Industrial Light and Magic has brought dinosaurs to life, taken us to the far reaches of space in many directions, to the depths of the sea, and across many fantastical lands. But Rogue One: A Star Wars Story was a unique task for the powerhouse effects group, who needed to recapture the glory of Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope while also standing up to today's visual standards and expectations.
"The overwriting philosophy of [Rogue One] was to match more how you remember it than how it actually was," John Knoll, VFX Supervisor and EP of the film told Comicbook.com in an interview at the press junket in San Francisco. The first step was starting from the ground up.
"As silly as it sounds to make it associated with a Star Wars film, we're trying to go for higher realism and more grounded, but still with all these fantastic elements," Knoll explained. "You go through a mental exercise of: 'if all of this were real, how would you shoot it, and what would it be like,' and try to let that drive a lot of the decision making."
That mean a wide range of things, from his team using the classic model-smashing technique for ship models, using parts of other modeling kits, repurposed to create starships and walkers, to updating the look of certain costumes so that they'd fit your rose-colored glasses memory, not necessarily look identical side-by-side between the films old and new.
"The stormtrooper helmets, and the costumes," for example, needed a facelift. "If you've ever seen one of the originals from Star Wars in person, they kind of look like a high school craft project. They're a little sloppy and didn't figure that stuff would quite hold up today. So the ones that are in our movie are from exactly the same original design, it's just a somewhat better execution of that original design. If you take a step back, they look like, 'Wow, that looks like the classic stormtrooper, I love it.' But it's a lot better made than the originals."
In the end, the fan experience should be one that makes them think of their first experience watching A New Hope, but that won't make them think they're watching a 40 year-old movie. ILM's track record says they should be able to pull it off.
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Rogue One: A Star Wars Story hits US theaters December 16, 2016. 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."