From the first episode of Star Wars Resistance, I knew I was falling in love with the Colossus, one of the finest locations in the Star Wars universe. The Colossus is simple in concept: an isolated refueling station on a water planet, a speck from space. Yet it is inhabited by characters, an economy, colorful ships, a culture of racing, and a thriving community of humans, aliens, and droids.
With an eye-catching light palette, Resistance offers something different from previous Lucasfilm Animation productions in that it offers a glimpse of a lighter post-war era (before the shadow of war that will inevitably arrive when the events of The Force Awakens strike). The dimensions of Resistance owe much of its wealth of vision to Amy Beth Christenson, the show’s art director. You might recognize her name in other productions like The Clone Wars, Star Wars Rebels, and the Force Unleashed video games.
In an interview, Christenson told us what it means to be an art director on the show.
For those unfamiliar with the art director title, tell me what an art director does and what that position means to you?
During the pre-production stage, it’s all about developing the world, the art, main characters, and sets, and nail down the visual style of the show. Once the actual production start, most of the day-to-day work includes supervising. I’m still designing ships, characters, working with a team of other artists, and also overseeing and meeting with the lighting supervisor. I supervise the design, the assets, and how the animation is being lit. I give feedback to keep on track with the visual style.
What is the most challenging aspect of being the Art Director?
That’s a hard one cause it’s a fun job. The most challenging part is early on when working with Dave Filoni on figuring the show’s style, especially for Resistance because it was so different from previous productions like Clone Wars and Rebels. I had to figure the modeling and texturing to render what we had in our heads for what we wanted. That was the most intensive part of Resistance but it’s also really fun.
During Star Wars Resistance’s development process, what were some concepts/shots that didn’t make it to the final product that you can talk about?
This project has been different than previous experiences when Dave Filoni had pitched the show’s vibe. In the preproduction stage, I did a lot of quick sketches. We usually have a script and an idea of what the characters are going to be first before we design them. But a lot of character were drawn first as background characters, and they resonated with everyone and got picked to be in the show, like Flix, Orka, and Tam. Some of those designs evolved later on. We did a lot of racer vehicles studies that didn’t make it because we did so many versions of skyracers.
Star Wars is an expanding universe of many connections, in-jokes, and Easter eggs? What continuity do you sneak in? Do you consciously sneak in Easter Eggs and callbacks to other canons? How extensive is your personal research when borrowing from elements of other Star Wars Medias? Comics? Novels? Other TV shows?
This is the hard part for me because I am a huge Star Wars fan ever since I remember. It was the first movie I ever saw. I soaked up all of the comics, novels, and shows as a kid. You can’t sneak in something and not let anyone know about it. We’re careful about what gets in. You don’t want to break the continuity. You have to make sure that whatever you put in the background has to make sense and would be there during that time frame. We come up with ideas, like “would it be cool if…” but we’ve been careful about what gets put in. We get permission to put in what makes sense canon-wise. There is a gatecheck.
What shots/landscapes/characters/other aspects in Star Wars Resistance represents the best of your work or your favorite?
There’s a lot. My favorite stuff was designed by the other guys. I loved Kragan’s ship, the galleon pirate ship that was designed by Andre Kirk. I love that ship, this giant shark-shaped sail barge for Kragan’s and his pirates. That’s one of the coolest ships on the show.
Tam is one of my favorite characters. She was designed by Jim Moore. Her backstory was that she was supposed to be a background mechanic, but they fell in love with her design. They decided she needed to be Yeager’s mechanic.
Alien-wise, Flix and Orka were my favorite. I drew them in an early line-up of background characters who would be living and working on the Colossus. They just happened to be standing next to each other on a sheet of twenty other background characters. Filoni saw the pair and went, “That’s it, that’s our acquisition guys.” It was a happy mistake I drew those two next to each other.
The planet Castilon was great. Bill George from Ireland, the practical model guy of Star Wars and Star Trek, he actually did design a practical model of the Colossus. I was a huge George fan. To have him design it and build a model was just one of the highlights of the show. Being in the room with him was great. I’ve always been in love with the Colossus design. I also really liked the idea it was its own thing in the middle of nowhere. Castilon is just a water planet but it’s fun to work with visually because you work with weather. Colossus is highlighted as the only thing above water on this planet.
When you see the final product of the show, what are you the proudest of?
The team works together so well. I’m most astonished that we’re able to draw something on the design side, the characters, ships, and vehicles, and the assets team have been able to get those assets, and you couldn’t tell the difference between the drawing and the actual model when we get those renders back, even before the lighting. 90% of the time we could not tell the difference between the model or the drawing. It’s the most fun part of the show.
What advice do you have for artists, especially young female artists, aspiring to work on an animated production?
I would just say, my advice is universal cause I’ve been pretty lucky. I’m getting to do what I love as a fan of Star Wars. So my advice is find something you love and pursue it cause your passion and energy is going to come through your artwork. People will be able to pick up on it when they see your artwork. Your passion would make its way through to the product. Once you have an idea of what you want to be, reach out and contact somebody who’s doing what you wanted to do. I learned about people who were doing what I wanted to do. I read about Ralph McQuarrie drawing for Star Wars and it never occurred to me that there were people hired to draw the ships before they came on screen and I went, that was what I wanted to do. Reach out and ask some questions and learn what to concentrate on. I think everybody who works in the industry would be a great sounding board to finding out more about your dreams.
Star Wars Resistance is playing on the Disney Channel and DisneyNOW.