This past weekend, the Belgian Props Crew was yet on another mission to take the Star Wars universe from big screen to reality, creating larger-than-life props to enrapture fans this weekend at the Singapore Toys, Games and Comic Convention (STGCC) 2017.
Although they aren’t professional full-time set-builders, their work would certainly convince you otherwise. They take huge pride in taking note of every single detail from every angle, ensuring that they do justice to what they love so much.
Their props and sets are displayed at Star Wars conventions around the world – from Anaheim to London, and now finally to Singapore. They’ve even been featured at Star Wars movie premieres!
We sat down for a chat with the props crew, to talk about their journey thus far, how they create the latest props, and some secrets. Here’s what we found out:
1. They’ve gotten George Lucas, Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy and The Force Awakens Director J. J. Abrams’ stamps of approval.
Not only are their props approved by fellow Star Wars fans and curious onlookers alike, the crew has had their own AT-AT checked out and signed by the franchise’s creator George Lucas himself at the first Star Wars Celebration in Orlando!
The list of signatures they’ve collected include even the likes of Kathleen Kennedy and J. J. Abrams (who signed Rey’s Speeder, the recently displayed prop at STGCC here in Singapore), proving how their work and dedication to what they do have brought them further than they probably ever thought possible.
Stefan Cembolista, Head and Founder of the Belgian Costume Division, recounted about he had “tricked” J. J., Abrams into signing Rey’s Speeder. “I pulled out my Sharpie. He asked “Where should I sign it?” and I said, “Please J. J., don’t ruin our prop – on the inside please”. He was laughing.”
2. They take about 3 months to complete a project on average.
Depending on the scale and details of the project they’re doing; the crew takes about 3-5 months to complete the prop. Sometimes though, even with a complexed and detailed prop – the crew push themselves to work faster to be able to bring out their creations in time for Celebrations and other events.
One of their most memorable projects was when they worked on their build of Rey’s Speeder. Upon receiving the actual vehicle blueprints from Lucasfilm, they only had 5 weeks before shipping it off to the Star Wars Celebration in Anaheim.
“We stayed up day and night, feeding on Redbull, coffee and all this healthy stuff and we got it finished at 5am in that morning,” said Cembolista.
3. Rey’s Speeder – first collaboration directly with Lucasfilm
Building the speeder was a huge milestone for the crew not only due to the speed of its creation but also due to the fact that it was a rare opportunity for a fan group to receive actual blueprints from an upcoming Star Wars movie! The crew were ecstatic when it was J. J. Abrams himself who recognized their prowess and approved of them getting the specs of the Speeder ahead of the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
The project itself had to be totally secret with only core members of the crew getting involved in its’ creation. Even hours before the opening of the convention, the prop was still set-up so that it would be hidden from view — surrounded by walls and hidden from the public eye.
“And we had the whole crew building that thing totally secret, not even all our members were involved. Because we couldn’t risk any leak or anything.” said Cembolista.
4. They were christened as “Imperial Dogs” by none other than George Lucas himself.
Apart from signing the AT-AT the crew constructed, George Lucas even wrote a short message for them. ‘May the Force not be with you, you Imperial Dogs’. Ever since then, the crew have used the name on their crew material, proudly adorning the name they had been given.
5. They’re obsessed with detail.
From scouring the interwebs for high definition and rare images of the props used in the movies or searching for the exact materials used in the movies themselves – the crew constantly go the extra mile to really create pieces that can compare to the originals used.
One of the most amazing facts about them is how they can recreate such detailed props from only image references, normally zoomed up to the pixel.
6. When they are unable to find the right materials and molds, they make their own alternatives.
“Finding the right parts especially from old props like the Falcon – it’s comparable to the very known sentence from Star Wars, it’s ‘from a galaxy far, far away, a long time ago’”, said Cembolista.
When faced with the challenge of being unable to find the exact materials used, the crew creates their own. An example of this is Rey’s speeder, with the front bow half sculpted with a concrete mold and the other created from fiber glass – the two parts then glued together to complete the bow.
7. They’re constantly improving!
At the start, their projects were made to have a fixed base, only to be used in fan movies and other similar fan projects. Nowadays though, they’ve improved the way they construct their props – making them easier to build up, breakdown and transport. The period of time and number of people needed for set up reduced by almost more than half!
We can’t wait to see what else the Belgian Props Crew have in store for us and hope that they will show us more of their awesome creations in the future!
In the meantime, check out this video of them preparing for STGCC: