Supreme Leader Snoke debuted in The Force Awakens as a larger than life hologram, immediately igniting extravagant fan theories about the villain's origins. The character got a much more integral role in The Last Jedi, but writer/director Rian Johnson toyed with bringing him to life using practical makeup effects before settling on utilizing Andy Serkis' motion-capture abilities to convey the character.
"Rian got a sculpt done by the creature team, which completely transformed the look of Snoke away from the almost gelatinous zombie look that was in The Force Awakens, and stamped him into the real world," visual effects supervisor Ben Morris shared with Deadline. "We had that maquette on set, and we also made sure that we had an older actor who we could shoot on every time we had a shot."
Serkis provided the character's voice in The Force Awakens, but as he did nothing more than sit on a throne in that film, The Last Jedi required more of the performer.
"So we would have Andy Serkis in his performance capture outfit. He'd have a head-mounted camera system on—we actually had four cameras, two stereo pairs watching his face," Morris noted. "We were capturing his body movements, and we had two or three witness cameras in addition, so we covered all of that. We also had this reference maquette, and then an older age person and a younger, very tall actor, who wore the incredible golden gown—which, again, is entirely CG in the film."
All of these elements came together to start bringing the character to life, resulting in a surprising impact on the film.
"With all of that reference, Rian went into editorial and started cutting together the sequences. Andy's got this wonderful resonant voice, and we started to watch the whole thing come together without any CG Snoke in there," Morris detailed. "It was working beautifully well. As [visual effects supervisor] Mike [Mulholland] and the team started to put together CG Snoke per the sculpt that had been approved, we suddenly realized that he was a far more imposing character. Andy's voice gave a sense of a larger chest cavity. His throat carried far more timbre."
The decisions with the character going forward delivered the filmmakers a far more horrifying character than originally intended.
"When you look to the CG model that we were building that matched the sculpt, he just looked too flimsy and frail. We had to put the brakes on and say, 'We're going to have to change this,'" Morris confessed. "We did a number of broader things—we made him over eight feet tall, rather than seven feet tall. We expanded his chest. We restructured all the anatomy of his throat, and we took some scoliotic curvature out of his spine that was a feature of the original sculpt. We also restructured his jawline, to give him more of an imposing face."
You can learn more about the process behind Snoke coming to life when The Last Jedi lands on Blu-ray on March 27th.
Do you wish Snoke had been created with practical effects? Let us know in the comments!