|Yoda||Frank Oz||Yoda Quotes||Designing Yoda|
Designing Yoda was a painstaking and risky venture for all those involved. The world of fantasy filmmaking was quite different in the late 70s, and the notion of having a supporting character with significant screen time played by a puppet was unheard of. Unlike the successful Muppets, Yoda was to be seen as a living, breathing alien creature, and not a whimsical creation. Furthermore, the character was meant to deliver ancient philosophies and timeless wisdom. Would it work?
In the early story development of Yoda, the initial descriptions varied from a large alien being to a tiny one. The diminutive direction ultimately won out, and Empire's concept artists developed illustrations of gnome-like and elfin creatures. In the story treatment, Yoda's full name was Minch Yoda, and in the first draft, he was known only as Minch. Once the design was settled, Yoda was realized by make up and creatures supervisor Stuart Freeborn, who designed the alien as an intricately detailed puppet. Yoda was brought to life by the vocal and puppeteering performance of Frank Oz, a veteran collaborator of Jim Henson.
Yoda was meant to continue the role of Obi-Wan Kenobi, whom George Lucas had killed off due to dramatic necessity in A New Hope. Given the freedom to create a new character, Lucas devised Yoda as an odd, ancient and incredibly wise mystic. He tied the two characters together, though, by having Yoda be one of Obi-Wan's instructors in his youth.
For Yoda's return in Episode I, a new "younger" puppet was crafted by Nick Dudman's animatronics crew. For two shots in The Phantom Menace, Yoda was realized as a computer generated character
For Episode II, Lucas again took a gamble by taking a beloved character and recreating him not as his original puppet form, but instead as entirely computer-generated. Early in production, it became clear that the show-stopping duel between Yoda and Dooku could only be carried out with a CG Yoda, but Animation Director Rob Coleman determinedly pursued realizing the Jedi Master as an animated character throughout the entire film.
Coleman's crew secretly developed animation tests using key scenes from The Empire Strikes Back. They animated Yoda delivering memorable lines of dialogue, but also shots of the Jedi Master without dialogue, to demonstrate the ability to convey a performance even when silent. Based on the strength of these animated tests, Coleman's crew got the greenlight to create a digital Yoda.
The ILM animators took great efforts to not outdo Frank Oz's puppeteering skills, so they actually toned down the biological realism in their animation. Rather than have true, realistic lip sync and eye blinks, Yoda would instead have more of a "jaw sync" and slower blinks. Other imperfections, like the constant wiggling of Yoda's rubber ears -- which Oz always viewed as a mistake on his part -- were painstakingly recreated in the computer-generated form.