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Speaking with StarWars.com on the 40th anniversary of The Empire Strikes Back, George Lucas looks back over four decades to the making of the film, a tricky proposition that despite the huge success of Star Wars put him at financial risk as ILM forged on with new technology and the shooting of the film went overtime and over budget.

“In terms of visual effects, you just couldn’t do those things. Nobody had ever done them before and you didn’t have the equipment, you know? It hadn’t been invented yet,” Lucas says looking back on it. “So on A New Hope, we invented a lot of the technology. And the guys that were working at ILM were learning how to make that kind of a movie.

“We carried that kinetic energy from Episode IV to Episode V, where you could pan with things, things would move fast, and you get a more naturalistic feel to the movie. And, you know, we did kind of the same thing we did with Episode IV. We did little animations of the battle sequence, little stick-figure animations.” The low-tech solution “was some of the very early forms of pre-viz,” Lucas says, and it allowed for a more cost-effective production. “The only way we could do the movie and get it done for the price was to use as few frames as possible on each visual effect shot, which meant if I had a shot that ran 32 frames, they would give me 36 frames, a couple clean frames on either side.” Then they matched the finished special effects shots to make sure they were cut the same length as the animations. “Each frame would cost like $20,000, so you just couldn’t make mistakes,” Lucas says. “You had to really get it down to the actual frame. And nobody had ever tried to do that. And that’s one of the ways we were able to make the film less expensive.”

Check back later for our 40th anniversary episode of Making Tracks as we listen back to previous interviews with Irvin Kershner, Dennis Muren, Robert Watts and more.

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