Draw from the force

Anne Cowan reports on how a visit to a gallery became an other-worldly experience

The good, the bad and the ugly from a galaxy far, far away - strange creatures, robots, spacecraft and more - have come thousands of miles to gather in Edinburgh.

You can stand beside the droids C-3PO and R2-D2, admire some of the elaborate gowns of Queen Amidala and outfit of Darth Vader, trace the evolution of characters such as Jabba the Hutt and Yoda from concept drawings, through clay models to computer images and study models of an X-wing starfighter and other attack vessels.

The range of original artefacts from the archives of Lucasfilm in California which form the interactive Art of Star Wars exhibition on five floors of the City Art Centre even includes some from the newest film in the saga, Attack of the Clones. It is proving hugely popular, with the public and schools. As 35 third and fourth years from Langholm Academy in Dumfries and Galloway arrived, two classes from Carluke, South Lanarkshire, and one from Alloa were just leaving.

Morag Muego, the principal teacher of art, had planned the visit as a practical session. Artists were key to every stage of the development of the Star Wars films.

After looking around, pupils had to sketch costume details and collect information on the films' designers. Researching costume designers was part of their Standard grade design unit. Trisha Biggar, formerly of Glasgow's Citizens' Theatre, and Edinburgh-trained Iain McCaig both worked on The Phantom Menace.

It was policy for Queen Amidala to have many changes of clothing. Her sumptuous gowns have Asian, North African and 14th- and 15th-century European influences.

Video clips reveal the thinking behind portraying military rank and how ordinary materials were used to make otherworldly costumes.

On the ground floor of the exhibition are striking paintings by Ralph McQuarrie, the concept designer for the original trilogy. There is also a computer-generated digital matte painting from The Phantom Menace by Doug Chiang Tricks of the special effects trade are revealed. Only a few fibreglass battle droids were actually made, but an army was computer-generated.

Their close encounter with the Jedi, droids and Ewoks of the emerald moon of Endor impressed the students. "It was just like being in the film," said John McCartney.

"The robotic figures were very detailed," thought Danny Bennet.

Richard Batey and Ailsa Gray enjoyed trying on the rubber creature masks and using hand controls to operate the three-eyed creature.

"The video material was excellent," Ms Muego said. "Designers described their backgrounds, such as being a zoologist first and a designer of creatures second. A sound knowledge of animal anatomy was combined with draughtsmanship."

Ms Muego is Langholm Academy's sole art teacher. "That's why I feel it's especially important to take classes on visits," she explained. "Pupils can go through six years of secondary education and I'm the only art teacher they see. On visits they are exposed to wider influences. They experience diversity."

With that in mind, the students also visited Edinburgh College of Art. Given a plan and information about the different disciplines - including sculpture, graphics, jewellery, fashion and textiles - the pupils set out in small groups to see the work of the graduating classes.

Most headed for drawing and painting first. Three powerful portraits of boxers by Fraser MacDonald were pronounced "great" and "cool". Rachel Irwin's "fly in amber" style works, each the size of a paperweight, caught the attention of several pupils. Helen Kilvington's "lifestyle sold through advertising" paintings gave food for thought. Witty 3-D book illustrations by Alex Naughton were popular and there was an appreciative audience for the animation work of William Becher and William Harding. "Creative and hilarious" was the opinion of Lorraine Edgar.

A room of mirrors was rated a "must see", with pupils recommending it to friends. "It's just past the wall of butterflies." There was also a kitchen in which everything from clothes on the pulley to crockery in the dishwasher was wrapped in plain paper.

"I've never seen such stuff," remarked Richard Batey. "It was fantastic. I was really interested in the paintings and architecture."

Jim Thomson, a technical subjects teacher for some 30 years, found it "a bit way out. You wonder where they're coming from and going to.

"I was interested in the architecture. Standards were very high."

Ms Muego concluded: "As always, the art college made a big impression. Today broadened the pupils' horizons."

The Art of Star Wars, City Art Centre, Edinburgh, until September

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