Looking at John Knoll's credits in visual effects with Industrial Light and Magic, it's very easy to see why people call him a living legend in his field. The VFX supervisor and EP of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story did more than he had ever before on films like the Star Wars prequels, multiple Mission Impossible films, Pirates of the Carribean movies, Avatar, Harry Potter, Hugo, Pacific Rim, and many more. This time around, he had his hand across not just visual effects but general development of the film - oh yeah, and he pitched the story idea in the first place of revisiting that opening crawl of the original Star Wars, as well.
While the trailers show off a planet (likely Jedha) crumbling to dust as it falls apart from the inside out in a spectacular series of visual effects scenes, Knoll promised, "Oh, there's more." When it comes to making a Star Wars movie, though, nothing's quite as fun as wars in the stars.
"There's a big space battle; that was a lot of fun to do, too," Knoll said to Comicbook.com during an interview at the Lucasfilm offices in San Francisco, CA. When he was asked about the level of emotion fans see when they see TIE fighters emerging from a Star Destroyer, ready to go up against a Rebel squadron, he reminds us that the people at ILM and Lucasfilm are fans, too.
"We all felt the same [emotional response] here. I love the original designs of the ships, you know. Especially as we are trying to make new things like the new TIE fighter and the U-wigs and things that kind of fit into that aesthetic - we want it to look like, 'Yes, this came form the same factory that the X-wings came from. The reason I guess that car manufacturers across their whole product line, you see similar things. You know, "Okay that's an Audi" because it's got Audi things about it. We figured that stuff that came from Incom [a starfighter designer in the Star Wars universe], all has those same Incom things."
But designing new ships was just the tip of the iceberg when it came to a major dogfight between the Empire and the Rebellion, and Knoll was excited to explore it.
"Honestly, the space battle was the one [thing from the Original Trilogy] I was very excited about [putting my stamp on], because I just... it's something I really loved about the original film," Knoll said. "To be able to get some time putting in shots of X-wings, TIE fighters, and Star Destroyers was just... they're such great designs, and to be able to do new shots with some of the better tools we've got now, but with those classic designs, it's kind of irresistible."
Others at ILM echoed that sentiment, mentioning that the writers and director Gareth Edwards gave them a lot of freedom when it came to the major space battle over the planet Scarif, working with them to choreograph the fight rather than giving them step-by-step directions.
The teases you've seen in trailers and TV spots? Just the start, Knoll promised.
"It is just a tease, because there's a lot that's been held back. You have not seen all the cool stuff, there's la lot that isn't there."
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story hits theaters December 16, 2016.
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