All of us writing for DIYP are into photography and/or filmmaking, and since you follow our blog, I believe you are, too. But are you also a Star Wars fan? If you are, then you’ll love this video recently posted by CookeOpticsTV. In this video, cinematographer Peter Suschitzky talks about his experience as the director of photography for Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. He reveals what it was like to build sets on a budget, how he lit the scenes, and even how he created the light for lightsabers!
Suschitzky admits that he hadn’s have much experience in visual effects before he started working on this movie. He was honest about it even with George Lucas, but he hired him anyway and he became the director of photography for The Empire Strikes Back. He had a great collaboration with director Irvin Kershner, whom he describes as a delightful, fun and adventurous man with a great sense of humor, always full of ideas. They worked in a large studio made especially for them. Suschitzky worked with a lot of large, diffused lights pointed from above because he used 100 ASA film, which is pretty slow. It was difficult to light Darth Vader and his reflective mask, so Suschitzkyhad to work with large light sources from specific angles.
Suschitzky recalls the point when the production designer told him that the budget for the construction got thin. This meant that they would only be able to make the foreground for some scenes, but not the background. But Suschitzky had a pretty DIY solution for a movie that big. He asked for black drapes and some steam and smoke, and he resolved the rest with colors and light. And he did it darn well, if you ask me.
And now for the part that made my inner child thrilled – Suschitzky also created the light of the lightsabers and he explains in the video how he did. He used 3M material, and he first stumbled upon it while he’d been working on Rocky Horror Picture Show. He compares it to the road signs, and you know how bright they appear when you shine a light into them. Well, this material was used for lightsabers, with a weak light source very close to the camera. The light would make the lightsabers shine, yet it didn’t affect the actors. And while we’re at lightsabers, did you know that Luke Skywalker’s weapon was made with a flash handle from a Graflex camera from the ‘40s? I think that’s pretty cool, too.