Michael Moccio ’16 / Emertainment Monthly Editor
I had the opportunity to interview two Emerson alumni: Jason Tucker and Nate Cormier, both of whom worked on Star Wars The Clone Wars prior to its cancellation. This interview detailed what their roles on the show and also provided insight into the behind-the-scenes aspects of The Clone Wars as well as its future after its cancellation.
Emertainment Monthly: For a reader who doesn’t know anything about what a Supervising Animation Editor and an Assistant Animation Editor does, can you both give a brief summary on what you do?
Jason Tucker: Well, when I’m handed either a storyboard or CG layout—or 3D layout. We’re working on proprietary software which is basically a slimmed down version of Maya in beta testing. These 3D story layouts are from an episodic story director that’s been overseen from the supervising director, and, with that, I work on the cut to work out camera position, pacing, composition, and the overall pacing of the show, the rhythm of the scenes. I will pull out on shots, push in on shots; I will speed up shots, I will slow down shots, I’ll lengthen shots in order to get this rhythm and pacing of the overall show. And from there, if it’s boards, you’re basically doing the same thing. But on The Clone Wars it’s a little anomalous because we go straight to 3D layout. This was an idea that George [Lucas] had at the very beginning. We did storyboards the first two seasons, or the first season and a half, and then we went straight to 3D layout. That enabled us to operate like you would in live action editing, where you have handles on these shots. If a 3D story artist is blocking the scene, they can set up their cameras like in a real life scenario. With this, you can hand over an establishing shot, a close-up of one of the actors or a two-shot. The editor is able to have a little more variety. With that, I’ll cut all this together closely with an episodic director and then we’ll show it to Dave Filoni, the supervising director, and then from there we’ll show it to George and we’ll have an editing session with him. That’ll last a day or two and he’ll give us his changes. At the very beginning, we were with George quite a lot because we were trying to get the look of The Clone Wars down. And over time, we were spending less and less time in the editing room in terms of what he wanted to change.
Nate Cormier: And what I do as the Assistant Editor, basically throughout the whole process, I’m in charge of keeping track of the cut, so to speak. So as [Jason’s] making changes and the directors are editing, he’s then passing those cuts to me and I’m making sure the studio has access to the most up-to-date cuts. I do a lot of temp sound effects. When it gets shipped overseas, a lot of the time it’ll be used as cues and all that. I also receive and cut in all of the dialogue. And in doing that I’ll end up trimming down certain shots and pass it by [Jason]. I’ll also, if the associate editor needs help, I’ll cut in final shots or the opening sequences for certain episodes. Anything that needs to be done that isn’t related to the straight cut.
Jason: Want to stress temp sound effects. We do a lot of dialogue cutting, where Nate or I will use one read and fuse it with the other if we feel that’s a better take and that can happen quite a lot as well.
What was it like to work with such a well-known franchise?
Jason: *laughs* Well, yeah—there you go. I mean, I thought it was just going to be my amazing story to interview and visit Skywalker Ranch. And I remember the first couple weeks, working with George, it was definitely nerve-wracking at first. But over time, as I got to know George, and as George and Dave Filoni were overseeing quite a bit… it’s interesting—it’s Star Wars and everyone has an opinion. The goal of The Clone Wars was to get new viewers and satisfy old fans. Not only reference the old sequels and the new, but bridge the gap.
Nate: I just want to add when I got called up for an interview. The interviewer called me and asked me, “Have you heard of Star Wars? Do you want to interview to be the assistant editor for The Clone Wars?” And I was on a plane that night. It’s a cool, cool thing.
[Jason] worked as an editor on the movie–how did you react to the negative criticism around the movie in 2008? Did that impact your decisions going into the TV Series?
Jason: Yeah, that’s interesting. Well, the movie was really the first four episodes of the TV show. This was a decision made kind of afterwards. Technically we were showing our pilot as the feature. The criticism didn’t affect me at all. By the time the movie came out we were well into the second season, so all of us could see where it was going to go. And the idea of it being a movie that was released wasn’t something we knew was going to happen. That was a decision made by Warner Bros.
What did you do to make sure the show had that “Star Wars” feel? Did you draw inspiration more from the original trilogy or the prequel trilogy and how did you find the inspiration to do the show?
Jason: That’s interesting from an editorial standpoint. Of Couse, this all stems from Kurosawa and classical narrative editing. What we’re doing is basically WWII films, Kurosawa, the samurai films, and I went into wanting—if you notice, in Attack of the Clones, the wipes—as opposed to the wipes in Revenge of the Sith—we were sandwiched in between that. I imagine in the span of the five seasons to start out using wipes from Attack of the Clones and we were using wipes from Episode 4. Overtime, we went over different wipes in Revenge of the Sith. I wanted to connect it between those two style wise. We wanted to emulate the intercutting Star Wars is famous for that George fashioned all the way back to American Graffiti. Dave Filoni was intent on borrowing from both the prequels and the sequels to make The Clone Wars.
