Lucasfilm Explains What Went Into Digitally Recreating Familiar Characters For ‘Rogue One’

Star Wars movies are always pushing the technology of cinema, in this case recreating characters played by deceased actors. Now the filmmakers explain.

One of the most contested parts of the Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (currently cleaning up at the box office) is its use of CGI to recreate actors as they were in 1977’s A New Hope, which Rogue One is a direct prequel to. It was done most prominently on the character Grand Moff Tarkin, originally played by the late Peter Cushing, as well as on a certain princess.

Thanks to The New York Times, we know how the idea went from conception to the final product, which has received mixed reactions (I was surprisingly OK with Tarkin, but Leia definitely looked fake and felt tacked-on).

John Knoll, the chief creative officer at Industrial Light & Magic who came up with the idea for Rogue One and shares a story credit on the film along with Gary Whitta, said the effects “in the spirit of what a lot of ‘Star Wars’ has done in the past.”

While characters like Mon Mothma and Gen. Dodonna simply got new actors in their roles, it was decided Tarkin would be artificially recreated, given his importance to the plots of Rogue One and A New Hope. To that end, and with the approval of the actor’s estate, they hired English actor Guy Henry, who performed with motion-capture dots. “If he’s not in the movie, we’re going to have to explain why he’s not in the movie,” said Kiri Hart, a Lucasfilm story development executive and Rogue One co-producer. “This is kind of his thing.”

Knoll called the technique a “a super high-tech and labor-intensive version of doing makeup. We’re transforming the actor’s appearance to look like another character, but just using digital technology.”

The toughest part of the process was mapping all the subtle facial tics and movements and transplanting them into a new environment with different lighting. Before such factors were taken into account, Knoll said the character “looked like maybe a relative of Peter Cushing and not him exactly.”

Tarkin Rogue One

What if the technology hadn’t panned out? Well, Lucasfilm would take a risk without a backup plan.

“We did talk about Tarkin participating in conversations via hologram, or transferring that dialogue to other characters,” Knoll said, adding that he foresaw the expensive process as used sparingly in the future. He argues the case for its use here is solid for narrative reasons. Despite Leia’s appearance, which Hart said was done “to enhance the meaning and emotion” of the scene, Knoll said not to expect, for example, Harrison Ford’s Han Solo to reappear down the line since successors like Alden Ehrenreich will continue to inherit roles.

“I don’t imagine that happening. This was done for very solid and defendable story reasons. This is a character that is very important to telling this kind of story. It is extremely labor-intensive and expensive to do. I don’t imagine anybody engaging in this kind of thing in a casual manner. We’re not planning on doing this digital re-creation extensively from now on. It just made sense for this particular movie.”

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is in theaters now.

Source: The New York Times (via SlashFilm)

Sam Flynn

Sam Flynn

Sam is a writer and journalist whose passion for pop culture burns with the fire of a thousand suns and at least three LED lamps.