The Hollywood Art Museum (HWAM) opened in Sansar on Saturday, December 9th, 2017. A joint endeavour between Sansar Studios and renowned director, designer, writer, producer, and practical effects professional, Greg Aronowitz. Mr. Aronowitz – whose credits such as Jurassic Park: Lost World, X-Files, Saving Private Ryan, Contact, Terminator 2, and Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance – is an avid collector who has amassed an incredible collection of Hollywood production art, from storyboards to costume sketches, concept drawings, models, and more.
The aim is to provide an environment where digital reproductions of items from Mr. Aronowitz’s collection – spanning a period from Citizen Kane to Transformers: The last Knight offer visitors a unique and intimate view of the creative processes involved in some of the world’s most beloved films. Through this, HWAM hopes to encourage artists in the digital medium to find fresh inspiration in the traditional arts of Hollywood’s past, through the preservation and education of art used in entertainment.
For this inaugural exhibition is featuring a special exhibition of production pieces from the Star Wars franchise films – which comes ahead of the US opening of the latest film in the series Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
Unfortunately, while I had a ticket for the event – the timing: 03:00 onwards on the morning of Sunday, December 10th, UK time, meant I was unable to attend. So instead, I hopped in as soon as time allowed.
Anyone who has been able to visit Paramount Studios, just off of Melrose Avenue in los Angeles might find the spawn point for the experience to be somewhat familiar. Directly behind it is an arched gateway, echoing the iconic entrance to Paramount, with some of the buildings also echoing some of the architectural styling of building within Paramount’s grounds.
Facing the spawn point are two massive soundstages (which also carry a similarity to those of the Warner Brothers studios). These provide the first clue on how exhibitions at HWAM are to be handled: the entrance to each is in fact a teleport point to an exhibition. Right now, only Stage 5 is accessible, a huge poster on the wall announcing it as the Star Wars exhibition. However, Stage 6, just across the way will provide access to an exhibition of Drew Struzan’s magnificent art.
Step through the door to stage 5, however, and you enter the Star Wars soundstage. This offers a mock-up of an interior, complete with plain outer wooden walls, scaffold supports and a pair a green screens. A ramp runs up into the set, resembling the boarding ramp of a space vessel, the green screens either side suggesting CGI of the underside of the ship would be added post-production.
Aboard the ship visitors pass through a series of spaces featuring artwork, production sketches and reproductions of props from the film; there are even reproductions of casts used to make merchandise and models of that merchandise.
The spaces are organised into themes. The Beginning: Spaceships guides visitors through the design of various Star Wars craft, with a notable focus on the veritable X-Wing fighter (above). Races and their modes of dress, etc., comes next, before a broader look at the worlds of Stars are examined and then, finally, a peek into the world of merchandise.
The work of many of the behind-the-scenes bigger hitters for production design are featured in the exhibition, including Joe Johnston, the late, great Ralph McQuarrie, Phil Tippett, and Colin Cantwell – the man most closely associated with the X-Wing and the Death Star designs.
Wall panels also provide text information, and collision volumes before wall and free-standing displays will trigger audio explanations of images and models (VR users can press the audio buttons alongside display sections). This means that HWAM works for both VR and Desktop users, providing information equally to both – kudos to the Sansar Studios team for this!
There is, however, a slight bug: some of the models can be picked up and dropped – this is particularly prevalent in Desktop mode, where an accidental left-click can see you wearing an X-Wing or Admiral “It’s a trap!” Ackbar’s head. This can result in some of the models being scattered on the floor, and is an a general issue in Sansar which will hopefully be addressed to prevent “non-movable” objects getting accidentally moved.
Fortunately, each time the experience spins-down when no-one is using it, things get replaced on the next spin-up (the reset buttons on the various stands do not appear to work). Note, as well, that the Exit door to one side of the last exhibition space will drop you back into the Star Wars spawn point, on the sound stage.
This is a superb exhibition, and it is clear that a huge amount of thought has been put into it. The artwork has been beautifully reproduced and the models are exquisite – particularly those for the merchandise spin-off section (above), some of which are small when compared to an avatar, but still wonderfully produced – just take a look at the Cantina Bar scene or the model and cast for Ben Kenobi.
With the Drew Struzan exhibit “coming soon” to sound stage 6, I’m looking forward to repeat visits to the Hollywood Art Museum and seeing what other gems Greg Aronowitz and the Sansar Studios team offer us! And if you do like Star Wars, keep an eye on the Sansar blog and the Atlas Events calendar (when visible) for more activities in the week commencing Monday, December 11th, 2017.