In so many different ways, J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars: The Force Awakens tried to capture the tone and intent of the original Star Wars trilogy without blatantly copying exactly what was done in Star Wars: A New Hope. There was one fantastic reference to the original Star Wars, though, that Abrams couldn’t resist. You saw when Finn (John Boyega) was playing around on the Millennium Falcon, how the chess board returned? Well, the man behind the chess board came back, as well.
Phil Tippett is an Oscar-winning visual effects artist whose credits range from the Star Wars universe and Indiana Jones to the iconic Howard the Duck. Tippett did stop-motion animation on A Hew Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, and was tapped by J.J. Abrams to recreate his board game for a new generation. Initially, as Phil Tippett explained, the stop-motion creatures that were part of the chess board were holdovers from Cantina creature designs that didn’t make it into Lucas’ final cut. Instead, they landed on the chess board. This time out, though, the model of the board had fallen into "disrepair," as Tippett recently told Yahoo Movies, so the challenge this time out went into recreating something that he’d made up nearly 40 years ago. Tippett tells Yahoo:
[The designs] were over at the Lucasfilm archives, so we went over there and engaged in a pretty protracted reconstruction process where we used a process called photogrammetry to capture the disintegrated puppets in their current state, and that allowed us to put them in the computer and to reconstruct them. Those went to the 3D printer and the molds were made and cast in the various rubber and plastics. That’s where a tremendous amount of time went, was in the reconstruction.
We were able to speak with Tippett about recreating the chess board four decades after his first pass, and surprisingly, very little had changed, in his mind. He told us:
The stop motion process was pretty much the same, except we were shooting on digital cameras instead of film. The process of reconstructing the original chess set was much more elaborate initially, where Jon Berg and I created… [It] was just a matter of weeks, the very last thing in the production process on the first Star Wars movies. Kind of an afterthought of George [Lucas]’s. The reconstruction process for J.J. Abrams was much more elaborate, you know. We had, the reconstructing, took way more time than doing something original in the first one.
Back in the day, Phil Tippett’s work looked like this:
And now you have a better idea of the amount of time and effort that went into the replication of a tiny moment from The Force Awakens.