When it came time to actually make Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, a long-lingering idea for VFX Supervisor and EP (and the man who pitched the story in the first place) John Knoll was very excited to revisit the Original Trilogy era, getting his creative hands on classic vehicles and a major space battle. With a goal of presenting those in a way that looked like top modern films, but also made people think about Star Wars the way they remember it, they took extra care in building the models that would be used for the film.
"We built two full size X-wings that we had on set and I say those are the best full size props that have ever been made," Knoll told Comicbook.com in an exclusive interview at Lucasfilm headquarters. "They're quite a lot better than the ones that were in A New Hope. If you look at the ones that are in New Hope, and Empire and Jedi, they're kind of the right shape and they're painted about the right style. But if you look at them closely, they actually kind of look like set pieces."
For Rogue One, with advanced cameras and one of the most challenging space battles they ever produced, they needed the X-wings to shine.
"We wanted to make sure this stuff, because we were shooting with a very high-resolution format, that they felt a little more plausibly like a real flight article."
Much like the look of Darth Vader in Rogue One, which had to be tweaked slightly to fit that delicate balance, so did the Star Destroyers, the Empire's huge capital ships, including one in particular.
"I think the Star Destroyers look pretty authentic. It's not matching any one particular Star Destroyer because there were multiples for models that were built. There's the three footer for New Hope. There was an eight footer for Empire and then there were high detail close up sections that were built for when the Falcons hiding on the back of the tower," Knoll explained. "What we did is, because of the order of events when this takes place, philosophically I wanted to match the New Hope Star Destroyer, because that's Vader's Star Destroyer and maybe it shows up in this picture," he said with a laugh. "If you compare the three footer to the eight footer, they're kind of the same shape, but if you really look there's a lot of things that are different about them. Just the purist in me said, 'All right well we should be matching with three footer.' But then you couldn't really match the three footer because there's problems with that, that whole upper surface is essentially un-detailed."
Those porthole lights you remember on the Star Destroyers? They didn't exist on that 3-foot model. That presented a problem to Knoll and the ILM team, and so, like Vader, they went for a hybrid option.
"The lights all came with the eight-footer that was built for Empire. What we built was this kind of hybrid; it was the plan form from the three-footer and a lot of the things that you could see as differences between the two models were following the three-footer. But then a lot of the upper surface details curbed form the eight footer from Empire, and then it's got all of those midline lights and the portholes that the eight-footer had, because that's how you remembered it."
That blend of nostalgia and modern sensibilities, looks from the footage so far like it's going to work out quite well. We'll find out for sure in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story when its in theaters December 16, 2016.
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