Friday, December 9, 2016

40 Years in the Making - An Interview with STAR WARS ART: RALPH MCQUARRIE Co-Author Brandon Alinger






Alinger at Skywalker Ranch

Steve writes:

We’re delighted to have Brandon Alinger – one of the co-authors of the recently published (and literally monolithic) book Star Wars Art: Ralph McQuarrie – join us to share some insights about the ambitious undertaking of compiling and presenting the legacy of one of the franchise’s most prolific creative forces.

A collector in his own right, Alinger also serves as Chief Operations Officer of Prop Store's United States operation in Los Angeles.



Steve Danley: When and how did the project originate and how did the co-authors come together?

Brandon Alinger: The project really began with J.W. Rinzler, who is well known to Star Wars fans for the wonderful “Making Of” books he did on the three original films. Rinzler wanted to do the definitive McQuarrie book for some time, as did Abrams, the publisher. After I wrote Star Wars Costumes: The Original Trilogy in 2014, Rinzler told me the next archival title on the slate was the Ralph McQuarrie book, and it was mine if I wanted it.

From left to right: Jonathan Rinzler, David Mandel, Alinger, and Wade Lageose 


BA: I knew it would be a great project but also a large workload. David Mandel and I were friends for many years and I knew he was a Ralph McQuarrie enthusiast. David was long-time friends with Wade Lageose and suggested pulling Wade in as well, as Wade was also a McQuarrie enthusiast and had the added benefit of having known Ralph for more than ten years. Wade spent a lot of time with Ralph in the 90s and early 2000s. Each of the three of us brought a unique angle and skill set to the project.



SD: The scope of the book is sprawling, to put it mildly! Was the goal always to be completely comprehensive, or did that emerge as the research process progressed?

BA: That was part of the brief from the beginning, and as authors that was really the carrot that drew us to the project. McQuarrie’s work has been published in the past, going all the way back to The Art of Star Wars which was released after the original film. There have been other nice books done on Ralph’s work in the past, and some which had his direct input. In the absence of his direct input, we wanted our book to be as comprehensive as possible – both in the artwork shown and the story told.

SD: The book's chronological structure presents an approach unlike previous publications featuring McQuarrie's Star Wars work. How was the organization of the book developed?

BA: We looked at several possible methodologies for the book; the most obvious approach would have been to present the art in story order – an order very familiar to many readers. Rinzler really pushed the idea of laying the art out chronologically, so the reader could follow Ralph’s journey. In doing so the book became a visual history of these films, and a great “Making Of” companion, with a very specific scope. Beyond the beautiful artwork, there’s a real story here about the development of these landmark films.



SD: One of the most fascinating aspects of the book is its ability to place each work in proper context, with assemblages of each iteration of a concept or illustration culminating in the final work that many fans are familiar with. Did this method pose any particular challenges?

BA: It was challenging because the information available to us was imperfect. We had certain key resources – like McQuarrie’s day calendars from the period – which outlined many of the key dates, such as the production paintings. But not every piece was dated, especially when we got into the sketches. So we organized the paintings as the key running narrative and tied the related art to those in what we felt was the most likely chronological order based on the clues available. It was real detective work at times – cross referencing different data sources to interpret a possible timeframe and place it on our master timeline.


SD: If you were to choose personal highlights from each of the three films, what would they be?

BA: For Star Wars, I’ll say the first sketches of R2-D2. There were a couple of different concepts but each got no more than a single sketch, and then he hit on what was very close to the final version.

BA: With Empire I will jump to the matte paintings. His series of Cloud City reactor vane matte paintings is simply stunning to behold, and the fact that he did matte paintings in addition to concepts shows how multi-faceted Ralph was.

BA: One particularly beautiful Jedi painting shows Luke and Vader entering a rather gothic-looking Emperor’s castle. It’s very different to where they ultimately went with that set, but I love the image – the idea of Vader and Luke going to see the Emperor, which is really the conclusion of the Star Wars saga – especially at that time.



