Thursday, December 29, 2016

John Knoll and Kiri Hart Discuss Digitally Creating Characters for 'Rogue One'


By: Dominic Jones

One of the biggest achievements of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story on a technical level was bringing back characters from A New Hope for the film who otherwise couldn't appear using digital technology.  The two characters in particular are Grand Moff Tarkin and Princess Leia.  In a new article in The New York Times, Rogue One executive producer and  chief creative officer at ILM, John Knoll and head of the Lucasfilm story group Kiri Hart discussed the process of resurrecting the characters.

Tarkin was played by Peter Cushing back in 1977's A New Hope, however Cushing passed away in 1994, therefore if Tarking was going to be in the movie Lucasfilm would have to find another way to bring him back.  They cast actor Guy Henry, a veteran of the Harry Potter series, to portray Tarkin on set, then altered his appearance to that Cushing's using what Knoll described as, "a super high-tech and labor-intensive version of doing makeup.  We’re transforming the actor’s appearance to look like another character, but just using digital technology".

Hart knew that Tarkin was a requirement in the story, given Tarkin's history with the Death Star.  She explained to The New York Times, "If he’s not in the movie, we’re going to have to explain why he’s not in the movie.  This is kind of his thing."

Following Tarkin's appearance in the film, which was cleared by the late actor's estate, some have raised some concerns about the ethics of resurrecting dead actors for roles in new films.  Knoll explained that it is unlikely that dead actors will regularly begin appearing in new releases, due to the sheer amount of work that goes into creating the effect.  (Even Lucasfilm appears to prefer recasting actors who are unable to play a role in a film where the character is needed, with Alden Ehrenreich and Donald Glover taking over for Harrison Ford and Billy Dee Williams as Han and Lando in the upcoming 2018 young Han Solo film).  According to Knoll, "We’re not planning on doing this digital re-creation extensively from now on.  It just made sense for this particular movie."

For creating a young Leia, a similar process was used, with actress Ingvlid Deila cast to stand in for Leia during the film's final scene.  A similar process was then used to transform Deila into a circa 1977 version of Carrie Fisher.  Hart explained the final scene, saying, "To deliver on that moment of hopefulness, that is really underscored by the fact that you do get to see her face.  That’s the best possible use of effects, to enhance the meaning and the emotion of the experience for the viewer."

It is truly incredible to learn about the incredible amount of work that goes into the making of Star Wars films.  And while the are some valid questions about the ethics of casting dead actors in movies they did not agree to make, it is truly an achievement what Lucasfilm and ILM were able to do with Tarkin and Leia in Rogue One.

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