Nate: *laughs* He covered it all. I can actually say that Sky Sound does all the sound for The Clones Wars. That definitely plays into this: all the lightsabers, and x-wings, and everything adds to that.
How difficult was it to edit the animations to suit the characters’ perceived styles? For instance, Anakin is very imposing, especially when he has those touches with the dark side; did you do anything to show those character traits, since you talked about pulling the camera in and out?
Jason: The look of Anakin, I was privy to those conversations. You could tell what George wanted from the beginning of The Clone Wars: Butch Cassidy and the Sundown Kid. Show the lighter side of Anakin. He wanted to show the fun that Anakin and Obi-Wan had, that it wasn’t a guarantee that he was going to fall. This was something that was based on the consequence of his actions and that was something that wasn’t inevitable.
Nate: The whole reason for Anakin to have Ahsoka was to show his good side.
Jason: If you notice in the Ahsoka arc, you can see Anakin getting darker. In the prison scene, Anakin’s eyes grow dark, when he punches the wall, when he turns around you can see what’s to come. The Jedi Order has to play politics and it contributes to the downfall of Anakin and the Jedi Order. If you look at a lot of the fun Obi-Wan and Anakin is really there.
Nate: You can even see them butting heads, too. It starts to show the breaking of the umbilical cord, if you will.
What episode arc was the most difficult to make, and what are your personal favorite arcs?
Jason: Several arcs were difficult, but one that comes to mind is the retaking of Geonosis. That was difficult because it was early on in the show—not too early on, but at a point where we were gaining more assets, more money was being spent on characters and going into that arc—the actually battle scene where those gunships crash—we must have cut that one episode, it must have been three or four times trying to get it right. We were going back through movies like Four Feathers, Blackhawk Down, we were going through even Saving Private Ryan in order to get that real D-Day event on Geonosis. The Battle on Umbara, that had a tremendous amount of work on that. I’m trying to think of another arc that would’ve been difficult: anything towards the end of the first season because we were trying to get our bearings.
Nate: The Mandalore arc was hardest. As far as production wise, all of those episodes are battle intensive. From an Ass Editing standpoint, it takes forever to do the sound for that; and it came at the height of our production schedule. Sometimes you’ll get lucky and have a lull to work on things, but that came at a time where we’re trying to do six hours of sound effects in two hours, staying till 8 or 9 and just staring at our computer screens, while still having six episodes that need to be turned over that day.
Jason: The water war episode, all the stuff under water was difficult. It was the biggest battle that we had done. A lot of work went into that. Joel Arran put a lot of work in that.
Nate: Those battles get recut so many times, too.
How was it to edit the fight scene between Darth Maul, Savage, and Darth Sidious?
Jason: That was extremely difficult. We were involved in that cut over a two week period trying to get it right. Everybody pulled together on that one: with the animation in particular, with Sidious’ look and mannerism, because that could go either way. Towards the last minute, we added the line “I have more for you” because we learned the first time you don’t want to kill Maul too soon.
How much influence/input did George Lucas have towards the end?
Jason: Basically less time in editorial, because I’d like to think we got it down. So we got less notes, but that’s it. It was all his ideas, though. Everything that he’d come up with.
Nate: Everything went to him before going out, too.
Jason: The first three years for sure—he was in the editing room quite a lot, but not towards the end.
FROM JAMIE LOFTUS OF EMERSON.EDU: Obviously Star Wars has one of the largest fanbases, was there fan involvement that went into production? What was being heard, what wasn’t? Or was it really what George wants?
Jason: It’s basically what George wants to do, but Dave’s a fan. He has a really grounded understanding about where that was coming from. Ultimately, it was about making what you love to do, and that was what George loves to do. Those serials, that’s the fun of Star Wars and what George loved.
What do you know about fans’ reaction to the show’s cancellation, and how would you describe it?
Nate: I’ve seen a lot of people pretty angry. I’ve seen Facebook groups and Twitter groups, so I know they’re definitely mad. [The cancellation] came out of the blue.
Jason: I think it’s the same reaction as the people making it. We would love to do more.
Why was the show cancelled?
Jason: We don’t really know. It was a decision that was made without our involvement.
Nate: Yeah, anything we could say would really just be speculation.
Are the rumors about Disney shutting down Lucas Animation and LucasArts true?
Jason: No, Lucas Animation is still around.
Nate: And Dave Filoni is in talks for a new Star Wars series.
Jason: We’re still working on episodes that are in color and we’re going to finish out those episodes and they’re great.
How’re they going to be released?
Jason: I have no idea. I’d like to know, though. *laughs*
Is there anything you’d like to add?
Jason: I would like to add that it’s been an amazing run and being able to work with George and being able to work with the team… it’s an amazing group of people that made it into a great show. It’s one of those once in a lifetime opportunities.
Nate: With Disney buying us, people won’t really be working on Skywalker Ranch anymore, so it was nice to kind of close the doors.
Both Jason and Nate were a pleasure to interview. Both were incredibly down to earth and open and honest about the future of the show. Definitely continue to send support their way for the show! Thanks for reading!