Images courtesy of artist
Today Xbox One invites the beloved block-building explorer game Minecraft onto its platform with open arms, marking its graduation to the world of next-gen gaming consoles. Promising "even bigger vistas," as well as the ability to import previous work into the newer, higher-res cubic universe, Microsoft's expanded game can only be good news for creative Minecrafters, who have blown up the art world's news feeds this summer with some incredibly ambitious projects.
Among other projects, we've seen countless games meticulously reproduced in Minecraft style, a series of ridiculously detailed floating islands, and a massive 5200 sq. km world called Aerna. This summer, one of the most ambitous Minecraft endeavors we heard about was the in-progress replication of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.
The film is being painstakingly reconstructed by Minecraft sculptor Grahame Skeavington, also known as Paradise Decay. As of his last update, over 70 minutes of A New Hope have been blockified, putting our cubic heroes on the brink of confronting the first Death Star. Demonstrating the fruits of his labor, Skeavington has repurposed this footage into several tantalizing trailers and driven the Internet wild with anticipation of his uncanny remake.
With an ambiguous expected release date of, simply, "2015," we couldn't wait for another taste of Skeavington's Minecraft galaxy far, far away, so we got the inside scoop on his artistic process, his progress thus far, and what it takes to take on a project of intergalactic ambition.
The Creators Project: What inspired this project, and how did it go from an idea to something your team started pursuing?
Grahame Skeavington: First things first, I’m not a team as such—it’s mostly myself with a little help from my daughter who is battling cancer. Minecraft helps her take her mind off her daily health issues. A few years back I was looking for something new and epic to do to boost my YouTube profile. I have always been a big fan of Star Wars since my father (rest his soul) took me to the cinema to see Star Wars for the first time on my 14th birthday. We had pancakes, watched the movie, and I was blown away! It was one of my fondest childhood memories.
A couple of years back, my daughter and I started to play Minecraft and I had the idea to re-create the famous ‘Death Star Trench Scene’. This went viral on YouTube getting around 400,000 views and of course this got me thinking about my next spoof ‘Star Wars’ project, so I made the famous scene from ‘Battle of Hoth’. Again this video went viral on YouTube getting another 400,000+ views. It seemed that I had found a niche and viewers were obviously interested in this kind of thing so I released 2 more projects. One was a spoof re-creation of the famous ‘Asteroid Chase’ and the second was my first ever Minecraft adventure map called ‘Rise of the Rebellion’. In Rise of the Rebllion, the player has to traverse the Death Star in search of 8 hidden rebel plans whilst fighting off Stormtroopers. Famous YouTubers ‘Yogscast’ did a ‘lets play’ series of my map and generated over 2,500,000 views! Around this time a well-known Minecraft Podcast by the name of ‘The Shaft’ started to feature my exploits. One of the shows host ‘Eric Fullerton’ joked during a live stream…. “…at this rate he will have created the whole movie.”
I like a challenge so that’s what got me started on this project.
Can you explain the process of interpreting a live action sequence in Minecraft cubes, to those unfamiliar with the game and its remix capabilities?
I have had to approach this project scene for scene, with each scene being a whole project on its own. Minecraft is a game about learning how to build, craft and build anything your imagination desires, but at its heart it’s very basic.
This is probably the reason why it has become so popular and it’s a great learning tool.
Blocks in Minecraft are not small, for example my ‘Millennium Falcon’ spaceship is only about 10 blocks in height, so as you can image it’s quite hard to get the thing to look right in the game. Building the sets and vehicles are another challlenge in itself. I spent around a year just building a lot the sets I needed for the film. The DeathStar Trench took around six months, another three months for the Sandcrawler and a couple of months to recreate ‘Tatooine’ just to name a few off the top of my head.
As I said I went about this scene for scene, so a typical day would start with me watching the section of the movie I was to re-create. If the set/scene wasn’t built, it would take a day or two just to build the set.
For example, at the start of the film you see C-3P0 and R2-D2 in the ‘CR-90 Corvette’ which is being chased and attacked by the Empire.
A quick rundown of a scene would go like this:
1. Watch the scene I’m going to recreate.
2. Build all the interiors with blocks.
3. Create the skins needed: Minecraft features computer controlled AI creatures called ‘testificates’. In the game these are basically villages that go around farming and doing other chores. I have had to create new skins for these, for each new scene. I used a program called ‘Paint Shop Pro’ to design ‘Star Wars’ themed skins, and I’ve have made around 88 custom skins so far.
4. Make sure the sets look as close as possible to those in the film: Again this process requires me having to redesigne all the original Minecraft textures to look as close as possible to those in the original film. Another challenge as the textures are quite big and blocky to look at.
