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Spotlight: Art of the Saber

Posted: Tue, 4th Nov 2003, 4:16pm

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Simon K Jones

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Downloaded nearly 18,000 times on alone. The number one movie in the FXhome Movie Archive for most of the year. Watched all over the world and still reaching new audiences. Pulse-racing lightsaber action, an ethereal choice of music and a lush, beautiful jungle backdrop.

It can only be Art of the Saber.

The film was an immediate hit when it entered the cinema at the start of the year and has proved to be consistently popular ever since. A spotlight focusing on the Art of the Saber phenomenon is therefore well overdue - and also very timely, given some recent developments regarding LucasArts that I shall get to shortly...

Start at the beginning

Calvin Ho, who plays the victor in the battle and is occasionally seen around as 'Nivlak', was kind enough to answer a few of the burning questions. The Ho brothers came from nowhere as far as most of us at were concerned, so we'll start off with a short history lesson to put everything in context.

As is often the case, it started when Calvin and his brother Clarence were still just kids. Having grown up watching kung fu movies, gaining access to a giant VHS camcorder was too good an opportunity to pass up and they were soon making their own martial arts video sketches.

Time went by and they went their separate ways, filmmaking becoming little more than a fond memory until one Thanksgiving a couple of years ago. With the brothers back in one place, talk turned to Star Wars and specifically lightsaber battles. Soon enough they had made a 'proof-of-concept' test fight, which found its way onto the internet.

"Honestly, we really had little intention of making a finished product after that," recalls Calvin. "However, the response to it was so favourable that we decided to make another one...a better one. And so that was how Art of the Saber came about." The proof-of-concept proved to be invaluable, with viewer feedback enabling them to improve their filmmaking technique and streamline the basis for the movie - "We really owe a lot to the people that took the time to offer their feedback."

Piece by piece

The next thing to do was film the final movie. The goal was to create an impressive fight sequence, so choreography and planning were crucial. "I find choreographing to be very difficult," admits Calvin. "Moves dont readily come to me when I'm out filming. I seem to have mindblanks when it matters most." In order to avoid any 'mindblanks' in the middle of the shoot, everything was choreographed in advance, beginning with the major fight sequences, then connecting them all with 'filler moves'.

Of course, once you get to the location and start rolling, things do not always go according to plan. "We spent four days filming," recalls Calvin, "the first two days were spent capturing the major fight scenes I had in my mind." Calvin then put together a rough cut, only to find that some parts of the short did not flow together properly. "I made notes of the type of footage needed to allow for smoother transitions. Using this information we spent the third and fourth days filming these transition scenes."

This technique of scheduling time for re-shoots led to a slick action sequence - the piece-by-piece style of the production is invisible, with the fight seeming fluid and exciting. Calvin emphasises that he "does not suggest this as a very good way to go about it. I think most professionals would have you choreograph the entire fight first, identify all the camera angles and storyboard it so you know exactly how the scene will flow. Since I'm not a very good artist, storyboarding has always been something I shy away from." Modesty aside, the Art of the Saber style of filming would seem to be a sound and precise method of capturing fight scenes.

The fighting itself is just one half of successfully shooting an action scene - the camerawork is just as important. Calvin identifies two style of action filming - close-ups with fast cuts and wider shots with lengthy cuts. "The first is good for making a fight look fast and action-packed and is especially useful if the combatants do not have any martial arts skills," explains Calvin. "The second method is better if you want to show the actual techniques being used. I think both styles have their place and it's really up to the director in determining the look and feel they want for the movie."

Demonstrating the techniques requires the actors to have some martial arts skills. Calvin's background includes training in tae kwon do, northern-style kung fu and wushu. For many years he practised five days a week, three hours a day. By the time Art of the Saber came to be made, however, he had been out of training for five years - "Needless to say, I found that first day of filming to be extremely painful," he recounts.

For those of you who may be interested in learning more about martial arts, Calvin offers the following advice: "I would suggest doing a bit of research into the type of martial art you want to learn. And ask yourself why do you want to learn it? Do you want to be able to fight? Is it primarily for health and mental well being? Is it for show? Depending on your goal, a specific style may be better suited for you."

Read about Calvin's involvement with LucasArts in part two - Click here!


Sith approaches

Battle commences

Superb clashes

Great location


Pause in the fighting

When doing this... helps!

The final attack


Last edited Wed, 10th Dec 2003, 4:48pm; edited 4 times in total.

Posted: Tue, 4th Nov 2003, 4:16pm

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Simon K Jones

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Success of the saber

When Art of the Saber was released on on January 1st 2003 it was immediately popular. Even an audience fatigued by endless lightsaber tests found the movie to be a thrilling and artfully crafted piece, as evidenced by its position at the top of the charts for months.