SD: Getting back to what it took to put this together  where did the research process begin, and how did it unfold? 

The Inn at Skywalker Ranch
BA: The project started with a trip to Skywalker Ranch with Jonathan Rinzler and Eric Klopfer, the publisher at Abrams. Getting to work at the Ranch is one of the real perks of a project like this. We spent three days going through the flat files and making an initial catalog of what was there, physically, in the Ranch Archives collection. From there we progressed to other key resources, such as Lucasfilm’s digital image library and relevant interviews in the Ranch library. And then we branched out into external sources – we collaborated with the Ralph McQuarrie Archives and with many of McQuarrie’s colleagues from the period.


Skywalker Ranch Transportation


SD: As someone with a background in libraries and archives myself, I can only imagine what an incredible experience that must have been! Regarding the interviews, the book contains a multitude of period anecdotes from McQuarrie and those that knew and worked with him. What were the most fruitful sources for these stories?

BA: The key source were archival interviews that the librarians at the Ranch located for us. Fortunately, we aren’t the first ones to take an interest in McQuarrie’s work – far from it! Lucasfilm’s publishing department in the late 70s and early 80s utilized McQuarrie’s paintings and sketches in the “Art Of” books as well as the Ralph McQuarrie Portfolios that they put out. They conducted fairly extensive interviews with Ralph at the time where he discussed each piece in great detail. Other interviews were done for the Star Wars Fan Club at the time, or done later as part of a Lucasfilm history project. In the absence of Ralph himself, the best information definitely came from these – the period interviews are wonderful because it’s so fresh. We conducted more than 30 new interviews ourselves which also yielded some wonderful stories and quotes, but the key source was the archival McQuarrie interviews.

From left to right: Lageose, Archivist Kathy Smeaton, Mandel, Archivist Joanee Honour, and Alinger

SD: Of the new interviews with McQuarrie's cohorts that were conducted specifically for this book, which were the most enlightening or memorable?

BA: Craig Barron and Harrison Ellenshaw, who both spent a large amount of time with McQuarrie, were extremely helpful to us. They visited the Ranch and looked at matte paintings and other artwork and had many wonderful insights and stories. Ralph’s fellow designers Joe Johnston and Nilo Rodis-Jamero gave us some great information, and helped identify whether certain pieces were his or not. We had great interviews with Gary Kurtz, with Howard Kazanjian – with many people really.

ILM Veteran Craig Barron takes a look at a Star Destroyer matte painting from The Empire Strikes Back

SD: With more than 1,000 pieces being newly scanned or photographed exclusively for this project and many others being published for the first time, how did the book's production process evolve?  

BA: Fortunately, Abrams was able to hire a full-time scanner for the project. Steve Yamane spent several months scanning every piece of artwork that would fit on the scanner. Those that didn’t fit were shot by an art photographer named Joe McDonald, who also shot the matte paintings. All of this was in collaboration with the archivists at the Ranch archives – Laela French, Kathy Smeaton, Joanee Honour, and Madlyn Burkert. It takes a village...



SD: What new visual discoveries were the most eye-opening for the authors?

BA: Initially the most eye-opening thing was just seeing the artwork in person. It’s cliché, but there’s nothing like seeing it in person – though we hope this book is the next best thing.

I personally had a lot of fun going through the early drafts of the first film and comparing Ralph’s sketches to the text. It was apparent he was working directly from it, and based on the action being drawn you could date a sketch to the second draft or the third draft, for example. We included those script excerpts so readers can see the inspiration as well.

McQuarrie Original Production Paintings - The Empire Strikes Back


SD: The collective body of work contained in the book reveals the wide-reaching impact McQuarrie had on the films' entire production and promotional process in ways that fans may not be as aware of. Was this an intended objective from the start? 

BA: Oh yeah! The goal was to spread awareness on McQuarrie’s Star Wars work. I think the film work is undeniably the most significant, but all the work is wonderful.

SD: With many artifacts from the original films' production (from props and costumes to artwork) having made their way to the collectors' market over the years, what role did the Star Wars collecting community play in publishing the book?

