LightBox Expo Recap: “The Making of Star Wars: Visions – The Pit”

Being back in Pasadena for LightBox Expo was a homecoming for LeAndre Thomas, who won Best Director at the 2019 Pasadena Film Festival for his live-action short film Mirror. Filmmaking is his passion, and he stays close to it in his day job as Manager of Franchise Video Assets at Lucasfilm, Ltd. He recently wrote and directed his first animated short, “The Pit,” which was part of Volume 2 of Star Wars: Visions. LeAndre got to celebrate with a crowd full of animation industry enthusiasts during a panel titled “The Making of Star Wars: Visions – The Pit,” moderated by Lucasfilm’s Vice President of Animation Development and Production, Josh Rimes.

The spark that gave birth to “The Pit” came to LeAndre Thomas in 2020 in the wake of the George Floyd murder. While attending protests, he noticed the frequency with which signs contained Princess Leia’s likeness paired the word “Rebel.” He realized that no other franchise had that same level of connection with marginalized people, and that at the heart of every great Star Wars story is an oppressed people rebelling. One day, he pitched his idea to his boss, and then pitched it to Athena Yvette Portillo (Vice President of Animation Production), and before he knew it, LeAndre was describing his story to Dave Filoni and Kathleen Kennedy, who thought it would be a perfect selection for Volume 2 of Star Wars: Visions.

The first volume of Star Wars: Visions was made in Japan, but for Volume 2, production would expand worldwide. But as fate would have it, LeAndre Thomas wanted the anime aesthetic for his film, and he found the perfect studio to partner with: D’ART Shatjio. Joining the panel was Darnell Isom, who co-founded the only Black-owned animation studio in Japan with his twin brother Arthell in 2016. The studio was designed to bridge Western and Eastern cultures, making this film perfect for them. LeAndre’s vision was to tap into the nostalgic look of an anime from his childhood, Star Blazers, married with Ralph McQuarrie’s legendary Star Wars concept art. There was no better place to bring this to life than D’ART Shatjio, with an animation crew that is a mix of Japanese artists and talent from around the world.

The third member of the panel was Joel Aron, Director of Cinematography, Lighting & VFX at Lucasfilm Animation. LeAndre asked for his expertise on the film since the plot surrounded people stuck in the dark, reaching for the light. LeAndre gave him examples of the look he wanted, similar to The Last of the Mohicans and Elizabeth. One of the new tools at Lucasfilm Animation that made LeAndre’s vision possible is called Gate Weave, which emulates the film strep aesthetic that is absent in digital projects. He wanted that imperfect, handmade quality that was so present in the early days of Star Wars.

Like all the best Star Wars stories, “The Pit” is about a group of underdogs fighting for what’s fair. And coming full circle, LeAndre Thomas was able to use his expertise of LucasFilm’s media assets to help expand the world in his short, making it distinctly Star Wars. The next time you watch Star Wars: Visions – “The Pit” – pay close attention to the lighting design and colors to truly appreciate the depth of its visionary writer and director.

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Alex Reif
Alex joined the Laughing Place team in 2014 and has been a lifelong Disney fan. His main beats for LP are Disney-branded movies, TV shows, books, music and toys. He recently became a member of the Television Critics Association (TCA).