"We really didnt know what to expect," says Calvin. "The response to our original proof-of-concept, created one year prior, had favourable reviews and we felt that we put a lot more effort into the finished product. Obviously we were hoping the reponse would be positive and we are thrilled that it's in the top 10 favourites on FXHome."

Of course, the nature of the internet ensures that there is no longer such a thing as a 'limited run' - once something has been released, if popular it will continue to spread out across the globe. Links to Art of the Saber are still appearing on news, film and Star Wars-related websites, its distribution now no longer under the Ho brothers' control. This isn't something that Calvin worries about, though - in fact, far from it. "It's great! It's always nice to know that people enjoy the work that you do. And it's even more wonderful to know that they enjoy it so much so that they pass it on to their friends, mention it on different web forums, or link it from different websites." The internet also enables an unprecedented level of feedback for filmmakers, as Calvin explains: "We receive nice e-mails from all over the world about how people enjoy the film and how it's inspired them to make their own. It's really nice to see that our project has had such an impact on people."

Opening doors

Now to the news you've all been waiting for. Calvin recently paid a visit to the Sony motion-capture studio in San Diego, in order to provide some of the familiar Art of the Saber moves for a new version of the Star Wars: Galaxies online multiplayer computer game, developed by LucasArts and Sony Online.

Let's start at the beginning again. This exciting turn of events began when Calvin received an email from the art director of the aforementioned game. Sony Online were looking to add new content to the game and had encountered Art of the Saber whilst browsing players' feedback. "Some of the users were discussing the saber battle from our film and how it should be incorporated into the game. In reading this, the director downloaded our movie, watched it, apparently enjoyed it, and contacted us to see if we would be interested in helping them."

As Calvin says, it was "a really cool opportunity", and he soon found himself covered in small optical sensors and recreating Art of the Saber in a hi-tech Sony studio. "The studio is located in the PlayStation development building, so the environment was pretty cool." The motion-capture studio consisted of 20 cameras, all capturing the data from the optical sensors that would later be translated into character animation for the game. Calvin performed over 200 separate moves, that "included everything from simple blocks to 5-hit combos. I spent two days filming and I was exhausted! But I had a great time and it was a wonderful experience. I would definitely do it again."

The new content is scheduled for a January release, so anybody interested should start honing their skills. "I don't think anyone has
become a Jedi yet but, once they do, they will see some pretty cool moves in the game including all of the trademark Art of the Saber moves from backbends to spin sabers." If you've wanted to make your own lightsaber fight ever since watching Art of the Saber but lack the necessary skills, it would seem that Star Wars: Galaxies is your best bet!

The next big thing

Unfortunately, we have not had anymore movies from the Ho brothers since Art of the Saber. While any subsequent movies would have a lot to live up to, they certainly haven't retired from filmmaking just yet.

A sequel to Art of the Saber is planned, but filming ran over-schedule this summer. The project should be completed next summer - they may not be prolific, but if all their work is up to Art of the Saber quality, then it should be worth the wait!

The brothers are currently looking for a female actress and martial artist in the Maryland DC area - so if you fit the bill or know of anybody who does, this may be your chance to appear in the next big thing...

Click here to watch Art of the Saber
Click here to find out more about Star Wars: Galaxies
Posted: Tue, 4th Nov 2003, 5:28pm

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Great reading Tarn!

Great luck Calvin with everything!
Posted: Tue, 4th Nov 2003, 5:30pm

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Joshua Davies

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This one is causing quite a storm in the chat room at the moment. I know I loved the film and I'm glad we'll be seeing more of their skills in a Lucas computer game. I'm just not sure I can last till next year for a sequel....
Posted: Tue, 4th Nov 2003, 7:01pm

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Very interesting spotlight, as usual (it does get boring to hear that everytime, eh?) smile

I find it great that the Ho brothers got this opportunity, the fightchoreography of Art of the Sabre is fantastic and I have no doubts it can only increase any game! (or movie, when the time comes...) wink
Posted: Thu, 20th Nov 2003, 2:20am

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Force: 1545 | Joined: 11th Jan 2003 | Posts: 1115

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so where did the Ho brother go. and why are'nt they on my often?
and will the brothers ever return with another amazing movie?
lets just hope
thank you this is aaron sorensen with NBC new good night...
Posted: Thu, 20th Nov 2003, 10:31am

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Art of the Saber is partly the inspiration for my new short under pre-production.
Posted: Wed, 7th Jan 2004, 9:14pm

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Mr Anderson

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Yeah same with me. It inspired me to write something similar to it but a few days ago it turned into this full length I started working on.
Art of the saber definately gets big emotional points. I tihnk the dialouge in the beginning did a huge part in making the film what it was.