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The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences kicked off a four-evening series, Hollywood Takes to the Air, with a Thursday evening program that included a rare look at how George Lucas cut together a “visual storyboard” for the climatic rebel attack on the Death Star in Star Wars. This was assembled from shots from a collection of classic aviation-themed movies including Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo.
A sequence from that “storyboard” was screened side-by-side with the actual clip from Star Wars, revealing its influence on the shot composition and editing.
Thursday at the Linwood Dunn Theater, The Illusions of Flight: Behind the Scenes of Hollywood’s Aviation Classics included film clips, newly unearthed stunt and crash footage, and vintage sound recordings to show how capturing flight for motion pictures has evolved from stunts, to models and miniatures, to CG techniques. Oscar-winning visual effects supervisor Craig Barron and Oscar-winning sound designer Ben Burtt moderated the conversation.
“These were exciting moments for audiences,” said Burtt as the pair showed early footage, some dating back to 1912.
“A lot of pioneers in Hollywood were fans of aviation,” added Barron, showing images of Cecil B. DeMille in an aircraft, and Hollywood stars such as Mark Pickford at the airfields.
Advancements in filmmaking were traced through clips from classics such as Wings and Howard Hughes‘ Hell’s Angels. During a look at Howard Hawks‘ The Dawn Patrol, Barron and Burtt explained the Dunning Process, an early method of creating traveling mattes, as well as advancement in production sound recording.
More recent films featured in the program included The Aviator and Flight.
As part of the series, the Academy will host screenings of aviation-themed films Lilac Time (1928), Twelve O’Clock High (1949) and The Right Stuff (1983) from Aug. 15 to 17. Airplane miniatures and other production materials from classic aviation films will be on display in the theater lobby throughout the weekend.
Barron, who won an Oscar for his work on The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and was nominated for Batman Returns, has contributed VFX to more than 100 films, including The Empire Strikes Back and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Burtt — who created the “voices” of Star Wars’ R2D2 and Wall-E’s title character — won two special achievement awards at the Oscars for Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Oscars for E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
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