BA: We reached out to a number of private sources that had McQuarrie pieces, and fortunately everyone was agreeable to helping out and contributing scans to the book. There were some really wonderful pieces in private hands that the book would not have been complete without, so that was nice.

McQuarrie Artwork for Unproduced Galoob Action Fleet Playset Packaging

SD: The book describes itself as being 40 years in the making, which is an apt definition given its historical reconstruction of McQuarrie's Star Wars career. His work in the years beyond the three original films is given ample coverage as well. What do the authors envision as the ultimate takeaway for readers, be they casual fans, collectors, or hard and true Star Wars enthusiasts?


BA: I suppose each reader will have their own “ultimate takeaway.” For me, the ultimate takeaway is that McQuarrie was almost the hand of George Lucas – drawing everything Lucas was thinking. He did not do everything. Major contributions were made from other people – Joe Johnston, Colin Cantwell, John Barry, Nilo Rodis-Jamero, John Mollo – lots of folks. But Ralph did an awful lot on all three films, and perhaps most significantly, he established the look of the characters. When you see the earliest sketches of Vader, Threepio and Artoo and you read that they were done in a single day...it’s quite remarkable. George described them, he drew them, and they were born, so to speak. Amazing.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Star Wars at the Movies: Lobby Cards

Steve writes:

The original theatrical releases of the Star Wars Trilogy took place at the end of an era in movie marketing in the United States. More specifically, the mid 1980s saw the end of the National Screen Service (NSS) as the primary force behind the domestic creation and distribution of film advertising materials. In addition to posters and other related promotional accessories, the NSS was a source of lobby cards for the first three films. Just as the term implies, these small posters were created to be displayed within cinema lobbies and foyers as a means of enticing moviegoers with still images of central characters and key scenes from a film. Their smaller size and and composition as self-contained sets has made them a natural collectible for decades, but they're more or less an obsolete medium absent from the contemporary movie multiplex landscape in America.

Like so many areas of Star Wars collecting, lobby cards for the original films offer massive variety and considerable nuance. This installment of "Star Wars at the Movies" will merely scratch the surface on this surprisingly expansive niche.

STAR WARS (UNITED STATES)

The standard U.S. lobby cards for Star Wars will serve as a representative set and beginner's guide to what collectors should keep an eye out for.

STANDARD LOBBY CARDS

Both 11x14" (standard) and 8x10" (mini) lobby card sets were produced, each containing eight unique images. Several printings and related variations exist. NSS-issued sets contain a bottom border with title, studio/distributor, and copyright information along with the NSS code for the film that would serve as a reference number used for other advertising materials the organization generated, including posters. For example, the code for the first printings of the Star Wars lobbies was "77/21-0." Reprints from 1978 after the film was a smash success were subsequently coded "770021."

11x14"
Star Wars NSS 2nd Printing Lobby Cards - Courtesy of Cj Fawcett | Star Wars: The Big Pick and the Collection of Bill Duelly

  
8x10"
8x10" NSS 1st Printing* Lobby Cards - From the Collection of Bill Duelly (*last card is 2nd Printing as indicated by the NSS Number)

Borderless or "full bleed" versions of both sets lacking NSS information -- most likely printed in-house by the studio -- were also produced. While most sets were typically printed on regular cardstock, sets printed on much thinner, poster-like stock have also been documented.

Star Wars 8x10" Full Bleed Lobby Card with Studio Imprint on Reverse - From the Collection of Matthew Mulinaro

PHOTOBUSTAS

Larger sized lobby cards, commonly referred to as "photobustas," were released in smaller sets. A set of four 16x20" and two 20x30" full bleed photobustas were produced for Star Wars.

