In May this year we had the premiere for Star Wars: Return to the Table.

This project started in February as a friend’s casual mention of a Star Wars fan film contest hosted by Disney. At first, we dismissed it out of hand, not knowing what we would put together for it. Then the idea struck. Jess created a script in the span of a couple hours, and the rest is history.

We scouted the Great Sand Dunes National Park as a location. The weather was gorgeous. The stream between the parking lot and the dunes was flowing. There weren’t too many people, depending on where you looked. It was a perfect location.

Brett (who can’t draw) created an animated storyboard for the indoor scenes. It was ridiculous, but awesome!

We animated the battle scene on a whiteboard. Also ridiculous! And yes, the “big gun” was a Chap Stik.

We choreographed the light saber fight scene with a professional fighter and shared the video with the actors doing the fighting. Warning: some salty language.

We had a fight practice late in the evening on an unsuspecting tennis court that included the light saber fight practice as well as the blaster battle practice.

On March 12 we did production design at Gary’s. He was kind enough to build us a house and not furnish it, so we could do whatever we wanted to it. Up went dashiki window coverings, a poster-size print of the Great Sand Dunes, and a few other furnishings.

A week later we were filming the indoor scenes at Gary’s. Many shenanigans were had on that day. We had to bring one of the actors back to get a couple shots that were missed, but we got most of what we needed.

March 26th was our first Sand Dunes trip. To say that we were not prepared for the weather is an understatement. Observe:

We scouted the dunes early, and hoped the entire day that the snow would abate enough for us to film. Maybe we should have known since a) two cast members were not able to make the drive down due to the storm, and b) the stream between the parking lot and the dunes was frozen solid, unrecognizable under the snow. But make-up was applied and costumes donned. Despite our hopes and best efforts – even looking for a place where the wind “wasn’t too bad” and the snow “wasn’t quite sideways here” – Saturday was a lost cause.

We got up early Sunday and made a mad dash through the shot list, already adjusted down for the two that couldn’t make it down. We skipped about half of the shots we had planned, as several of the cast had to leave before it got too late in the day.

The following weekend we made our third trip down to the Dunes, and finished the shots we needed. We had some overlap in cast, a body double (ha ha) for one character that was fully covered, and the two that couldn’t make the previous weekend were able to show for this one. Of course the terrain looked totally different, being dry and absent of snow. But we made the best of it, and got what we hoped was enough to put together a fairly convincing scene.

Finally, we suspended Micro Machines Star Wars ships from a rolling wardrobe with fishing wire and placed them in front of a green screen. The Micro Machines were connected to dowels that allowed the pitch and yaw to be adjusted. We filmed them in motion and then inserted them into the live footage.

From that point forward it was editing, special effects, frustration, more editing, lots of collaboration, until finally, on April 24th, we did a final render and went to the submission site. We entered the details of our film, selected the rendered file, and were told only then that the site had a 500 MB limit on what could be uploaded. Our file was 524 MB. “What compression are you using?”



We tried a few different codecs, a few different tweaks to the render but were unable to reduce the size enough. Heck, some things we tried ended up with a nice-quality video that was double the original render’s size. Finally we found a way to make it fit, uploaded our file with a much abbreviated description, and it was done.

And here it is!

And yes, of course there were outtakes: