameo.[5]

Attack of the Clones[]

Joining the movie[]
"Well, you'll do the second one with me, right?
Are you asking right now?
Yeah
Well, of course I will! Yes!
"
―George Lucas and Rob Coleman[1]

On July 14, 1999, Coleman attended the London premiere of The Phantom Menace. Lucasfilm's head of publicity, Lynne Hale, was at a section for important people, including George Lucas, and she invited Coleman to join them in the section. Lynne then told Coleman that Lucas would love to talk to him, which Coleman agreed to. When Coleman and Lucas were chatting, Lucas asked if he would work on the second film in the prequel trilogy, and Coleman said that he would. This started Coleman's work on Episode II, which ended up being titled Star Wars: Episode II Attack of the Clones. Coleman was determined to make greater advances in digital characters.[1]

Creating Yoda[]
"But what I wanted – for us collectively, when building the digital Yoda – was to honor the range of motion that I thought I'd seen when I was 16"
―Rob Coleman[1]

In Attack of the Clones, Yoda needed to be more agile than he was in the original trilogy and would have to fight, which was a creative risk for the film. Initially, Lucas told Coleman that Yoda would be featured as a puppet and the animators would create a digital version of him for his duel with Count Dooku, but Coleman didn't love the idea. He thought that it would be very difficult to match what was done for the Yoda puppet in The Empire Strikes Back and interpret how the puppet's movement would be put into a digital character. Early on in briefing, Lucas told Coleman and his team that Yoda would be seen full-body and he would have to run, jump, and fight. Coleman felt like he and his team could work on Yoda after gaining knowledge and experience from working on Watto, Jar Jar, and Sebulba in The Phantom Menace. The new goal was to use a digital Yoda for every scene and sequence that he appeared in.[1]

This task terrified Coleman because of the backlash against Jar Jar, and Coleman didn't want to be known for ruining Yoda, but he didn't want to back down from a challenge. Coleman's memory of seeing Yoda in 1980 managed to keep him on target. Coleman studied the footage of Yoda in the Empire Strikes Back frame by frame and realized it was very limited. When creating the digital Yoda, he wanted himself and his team to honor the range of motion he thought he saw in 1980.[1]

Coleman worked with Frank Oz, the puppeteer who performed Yoda as a puppet, in order to make sure that his digital Yoda could be as faithful as possile. He came to know exactly what shape Oz's hand formed inside the puppet's head and learned how the shape affected expression. Coleman made sure that he didn't go too far in terms of Yoda's movement. After Oz saw the inital tests, he was very supportive and said he loved the restraint they did and that they matched what Oz had done before. The digital character originally didn't include the original detail of how Yoda's ears wiggled everytime the puppet's head moved. This caused Yoda to not appear old, which was considered to be a vital part of his character. Coleman's team added the detail in the digital character, and Yoda now looked the correct age.[1]

While working on the film, Coleman wanted to lead Industrial Light & Magic's digital animation to greater levels of success, and he wanted to make the digital characters seem as nuanced as the actors.[1] His crew secretly developed animation tests using key scenes from The Empire Strikes Back.[6] Coleman pitched that the digital Yoda would do three talking shots[1] delivering memorable lines of dialogue,[6] as well as three shots without talking[1] to show the ability to convey a performance even when silent.[6] Coleman worked on a closeup of Yoda for the film in which Palpatine is in his office, and Lucas purposefully cuts to Yoda who was looking over his shoulder. This was meant to indicate that Yoda didn't trust Palpatine.[1]

From the start of the creation of Yoda and Count Dooku's lightsaber duel, most of the work would fall to Coleman's team. He didn't get the script until he had been in Sydney, Australia for one or two weeks. The fist draft described the fight as "'In a fight that defies description, Yoda and Count Dooku battle." Coleman then scheduled a meeting with Lucas who told him he'd have to figure it out. To do this, Coleman went to stunt coordinator Nick Gillard and they talked about how a combatant would fight with small weapons, looking at real-world examples. Also, Ahmed Best, the actor who played Jar Jar, introduced Coleman to some anime[1] and martial arts[7] that he thought could be helpful. However, Coleman still wasn't sure how to depict Yoda's speed and style in a fight. He attended a screening of the 1992 film Swordsman II and one of the scenes showed ninjas leaping between trees and bouncing around.[1] Coleman studied the action in the film,[7] and this inspired him to give Yoda the ability to jump around.[1] While working on the duel, Coleman referred to Glen McIntosh's dynamic drawings.[7]

