New Open University tool could help movie makers stay on target to cut carbon emissions

The new tool could allow those behind hit films like Star Wars - to stay on target, environmentally speaking
Th new tool could allow those behind hit films like Star Wars - to stay on target, environmentally speaking Credit: Star Wars (1977) Disney/LucasFilm

Star Wars may take place in a Galaxy, Far, Far Away but thanks to researchers, Yoda may not be the only thing green about future installments of the famous sci-fi franchise.

Researchers have developed a new tool, which they hope could make film-making more sustainable.

The work, carried out by the Open University, hopes its calculator tool could help the industry make carbon-emission comparisons about which materials and methods are the most sustainable to use.

The scientists worked out that the metal used to create the original R2D2 used 686kg of CO2 but a CGI version of the droid produced a whopping 4,248kg of CO2 - six times the amount of the physical model.

C-3PO and R2D2 walk the red carpet. Credit: RTV

The research, backed by BAFTA Albert, was carried out by an OU academic with a passion for Star Wars. ITV and ITV News Anglia have been part of the scheme designed to reduce our carbon footprint.

Dr Rebecca Harrison, a senior lecturer in film and media at the OU, and is the project lead behind The Environmental Impact of Filmmaking (EIF).

Dr Harrison, alongside colleague environmental scientist Dr Siti Syuhaida Mohamed Yunus, unveiled their research to professionals in the film industry at the British Film Institute.

She used case studies based on four well-known Star Wars props and costumes to demonstrate her work, including lightabers and some of the costumes used in the movies.

The Stormtrooper and lightsabers under the Orwell Bridge on 3 May 2023 Credit: Motion Mapping

Dr Harrison said: “We are taking well-known objects that have been hugely influential on design and making in the screen industries – including items that people maybe have replicas of at home, such as lightsabers – and encouraging practitioners, researchers and audiences to think about them in a different way.

“Specifically, we’re asking what the carbon footprints of props and costumes are so that we can support the industry in making greener choices.”

She said: “Unfortunately, digital design and animation don’t offer easy solutions to environmental problems. There’s a lot of work to do in this area, and studios will need to adapt their digital practices to make them more eco-friendly,” she said.

And she showed how the UK’s film industry could help improve their sustainability practices with the creation of the EIF project’s emerging tools.

  • Dr Harrison explains the work in this OU video

These include the calculator that compares the carbon emissions of practical and digital props, so that people in the industry can make better informed decisions about which materials and methods are the most sustainable to use.

She said: “What we are aiming to do is get people thinking about the differences of physically making something – whether you are making it out of plastic, wood or metal, or whether you are making it with CGI.

The Environmental Impact of Filmmaking research project forms part of the OU’s Open Societal Challenges Programme, which aims to tackle some of the most important societal challenges of our time through impact-driven research.

The Programme’s focus on the themes of Tackling Inequalities, Living Well and Sustainability align well with the OU’s mission to be open to people, places, methods and ideas.

The Programme’s aim is to apply excellent research by OU academics to some of the most pressing challenges facing people across the UK and worldwide to transform lives and drive societal change.

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