ILM Was Excited and Terrified to Create Digital Tarkin for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

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Rogue One: A Star Wars Story has two major points of conversation amongst fans: Darth Vader's amazing scene and the digital characters of Grand Moff Tarkin as originally played by Peter Cushing, and a 19 year-old Princess Leia, just as they appeared in Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope. The latter was the topic of discussion in a segment on ABC's Nightline, as ILM opened their doors to the news show for an inside look on how those characters were created and used in the movie.

"I think Tarkin, because he's central to the story of the Death Star, what it is and how it came to be," was essential to Rogue One, said EP and VFX Supervisor (and story writer credti) John Knoll. For the young princess Leia, it was a matter of the timing of the movie, ending "minutes before A New Hope," as he noted.

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(Photo: Lucasfilm / ABC News)

The difficulty of the task, however, was at the front of the minds of Knoll and his team.

"We look at human faces all day every day so people are very attuned to anything that looks off," Knoll said. Paul Giacoppo was the Digital Character Model Supervisor for ILM on the project, which he called "one of the hardest things you can do."

"We were very, very immediately excited and immediately terrified," Giacoppo added.

Both ILM and actor Guy Henry studied Peter Cushing's performances to make sure they would make the finished product as much like Cushing as possible. They first shot Guy Henry live, while wearing an extensive head-mounted camera rig and dots all over his face. That was charted onto a digital model of Henry, which was then transfered onto a digital model of Cushing. ILM then tweaked that to account for nuance like a twitch in the eye or even the stickiness of Cushing's lips compared to Henry's. That incredible attention to detail completed the film's look.

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Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is in theaters now. Directed by Gareth Edwards, it's the first of the new standalone features from Lucasfilm and Disney, which take place outside the core "Skywalker Saga" of films noted by an Episode number. Rogue One tells the story of the small band of rebels that were tasked with stealing the plans to the first Death Star. The story spins directly off the opening crawl from the original Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope. In that crawl, it read: "Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire. During the battle, Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire’s ultimate weapon, the DEATH STAR, an armored space station with enough power to destroy an entire planet."