After finishing the duel, Lucas and Coleman felt happy with it. Coleman was still concerned that Yoda's jumping in the fight would be seen as cartoony and he and Lucas would be a laughing stock. However, Lucas wanted Yoda to jump, leap, and flip during the duel. Coleman has said that Yoda and Dooku's duel will be what he will be able to connect with forever as a highlight of his career.[1]

Coleman worked on a shot that was called "The Widowmaker." In the shot, an animated Yoda denounced Kenobi's sense of victory and said "Begun, this Clone War has." That line was approved and unapproved a couple of times. Also, Coleman received many notes telling him the line had to be sadder. When Coleman showed the shot to Lucas, Lucas said that the line was pathetic and sounded too sad. Lucas said Yoda shouldn't sound sad, and should instead sound reflective, concerned, and upset over the inevitability of the Clone Wars.[8]

Creating Dexter Jettster[]
"For a lot of the time, for any character, I would ask George — just when we were sitting, waiting for the lights to be changed on set or whatever — about backstory, subtext, and inspirations for characters. I always wanted to know whether there was an actor or a character, you know, that George had seen in an old movie, a favorite of his. And with Dexter, it turned out it was Ernest Borgnine, who I always loved as a character actor. So immediately, I had all these images in my head"
―Rob Coleman[1]

Coleman and his team had a huge amount of fun bringing the character Dexter Jettster to life. While Coleman was waiting for the lights to be changed on set, he would ask Lucas about backstory, subtext, and inspirations for characters. Lucas told Coleman that Jettster drew inspiration from Ernest Borgnine, who Coleman loved as a character actor. Coleman immediately had several images in his head of what Jettster would look like.[1]

Jettster was voiced by Ronald Falk who acted opposite Ewan McGregor for the scene in which Obi-Wan Kenobi comes to Dex's Diner. Coleman remembers that Falk was "kind of bewildered" by the experience, but his performance informed much of what Jettster would become. Falk had a sciatic problem down one of his legs , causing him to have a bit of a limp. Falk apologized for the limp, though Coleman said that it was fantastic because it gave the character a history. When Dexter came out from behind the counter and was limping in the film, Coleman was following what Falk did.[1]

Coleman noticed that Jettster had a little butt and a huge body, and this made him think of plumbers because they are stereotypically known for having their pants sliding down. He then added Jettster using his fourth arm to pull up his pants as he hugged Kenobi, and Coleman called the detail "a little bit of business."[1]

Creating the Geonosis creatures[]
"When there was an opportunity to have Obi-Wan in profile fighting the acklay, I was set, 'Okay, that has to be that shot from Mysterious Island. We have to do that.'"
―Rob Coleman[1]

When there was an opportunity to have Kenobi in profile fighting the acklay, Coleman decided that it needed to be like the shot in the 1961 film Mysterious Island in which a huge crab was fighting several humans. Coleman then rewatched many of Ray Harryhausen's work to get a sense of the style of motion. Coleman's team weren't trying to make the creatures look like stop-motion puppet animation, but they wanted to pay tribute to Harryhausen because he had a large influence on them. Harryhausen came to ILM two times when Coleman was there and they held a special reception for him at Skywalker Ranch. Coleman talked with Harryhausen about what they were doing, and Coleman's team then decided that the acklay, reek, and nexu would have to be a throwback to Harryhausen. Coleman said the acklay was his favorite and most interesting creature that he created because he loved the design due to how it moved on its six legs and how it attacked.[1]

Creating Clone troopers[]
"My memory was, it was George. He just threw the gauntlet down and said, 'No real guys in costumes.' And I don't know why. I think part of it was just to give us a high bar to go over. I think, probably, it was a cost thing too. Like, how many costumes would they make and how many extras would they have? And the reality of the extras wouldn't be all exactly the same height and proportions, and the whole idea was this is a clone army. So they're all the same."
―Rob Coleman[1]

Lucas told Coleman that he wanted no real actors in costumes playing the Clone troopers. Coleman wasn't sure why, but he figured that the decision was meant to give Coleman's team a high bar to go over. He also thought that it was due to cost limitations and because the extras playing the troopers wouldn't all look identical. There wasn't any armor that was built and worn by actors, and every Clone trooper was performed via motion-capture and digitally created by Coleman and his team.[1]

Creating Coleman Trebor[]
"Yeah, but we don't actually see him hit the ground. I keep telling George [Lucas] it's only a flesh wound. He was the most heroic, he was the one who went after Dooku!"
―Rob Coleman, referring to Coleman Trebor[9]

