Star Wars: The man who designed the films' 'look'

Norman Reynolds with his two Oscars
Image caption Norman Reynolds with his two Oscars which were won for best art direction on Star Wars (1978) and Raiders of the Lost Ark (1982)

Much of the appeal of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, for fans of a certain vintage, is its nostalgic harking back to the "look" of the original trilogy. The design of these films was largely the work of one man, British art director Norman Reynolds.

Tucked away on a bookcase at his home in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, are the two Oscars and the Bafta he won for Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark. They sit next to a biscuit barrel in the shape of R2D2 - given to him by Star Wars creator George Lucas.

"I'm absolutely amazed that after all this time these [Star Wars] films are still as popular as ever," says the 81-year-old.

"It's nice that people are interested [in my work]."

As art director on the original Star Wars film, and later taking over production design from John Barry for The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, he designed several key sets in the original trilogy.

Image caption Reynolds designed Darth Vader's meditation chamber for The Empire Strikes Back
Image copyright Lucasfilm
Image caption Norman Reynolds (centre left) worked with director George Lucas (right) on the original Star Wars trilogy

Some of his most notable work includes Yoda's "bog" planet of Dagobah, the carbon freezing chamber in which Han Solo was encased in carbonite, Darth Vader's meditation chamber - all in The Empire Strikes Back - and The Emperor's throne room, Jabba's sail barge and the Ewok village from Return of the Jedi.

He also designed and worked on numerous other blockbusters and iconic movies of the era - including Superman, Return to Oz, Empire of the Sun, Alien 3, Alive and Mission: Impossible.

"I hesitate to say I'm proud, because I always feel it could have been better. I always look at my work and think what else could I have done," Reynolds says modestly.

"We were so grateful to be working, without knowing what this strange science fiction film full of spaceships was.

"We had no idea what we were letting ourselves in for."

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Media captionProduction designer Norman Reynolds recalls working on The Empire Strikes Back

Legendary film director Steven Spielberg described Reynolds as "the creative core of two of the biggest franchises of all time - Star Wars and Indiana Jones".

"He possessed that rare combination of humility and utter genius. His design concepts always exceeded my wildest wishes," he said.

"Norm has inspired several generations of art directors.

"He is a (legend) in his own time and he has raised the bar on the collective imagination of storytellers and the worlds they build."

Image caption Reynolds has been described as one of the greatest production designers in the world
Image copyright Lucasfilm
Image caption The Dagobah set was constructed at Elstree Studios for The Empire Strikes Back

But work didn't always go smoothly on Star Wars. Reynolds admits he was still finishing making C3PO's hands the night before the first day of shooting in Tunisia.

"We had the glove part of it and metal tips for the fingers, but it needed to be made to look authentic.

"Adding those little 'greeblies' (bits of detail added to a costume or prop) made it. It all finally came together, but it really was that close to the wire."

And then there was the time C3PO actor Anthony Daniels didn't show up on set one morning.

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Media captionLucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy said Norman Reynolds was an "incredible artist"

"There was a day when he was slightly late so I took the opportunity to show Tony we could do it without him.

"There was a prop man who was the identical size to him physically, so I put him in the costume for one very short scene, just to tease Tony.

"The scene is in the [finished Star Wars] film."

Image caption Many of his original Star Wars drawings are now in the Lucasfilm Archives in California, but Reynolds still has a few sketches at home
Image caption Sketches of a medical robot and an early design for Yoda's house from The Empire Strikes Back
Image caption A biscuit barrel in the shape of R2D2 was given to Reynolds by George Lucas

And remember the iconic scene in The Empire Strikes Back, when Han Solo gets frozen in carbonite? Reynolds reveals that only part of the prop was modelled on Harrison Ford.

"We took a cast of Harrison's head to make up the figure that was cast in fibreglass, but we used his stunt double to form the body, rather than bother Harrison with that."

He also recalls working on one of the other classic Lucasfilm movies from the time - Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Image copyright Lucasfilm
Image caption Reynolds worked on Raiders of the Lost Ark with director Steven Spielberg
Image copyright Lucasfilm
Image caption Anthony Daniels' C3PO costume was only completed the night before his first Star Wars scenes were filmed

In the famous opening scene, when Indy steals the golden idol before escaping by running in front of the huge rolling boulder, who would have thought the idol began life as a "tacky souvenir" for tourists bought at an airport in Mexico?

"It was a fertility figure that seemed to be a good size for the idol. So I bought it and adapted it and changed it slightly and made sure it worked for the hand.

"It was black so I made it gold. It worked, and I was delighted that it was an authentic piece."

Image caption A golden headpiece of the Staff of Ra from Raiders of the Lost Ark is among the art director's prized possessions

Sitting on his bookcase, next to his Oscars, is a golden headpiece of the Staff of Ra from Raiders, which, he says, is one of only three made from the prop's original mould.

Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy, the producer of Episode VII, described Reynolds as an "incredible artist".

"He's had a huge impact [on the film industry]. Norman contributed these amazing looks that are so iconic today in Star Wars.

Image caption One of the early designs for The Emperor's throne room in Return of the Jedi
Image copyright LucasFilm
Image caption Norman Reynolds, Kathleen Kennedy, Robert Watts and screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan on the Star Wars Episode VII set

"He and [concept artist] Ralph McQuarrie defined what Star Wars looks like and what it feels like.

"He came and visited the art department on Episode VII, and when he walked into the room everybody stood at attention and they were so excited to have him there."

Star Wars producer Robert Watts described Reynolds as "one of the greatest, if not the greatest, production designer in the world".

"Norman is brilliant at what he does - his imagination and eye for a set."

So what is the most satisfying part of being a production designer?

"You hope you've got it right, but you never quite know until you see the [finished] film," Reynolds says.

"To start from the script... and some conversations with the director, and to end up sitting in the cinema and actually seeing the thing in reality is very rewarding.

"If a film works as an entity then you've succeeded, because people don't go to the cinema to see sets, they go for the full experience."

Norman Reynolds will be featured on BBC Inside Out West and on BBC Inside Out West Midlands on Wednesday 13 January 2016 at 19:30 GMT, and for 30 days afterwards on the BBC iPlayer.

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