George Lucas’s “Star Wars” (1977) was a turning point in the history of filmmaking. It was the defining moment in the history of visual effects on film that inspired the creative visions of numerous other filmmakers like Steven Spielberg and James Cameron. The seventh film in the franchise, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” became the highest grossing film of 2015. Like the original, it has received praise and earned an Oscar nomination for having some of the best special effects seen on film.
In an interview with iO9, Roger Guyett and Patrick Tubach of Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) talked about their work as visual effects supervisors on “The Force Awakens,” a company that was founded by George Lucas in 1975 to produce visual effects for the original 1977 film, re-titled “A New Hope.”
Guyett, who was also a second unit director on the film and Tubach have both been nominated for the Best Visual Effects Oscar this year. Guyett told io9 about the blending of practical effects and computer- generated imagery (CGI) that achieved the required realism that J.J. Abrams sought for the film.
“One way around the block, you’re going completely old school. And at the same time, you’re taking contemporary technology and you’re pushing that to a point where it’ll become so seamlessly engaged and blended with what’s really going on in front of a real camera. That was our fundamental at every step. To make it feel like those events were really happening and that it was a completely immersive experience,” Guyett said.
The greatest example is the BB-8 droid which won the hearts of old and new fans alike. BB-8, like his predecessor R2-D2, was created practically and involved robotics that would be controlled remotely by special effects technicians. However, there were scenes or movements that could not be achieved by a robot alone.
“The best performances we all got out of him was when he was directly being rod-puppeted,” said Guyett. “Because with a remote control, obviously, the operator doesn’t have that absolute connection to that creature. There’s a lag. There’s a delay.”
The puppeteers had to be digitally erased in post-production to complete the illusion of BB-8 moving on its own. “We did some incredibly complicated rig paint-outs for the movie,” Guyett.
“Ultimately, when you watch the movie, our goal is that you just watch it and you’re not even aware of the real versus practical. But all of the personality of BB-8 is consistent,” Guyett said.
Variety recently uploaded a video on their YouTube channel which details the various visual effects done for “The Force Awakens” and shows real practical sets and a full-scale Millenium Falcon prop that the actors can hop into in addition to the VFX sequences created for the more action-oriented scenes. An example of this is where TIE Fighters chase the Millenium Falcon across Jakku, which had to be created digitally. The video also shows how Maz Kanata, voiced by Lupita Nyong’o, was created through both motion-capture of the Oscar winning actress and computer graphics. The video can be seen below.