Thursday, 9 February 2017

Star Wars Rogue One at the VFX Festival

The making of "Star Wars Rogue One" was - for obvious reasons - one of the most popular events at the Escape Studios VFX Festival yesterday.

John Galloway - compositing supervisor, and Steve Ellis, CG Supervisor, were there to introduce the "Star Wars Rogue One" story, one of 2016's most successful VFX movies.

So, how did the London ILM team help to create such an impressive film, and how did they meet the expectations of the legions of Star Wars fans?

Galloway started with a bit of history of ILM and Star Wars. ILM was founded in 1975 by George Lucas to create the original Star Wars movie - so the links have always been strong.  Galloway explained that ILM is now a "global company", and the work for Star Wars took up "pretty much the whole of 2016", with the work being split between the different studios. The live action shoot was mostly done here in London at Pinewood Studios. San Francisco did the re-creation of Peter Cushing as Grand Moff Tarkin.

Star Wars original artwork by Ralph McQuarry
The original film had beautiful iconic artwork by Ralph McQuarry (see left).  But the original artwork wasn't necessarily followed slavishly - it still changed when it made it to the screen. The original designs shape the movie, but change and development are necessary to perfect the final look.

The London team focused on the creation of the planet Jedha, and Jeha City. The landscape was a desert, but it's also supposed to be a "place of reverence", a "home to ancient Jedi". The style had to "fit in with the existing Star Wars look".  This meant looking at Ralph McQuarry's original artwork, and building a city that matched his style.

The London team did the big battle scenes in Jedha - involving lots of 3D animation (such as droids) and plenty of explosions, set extensions, particle simulations (dust, smoke etc) and other VFX work. 
Rendering was done in Arnold. 

John Martin
They also had to orchestrate "the destruction of Jedha", involving a sense of "impending doom" as a nuclear-style strike from the Death Star enveloped the city.

For reference, they looked at footage of nuclear explosions.  The style of the explosion "wasn't so much realistic as believable".  The effects were all "done in Houdini".

They also looked at the paintings of John Martin, the 19th Century English Romantic painter whose apocalyptic paintings had a big influence on the look of the ciy's destruction.

Audience Questions
I asked "what sort of animation reels are ILM looking for, especially for junior positions? The answer was "a broad range of work", and even "2D animation", because "it shows animation skills". Also, they like to see animators who can explain why they did what they did at interview - what were the creative choices they made, and why? And "how would they make it better if they had more time?".

The Escape Studios Animation Blog offers a personal view on the art of animation and visual effects. To apply for our new BA/MArt starting in September 2017, follow this link.  

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