5. Place my actors in the scene and hope for the best! I say hope for the best becuase I have no control over their actions. They are all controlled by the Games AI so for me it’s a matter of waiting for them to move/act in the directions I need to film each shot. This can take anywhere upto 8 hours just for a few seconds of film.
6. Practice the camera angles and positions.
7. Film the scene: Two seconds of usable footage could take me anywhere up to 8 hours just to get what I need. For example, there’s a ‘Detention Block’ scene in the original film where Han, Luke and Chewie find and rescue Princess Leia, there’s a lot of shooting and explosions. This whole scene lasts just two minutes, but took me a month to film.
How is the process for building an object in Minecraft different from building in traditional CGI?
CGI allows an artist to create objects inside a computer using software based algorithms. In Minecraft, it’s more physical-based so you can’t just program an object into the game, you have to build it from the ground up. Also the ‘testificates’ don’t act and have no facial expressions, so I’m having to find physical ways to give them expressions, like looking at the ground to give them the emotion that they are sad, for example.
Do any Star Wars locales or scenes stand out in terms of their detail/perfection? For example, did you recreate the entire Death Star?
To be honest the entire film so far stands out for me, but only becuase I know whats gone into it. It might not look much on the screen and its depth is something people will never see or comprehend, but thats something I’m very proud about.
As for the Death Star, I haven’t built a full size Death Star—only a small one for distance shots PLUS the ‘Trench’ scene which took six months to build.
A couple of my favourite moments/achievements are:
1. Recreating the ‘Chess Scene’ from the original film where Chewie, C-3P0 and R2-D2 are playing a space version of chess. I couldn’t make the aliens needed for the chess game, so instead I made a giant chess board and used original Minecraft creatures and monsters as the chess pieces.
2. The ‘Cantina’ scene where Luke and ObiWan enter the bar in search of Han Solo. The bar patrons are a mixture of cameo’s featuring famous YouTubers like: Notch, The Yogscast, Jesse Cox, The Minecraft Crew, Rsmalec, 2 Girls 1 Minecraft, Dead Workers Party, Bebop Vox, Sea Nanners, and Seth Bling. I also thrown in some of the original alien skins for good measure and any Star Wars fan should instantly recognise them.
Notch, who made the game is actually the bad guy in my movie who gets his arms chopped off—but don’t tell him!
As for the whole project, looking back to when I started 3 years ago, I have noticed a big difference in how much better the film is getting. I seem to be out doing myself with each new scene.
Ideally I would like to go back and re-do certain scenes but thats virtually impossible now, would take even longer, mess up my production process and if I kept doing this the film would never get finished. I’ll put it down to a learning process and part of its charm.
What were some surprising challenges you've faced while working on this project?
In the bigger scale of things the whole project has been very daunting. Minecraft is so basic and simplified that I’ve had to come up with a whole host of new ideas and tricks to make certain scenes work. Like the ‘Chess Scene’ above for example. I am not using any modifications in the game and this was one of my MAIN goals to keep it all original and vanilla, as they say. For example in the film you might see a Star Destroyer heading towards the camera with a planet in the background. It would take months just to build one planet, so this is what I’ve had to do to get the same effect:
In Minecraft you can collect pumpkins to farm and eat, but if you put one of these pumpkins on your head you get to see the world through a cut-out in its eyes and it’s a great effect. What I did was take the pumpkin head skin, copied one of the ‘ORIGINAL’ planet images from the film and made a new skin with it for the pumpkin head. Now when I put it on my head I get a static view of a planet in the background instead of the default ‘pumpkin eye view’. It’s then a simple matter of flying towards my Minecraft model/build of the Star Destroyer to recreate the scene from the original film.
What are some tips and tricks you've picked up throughout the project? Anything you can share for aspiring Minecraft art creators?
I’ve picked up too many tips and tricks to mention. I discovered that when you first boot up and start the game all the ‘Testificates’ face North for a few seconds. (Not a lot of people know this) This is great for getting your testificates/actors to face the way you need them. Minecraft also has actual pictures in frames in the game and these are great for making customised buttons, consoles, windows and are great for additional effects. I also discovered that ‘testificates’ would jump around if you place a half-block under their feet. this is a good effect to emote the expression for ‘jumping for joy’.
It’s all a discovery process and I would say to other artists that trial and error is the key. Just explore, try out your ideas and learn from the results. Thats how I’ve managed to try and keep sane.
Skeavington is planning to premiere Minecraft Star Wars: A New Hope in a first-of-its-kind Twitch livestream, after which it will be available for free on his website. The film will air with no sound in order to avoid copyright issues. In order to watch at full volume, you'll have to supply your own copy of A New Hope playing alongside Skeavington's Minecraft footage. We've already got our copy, dusted off and ready to go—just a year of waiting stands between us and the ultimate Minecraft experience.