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: STAR WARS

May be the front be with you

May 23, 1999|Jason Dietrich

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away . . .

To be exact, it was 22 years ago. And the galaxy was a makeshift viewing room in Van Nuys, where graphic artist and title designer Dan Perri carefully analyzed the opening sequences in the 1939 film "Union Pacific," in which titles traveled down the tracks, and some 1930s serials. Next to him sat George Lucas, and together the men would conceive the stark, foreboding opener for the first "Star Wars" film.

After the film's screening for cast and crew, Perri, who had designed title sequences for "Taxi Driver" and "The Exorcist," knew the force was with him. "When the letters started rolling up from the bottom of the screen," he recalls, the audience "went berserk."

To create the effect, Perri made a negative photostat of Lucas' introduction and painstakingly rubber-cemented the white letters to a 4-by-12 piece of black poster board. ("I wonder where the thing is now," Perri laments.) He mounted the poster board at an angle and a camera slowly tracked over the type; the text looked as if it vanished into a star field.

Perri modified Lucas' original, vertical "Star Wars" logo into the distinctive broad-lettered block that we know today so that it would fit the wide-screen Panavision format.

In a Hollywood awash in computer graphics, Perri's handiwork, completed with grade-school art project supplies, seems long ago and far away after all. "It was really primitive," says Perri, who is still in the business but can't claim title credits for "The Phantom Menace," which opened this week. "Now you could do something like that in a day."

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