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Art Director Kilian Plunkett Discusses “Star Wars Rebels”

BY:: Marjorie Galas

While the anime styling of the characters that inhabit Disney XD’s “Star Wars Rebels” may appear quite contemporary, art director Kilian Plunkett and his creative team have based the look of the series on classic origins. The characters have a simple, rounded visage allowing the complex background to infuse mood and tone; a method used in Disney’s classic animation.

See also: Phineas and Ferb: Star Wars 

“The idea of simple characters against complicated backgrounds goes all the way back to ‘Snow White’,” said Plunkett. “We’ve kept more the original trilogy’s beat up, work aesthetic and palette.”

To prep for the series, the creative team revisited the original “Star Wars” source material. Early concept drawings informed both character designs, such as Zeb, who shares some pre-conception Chewbacca traits, and environments including landscapes, buildings and spacecraft. The team also noticed qualities that added a “documentary” realism to the original that were incorporated in to “Star Wars Rebels.” There were tools and material that were never utilized but are received as part of the atmosphere and lifestyle of the environment.

“There was gear on Hans Solo’s belt that looked cool but you never saw him use it,” said Plunkett. “It’s one of my favorite things; no one does a double take, it’s just part of the world. It is like a documentary. There is life and business happening in every frame. These other stories in the background are playing out with their own sense of drama.”

Prior to his involvement in the “Star Wars” universe, Plunkett was a freelance comic book artist, working for publications including Dark Horse Comics, DC Comics and Marvel. His credits include “Red Sun” (the comic based on the movie version of the original comic), “Vertigo – Unknown Solder” and “Batman Begins”, including the creation of the DVD menu for the theatrical version. It was his work on “Star Wars” comics that garnered the attention of creator Dave Filoni, who was working on the “Star Wars: Clone Wars” series at the time of their introduction.

“My friend Henry Gilroy introduced me to Dave. We had a meeting at a food court in Burbank,” said Plunkett. “We talked about our interest in different visual cues, then we shopped for ‘Star Wars’ toys. It was very nerdy.”

Within a few months, Plunkett was working at the Skywalker Ranch as a design and concept artist on “Clone Wars.”  Working with a small staff of designers, Plunkett found he became more involved in reviewing the scripts and working with the actors. During the show’s second season, Plunkett was asked to keep an eye on day to day functions in addition to lower level design elements. The added responsibilities of overseeing function and making creative decisions lead to his advanced role of art director on Filoni’s latest project, “Star Wars Rebels.”

“Dave approached me about the position; there isn’t a radical shift although it is fast paced. I’m a bit more involved in the layout, animation, lighting and visual effects,” said Plunkett. “It really is a team effort.”

Plunkett works with a team of five designers whose main goal isn’t to cater to any particular age group (the show is watched by adults as well as children) but to pay homage to the “Star Wars” universe. Avoiding the photorealism of video games, Plunkett and his team use the artwork of Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away) and the light, color and composition found in the illustrations an paintings of Ralph McQuarrie (conceptual artist and graphic designer for films including “Star Wars”, “Battlestar Galactica” and “E.T: The Extra-Terrestrial”) to ground the viewer in the “Star Wars Rebels” world.

“Today’s video games are high concept. It’s a question of ‘Does it look real?’ We want it to feel true,” said Plunkett. “You should get a sense of the characters’ inner lives, and make a connection to the world around then. It’s stylized simplicity.”

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