16x20"
Star Wars 16x20" Photobusta 1 - From the Collection of Matthew Mulinaro
Star Wars 16x20" Photobusta 2 - From the Collection of Bill Duelly
Star Wars 16x20" Photobusta 3 - From the Collection of Bill Duelly
Star Wars 16x20" Photobusta 4 - From the Collection of Bill Duelly

20x30"
Star Wars 20x30" Photobusta 1 - From the Collection of Duncan Jenkins
Star Wars 20x30" Photobusta 2 - From the Collection of Duncan Jenkins


TITLE CARD

Historically, lobby card sets would often include a title card displaying the name, logo, or poster artwork for the film. One such card was created for Star Wars, though it is less commonly found with extant lobby card sets. Featuring a deep blue color utilized in other early print advertising for the film, the Star Wars title card has been found with original studio-issued, full bleed 11x14" lobby card sets as well as 2nd printing NSS sets. It is believed to have been sent only to theaters that ordered the entire assemblage of lobby cards and photobustas, making it somewhat elusive.

Star Wars 11x14" Title Card - From the Collection of Jay Tamminga


CHARACTER PORTRAITS

A set of six 12x17" character portraits were printed individually and as part of a roughly 34x37" promotional poster that was apparently included as part of a package with a set of the 8x10s, 11x14s, and 16x20" lobby cards. A small image of the poster displayed at Grauman's Chinese Theatre can be seen here. Darth Vader and the two droids are noticeably missing from the set, which was perhaps due in part to the star power of Alec Guinness and Peter Cushing.

Star Wars 12x17" Character Portraits - From the Collection of Duncan Jenkins


A similar set was also produced for The Empire Strikes Back where R2 and 3PO would finally get their own portrait, though Vader once again didn't make the team. Instead, he was honored with a 20x30" photobusta all his own which depicted his menacing visage amidst a starfield, closely resembling the imagery from the film's advance one sheet teaser poster.

THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK & RETURN OF THE JEDI (INTERNATIONAL)

Comparable domestic sets in the standard sizes outlined above were also produced for The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, but for the sake of diversity, some foreign examples for these two films will provide a glimpse into the larger world of lobby cards outside of the United States.

Italy was a source of some of the most aesthetically striking larger photobustas (or "fotobustas"), with standout sets for each of the three original films. Though they can be classified more as half sheet posters due to their 18x26" size, they essentially embody the characteristics of lobby cards, particularly with the set for The Empire Strikes Back. The Empire set consisted of twelve images from the film framed within a sleek silver border framed by the tagline "Continua La Saga Di 'Guerre Stellari'" and translated title L'Impero Colpisce Ancora.

From the Collection of Duncan Jenkins

Lobby cards from Mexico present similar characteristics but certainly have their own distinctive style, with smaller black and white still images from the films set among additional color artwork. For The Empire Strikes Back, the stills are bordered by a striking combination of the domestic Style "B" and Noriyoshi Ohrai's artwork along with the film's credit information and translated title El Imperio Contraataca.

From the Collection of Duncan Jenkins


The pattern continued for Mexico's Jedi lobby cards, with stills set against a rearrangement of the film's Style "B" theatrical poster artwork and the country's Spanish title El Regreso del Jedi (in contrast to Spain's El Retorno del Jedi). Mexican sets for Empire and Jedi measure roughly 11x14" and the original cards for Star Wars are slightly larger, measuring approximately 12.5x16.5".

From the Collection of Duncan Jenkins


The following 8x10" lobby cards for Return of the Jedi are interesting in that the film's title logo is in German (Die Rückkehr der Jedi-Ritter), but based on an imprint which reads "Imp. G. DARMON Paris," the cards were actually printed in France, and likely distributed to German-speaking areas in Europe. A similar imprint can be found on German lobby cards for Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back. In fact, the same sets of images for each of the three films coincide, with the sole distinction being the French or German language of the logo. Similar image sets can be found from other European regions in their respective languages as well. It should be noted that this particular set is missing two cards (the Falcon flying through the innards of the Death Star, and a crane shot of Vader's arrival from the opening of the film).











Unfortunately, period photographs of lobby cards in use are quite tough to come by. But, some great images of original Star Wars lobby cards on display at the old Eastwood Theatre in Indianapolis (which ran the film for a staggering 55 weeks!) can be found over at CinemaTreasures.org.