To help fill out the Jedi ranks seen in the Petranaki Arena and the Jedi Temple with more exotic shapes and forms, it was decided that several Jedi Knights and Masters would be entirely digital. Coleman and his crew were in charge of bringing the Jedi Coleman Trebor to life. During an Art Department meeting at Skywalker Ranch, concept sculptors Michael Murnane and Robert E. Barnes displayed the outcome of an intense sculpting session. Lucas picked his favorites from the array of aliens and assigned their roles. Visual Effects Supervisor John Knoll told Lucas that he hadn't named anything after Coleman. After that, Coleman Trebor was named after Coleman, the maquette was realized as a computer-generated character, and he was animated and composited into the scenes in the Jedi Temple and arena. Coleman said he shoved all thought of the characters's name out of his mind because he wasn't certain that the name wouldn't be changed by the time Attack of the Clones was released. Coleman has no qualms about Trebor's short amount of screen time, and he told Lucas that Trebor was the most heroic because he went after Dooku.[9]

After working on the film[]

Coleman went to the first paid audience screening of Attack of the Clones on the first day it came out in San Francisco. When Yoda and Dooku's duel was about to start, Coleman thought that it could be perceived very badly. He was very relieved when he noticed that the audience loved the fight scene. The duel is now seen as a highlight of the prequel trilogy.[1]

Coleman receieved an Academy Award nomination for his work on Attack on the Clones. After working on the film, Coleman attended a convention and many fans eagerly asked him who was wearing the clone trooper armor. Coleman told the fans that there was no one in the armor, which left them shocked.[1]

Revenge of the Sith[]

After working on Attack of the Clones, Coleman worked on Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith.[1] The shot of Yoda clinging to the Senate podium was animated by Tim Harrington. Coleman thought that his blocking was excellent, but Coleman was looking for more strain on Yoda's face. He wanted to know the small movements in one's face that would illustrate strain, so Coleman hung from a staircase while showing pain and expression, and this was used to study for reference.[10]

After the prequel trilogy[]

In 2005, Coleman joined Lucasfilm Animation, and he helped launch the studio and the Star Wars: The Clone Wars animated series. He directed several early episodes of The Clone Wars. He then left Lucasfilm and then served as the animation director for other movies. In September, 2021, Coleman returned to ILM as a key creative for feature animation at ILM's Sydney location.[1]

Filmography[]

Star Wars[]

Animation Director[]

Cameos[]

  • The Phantom Menace: Jabba's private box spectator
  • Attack of the Clones: voiced the character Darsana in a scene ultimately deleted
  • Revenge of the Sith: Romeo Treblanc (an anagram of Robert Coleman) in the opera scene

Director[]

Animation[]

Sources[]

Notes and references[]

  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 1.13 1.14 1.15 1.16 1.17 1.18 1.19 1.20 1.21 1.22 1.23 1.24 1.25 1.26 1.27 1.28 1.29 StarWars.com Clones at 20 | Rob Coleman on Bringing Yoda, Dexter Jettster, and More to Digital Life on StarWars.com (backup link)
  2. 2.0 2.1 TwitterLogo.svg Rob Coleman (@ArfKeldo) on Twitter: "Regarding the Easter Eggs in the Star Wars prequels (I was the Animation Director on those movies), the "rule" was, animators could add something to the background as long as it did not pull the audience's eye from the primary focus of the shot. The "Eggs" added extra detail" (backup link)
  3. StarWars.com "A Week With the Masters" on StarWars.com (content now obsolete; backup link)
  4. TwitterLogo.svg Rob Coleman (@ArfKeldo) on Twitter: "And that's me onscreen, under the archway, leaving Jabba's box" (backup link)
  5. Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Databank title.png Yoda in the Databank (content now obsolete; backup link)
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 TwitterLogo.svg Rob Coleman (@ArfKeldo) on Twitter: "We used a lot of references while developing the Yoda/Dooku battle. I consulted with @ahmedbest about martial arts & anime, I studied the action in "Swordsman II" (1992) in particular, I referred to Glen's dynamic drawings and I supervised the gifted animator @timanimator" (backup link)
  8. TwitterLogo.svg Rob Coleman (@ArfKeldo) on Twitter: ""Acting is always the hardest part." Watching this interchange between George Lucas and me, from 20 years ago, reminds me of how much fun I had working with him. Animation is a collaborative and iterative process. We were striving for subtle nuance in the performance." (backup link)
  9. 9.0 9.1 HomingBeaconTitleSmall.png Homing Beacon #67 on StarWars.com (content now obsolete; backup link)
  10. TwitterLogo.svg Rob Coleman (@ArfKeldo) on Twitter: "That shot was animated by Tim Harrington @timanimator His blocking was excellent, but I was looking for more strain in Yoda's face. What are the micro-movements in one's face which illustrate that? I hung from a staircase; real pain & expression so we could study it for reference" (backup link)

External links[]

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