The shot of an Escape Pod dropping away from the crippled Rebel Blockade Runner during the opening sequence of Star Wars: A New Hope has always been a favorite of mine. The imagery is perfection in its simplicity. Reminiscent of a NASA film of booster separation on the Saturn V rocket, this iconic moment conveys an important story point with images that are both new and familiar.
This shot was also a historic one as it was the first visual effect completed by the fledgling Industrial Light and Magic team. The story is that executives from 20th Century Fox were growing increasingly concerned over the amount of time and money being spent on the unproven visual effects department which had so far failed to deliver any footage. Fox threatened to shut them down if they couldn't show some progress.
Led by visual effects supervisor John Dykstra, model shop supervisor Grant McCune and visual effects cameraman Richard Edlund, the ILM crew hurriedly assembled the model of the Escape Pod, suspended it from the ceiling of the stage over a plain black backing below and filmed it dropping away from the camera in slow motion. A few flakes of mica were tossed in to recreate the look of ice crystal sparkles seen in the NASA footage and a classic film moment was born. The shot was what is referred to as being done "in-camera", no motion control, no composites, just shoot it and done! The execs at Fox must have liked what they saw because the rest is history!
I've recreated a model of the Escape Pod in what is known as Studio Scale, the same size as the original filming model and using parts from the same vintage model kits for the detailing.