Special thanks to Duncan Jenkins, Todd Chamberlain, and Pete Vilmur for aiding with information for this post.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

MarketWatch: Luke Skywalker (Jedi Knight Outfit)


Michael L. writes:

Following a few months hiatus the 'figure of the month' MarketWatch is back. Kicking off the Return of the Jedi line is Luke Skywalker (Jedi Knight Outfit). With fewer cardbacks to sample from the market we will focus on getting a range of quality along with a few related items (e.g. baggies / mailers).



ROTJ cardbacks are where finding premium items does become somewhat of a struggle, given the bubble quality took a dive at Kenner and finding clear bubbles is becoming increasingly difficult. Lots of nice cards...not so many clear bubbles.

Luke Jedi did come in a number of variations, with both a different coloured lightsaber (blue and green) and differences in the cape (with the snap-cape in use for part of the run). This month's data included the usual array of MOCs, from beaters to high end items. I was also able to get a few interesting items, including an ungraded MOC right from the collection of Rick Springfield (could we call him a 'regular' on the 'Chive Cast? Onto the data...

RETURN OF THE JEDI

65A Ungraded - $750 (this sold through CIB Investments and was part of Rick Springfield's collection)

65A Ungraded - $108.27 (big drop in price when the item is from a regular Joe)


65B AFA85 (C80/B85/F85) Blue Lightsaber - $600

65B AFA75 (C75/B80/F85) - $579

65C Ungraded (sold in Australia) - $423 (I think this offer on the Luke Jedi card is a perfect combination)

77A AFA85 (C85/B85/F90) $367

77A Ungraded - $152.50

79A Ungraded - $174.50 (really nice bubble)

POWER OF THE FORCE

POTF 92 Back AFA85 (C85/B85/F85) - $625

MAILER

SKU #71710 - 3 Pack AFA75 (Luke Jedi / Leia Poncho / Lando Skiff Guard) $595 (sold on Facebook)

LOOSE FIGURES

AFA90 (Blue Lightsaber) - $305

AFA75 (Lili Ledy) $300

AFA80 (Blue Lightsaber + Snap-cape) $175

AFA85 (Blue Lightsaber) $169.99

AFA85 (Flesh face) $57.90

Laser Pistol - I've added this is in to this MW given the box included a number of images of Luke (though in his Dagobah outfit) - Ungraded MIB $177.50
BONUS ITEM

I've never posted an item that's for sale, but couldn't resist with this 79B with coin offer sticker (we love these combos on the MarketWatch). This is currently listed on eBay for $899. Obviously well above market value...but was worth a look. This card has the sticker offer for Anakin on the back of the card, and the coin offer sticker on the front -- what a combination. Goes to show just how many of these Lukes they must have pumped out, to have had this warming the pegs and end up marked down and a coin offer on top of the chance for a free figure.


SUMMARY

So there we have Luke Jedi. Quite a few nice MOCs, though quite tough with a clear bubble (no surprise there). The Rick Springfield MOC got a few extra dollars (not sure if that premium will hold up over time). I did try Facebook as a source, only to find a lot of unsold items that then appeared to have moved to eBay and SOLD.

The clear bubble AFA75 65B was on Facebook for awhile before hitting eBay. For a main character there were still a number of decent 'bargains' out there for ungraded MOCs -- around the $150 mark, which in this market for a main character feels like not too bad a price. Plenty of loose Lukes out there too. The mailer was probably my favourite piece (actually my research this month led me to find one of those exact mailers on Facebook and I bought it!!).

The next update will be for Admiral Ackbar, and as a lead-in I found this mailer, which included both Luke Jedi and Admiral Ackbar.

SKU #71430 (Luke Jedi / Ackbar / Lando Skiff Guard / Chief Chirpa / Rebel Commando / Logray / Princess Leia Boushh / General Madine) - $785. Sold on Facebook (or perhaps SWFUK)


Happy collecting and Wampa Wampa.