When Stormtroopers Become Reviewers

Director/Motion Designer Robert Hranitzky describes making of one of the cleverest Star Wars fan films in recent memory.
By Logan Baker

Robert Hranitzky’s unboxing parody “E-11: Standard Issues – Star Wars Fan Film,” has nearly a million views on YouTube and it’s easy to see why. Written, directed and created by Hranitzky, with the help of family and friends, “E-11” is no ordinary Star Wars fan film. 

Instead of choreographed flying scenes and battles, this film features Stormtrooper TK-421 who regularly reviews the latest Imperial gadgets and equipment on his unboxing channel. Live from the Secret Weapons Research and Development department on Mucikanaa in the Quanta sector, TK-421 excitedly unboxes the new E-11 blaster and tries it out for viewers. 

We talked to Hranitzky about the making of the film, including how he used a combination of Illustrator, Cinema 4D and Red Giant’s compositing plugin Supercomp.

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Tell us about yourself and how you got into 3D. 

Hranitzky: I have always been creative. As a kid I always drew and painted. I started using Photoshop quite early, mixing drawings with photography and I even had a handheld scanner that allowed me to digitize my work. 

I drew my own Star Wars comics as a young kid and was massively inspired by the galaxy far, far away. It had a huge impact on me and fueled my creativity. Of course, back then I didn’t know that working as a creative could be a full-time job.

Robert Hranitzky is a director and motion designer. 

Hranitzky was about 9 years old when he drew these Star War characters. 

I studied communication design in 2001 and was also doing a lot of web design and working with Flash. That led to my first experience with After Effects and animation, but I didn’t start learning Cinema 4D until I worked on my thesis film project. I had huge respect for 3D, as well as some fear because it’s such a vast world. 

Today, I am working as a director and motion designer, creating opening titles, product trailers and visualizations. I’m fortunate to have worked with wonderful clients, including Adobe, Apple, Audi, BenQ, BMW, Carl Zeiss, Elgato, Mammut, Maxon, Wacom and more. 

How did you get the idea for this film?

Hranitzky: A few years ago, I got back into building and painting miniature model kits from Star Wars—an R2-D2 and C-3PO set to be precise. That led to me owning a life-size Stormtrooper suit, which has been a dream of mine since I was a kid. 

I had to buy Stormtrooper armor that had to be cut, glued, adjusted and assembled to match my size and body. It was such a welcome change to work with my hands on real physical creations. The suit needed a blaster, which I bought as a resin cast from the UK. 

While building and painting the blaster, I remembered some of the unboxing and review videos I’ve done about creative tech products on my own YouTube channel. That got me thinking about how I would review a blaster, which led to ‘How would an actual Stormtrooper review and unbox this blaster in the Star Wars universe?’

Give us some details about your process. 

Hranitzky: The idea was born sometime in 2017 when I started to write a script around it with different segments and gags. There were months and months where I didn’t even touch the film at all because I was too busy with commercial projects. When I had time, I worked on fleshing out certain visual ideas by designing some of the props while continuing to also work on the script and jokes in 2018. 

My friend Michael Münch, who is also a filmmaker and script writer, was very helpful. I reached out to him for some feedback and help with the script, and his input was really valuable, and it was also a lot of fun to collaborate.

The actual shoot for this was about four days. I had fantastic help from friends and co-workers who loaned equipment and helped with lighting and camera work. The first two days were used to film everything that needed me in the Stormtrooper suit with special effects like real smoke and interactive lights, as well as focus pulls. The last two days I worked mostly alone on the close-ups and detail shots.

TK-421 prepares to open the E-11 box. 

What can you tell us about the sets?

Hranitzky: I wanted to do a lot in camera for the build, so basically everything that is in the foreground needed to be real: the trooper, the blaster, the packaging and of course the desk. I love building stuff by hand, and I find Adam Savage’s approach to building props very inspiring in his videos.

I made the suit and blaster first and then the desk. My dad was super helpful with building the LED electronics, which allowed me to have real blinking lights. I also built two iPads into the desk that were playing UI animations that I created in After Effects. That allowed me to get some real close-up shots of the desk and blaster that needed very little to no VFX work. 

The real-world kitbashing that I did was immensely fun. I used everything that somehow had a science-fiction look from toothpaste lids and rice bowl take-away lids to Lego bricks. I spray painted everything silver and black and then weathered it all to get the right look. 

Real props were integrated into the set, including this iPad with proper UI animations playing back as looped videos. 

Talk about the shooting range and other parts of the Imperial base. 

Hranitzky: I decided to go nuts on the visual details and look. I studied the original films, as well as the new films and shows frame by frame to analyze imperfections like grain, chromatic aberrations, distortions, color, light and composition. I tried to school my eye and understand what it takes for something to look like Star Wars. 

I modeled the corridors in C4D until every nut and bolt was done—even all the little lights are made up of individual geometry. I made sure to have the same level of detail in the review room and the Imperial shooting range. All the modeling was done in Cinema 4D, often using the same simple shapes. 

TK-421 tries out the blaster at the Imperial shooting range. 

The blast door and certain corridor elements were designed and drawn in Illustrator and then taken to into C4D, extruded and refined. All the texture work was done in Substance Painter, which was such a fun new experience and a tool that I started to learn specifically for this project. I didn’t learn Supercomp until post-production. (Watch the VFX breakdown here.)

Tell us more about that. 

Hranitzky: I started with post-production in 2020 and it lasted until April 2022. I handled the post and compositing myself except for the Jawa and Clone Trooper sequences, which were done by my friend Can Erduman, who’s a fantastic character artist. He rigged and animated both characters using Cinema 4D and rendered with Redshift, so I could do the compositing and final touches. 

TK-421 imagines blasting a Jawa as part of his review. 

I was hesitant, to learn Supercomp at first, but this was somewhat classic VFX stuff where I needed to integrate keyed footage and CG backgrounds, so it was a perfect match for that. The way Supercomp blends elements together, complete with beautiful, interactive light wraps and edge feathers was mind blowing. It really helped with the climactic parts, like the shooting sequence with all the fire, sparks and smoke footage from ActionVFX, which was really fun! 

Other Red Giant tools I used heavily were Primatte Keyer, as well as Bang. One of the very first elements I filmed was the intro sequence, which was shot in Iceland with my drone. The stunning scenery made it the perfect location for the fictional Imperial base. 

The only problem was that there were multiple elements in frame that interfered with the otherworldly appearance of the scene, mostly farms, houses, streets and cars that had to be removed. I used Content Aware Fill in combination with Spot Clone Tracker to create a clean plate. Then, I used the 3D tracker to recreate the camera and integrate the 3D models of the base and the ships. 

Using drone footage, Hranitzky turned Iceland into the Imperial base. 

What’s next? Will we be seeing another Star Wars project in the future?

Hranitzky: I am just super happy and thankful that this project is finished. It was one of my biggest learning experiences since studying design. And it truly shows how important personal, non-commercial projects are for artists so we can explore, learn and grow without the boundaries or limitations of clients and budgets. 

Not only have I learned and used new tools like Substance Painter, all the Red Giant VFX Suite and Redshift. I also had the opportunity to collaborate with other fantastic artists, like Petr E.C. Rice who created the wonderful soundtrack. 

This was originally planned as a single fan film, but the demand from fans to continue has been pretty huge, so I’ve decided to carry on. In fact, pre-production and script writing for the next few videos has already begun. 

Logan Baker is a writer based in Denver, Colorado