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Rogue One team talks about the tricks they used to make the film authentically Star Wars

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Giant LED screens and digital kitbashing helped Rogue One feel more real

Director Orson Krennic in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Lucasfilm

The creative team who brought Rogue One: A Star Wars Story to life had a difficult challenge ahead of them when trying to make a modern movie that closely matched the look of George Lucas’ 1977 original.

In addition to digitally recreating late actor Peter Cushing for Rogue One, the team virtually rebuilt portions of the Death Star — for shots that were “tragically omitted” in the final film — and went to some unusual lengths to make everything feel authentic.

At Star Wars Celebration today, Rogue One executive producer and visual effects supervisor John Knoll quickly walked attendees through the making of last year’s stand-alone Star Wars movie. Knoll was joined by production designer Doug Chiang, supervising sound editor Matthew Wood and director of production and development John Swartz.

Knoll showed off some of the 100-percent virtual sets the filmmakers used to recreate iconic locations, like the Death Star conference room and hangar bay from A New Hope, digitally instead of physically. While those two Death Star sets weren’t ultimately used in Rogue One, other virtual sets were. Knoll demonstrated a virtual version of the Rebel blockade runner interior, which looked almost identical to its 1977 counterpart.

Ultimately, Lucasfilm built a physical set for the interior shots of the blockade runner that viewers saw at the end of Rogue One. But some rooms in the same ship, including the one where Princess Leia receives the Death Star plans, were mostly created digitally. The cockpits of the Hammerhead corvette and General Raddus’ ship were also an impressive (and surprising) mix of physical and digital, Knoll showed.

Some scenes in Rogue One, namely shots in the cockpits of X-wings and Cassian’s U-wing, utilized a giant LED screen to give those shots a sense of realism and authenticity. Rather than film actors against a blue screen in certain scenes, Lucasfilm used a massive 40-foot by 140-foot LED screen on which computer generated backgrounds were displayed. Shots like the Rogue One group’s jump to hyperspace and in the Death Star observation room (at the top of this post) used that giant LED screen to great effect. As the creative team pointed out, the choice to use LED screens lent scenes some impressive lighting, without needing to add it in post-production.

The filmmakers even used those LED screens during space combat sequences, firing off laser blasts and explosions via an iPad connected to the massive screen array. That let them create dynamic battle sequences and give the actors sitting in X-wing cockpits direction on the fly.

One of the more unexpected uses of digital technology used in Rogue One came in the form of “digital kitbashing.” As some Star Wars fans know, many of the ships and the Death Star surface were constructed using bits and pieces from a variety of commercial model kits (aka kitbashing). Lucas and his Star Wars crew harvested off-the-shelf models of cars, planes, tanks and more to construct many of the physical items in A New Hope.

The Rogue One team followed their lead; they purchased vintage model kits — “We had to buy a bunch of them off eBay,” Knoll said — similar to what the original production team used, and scanned them as 3D models. Knoll said the visual effects team had a databank of more than 300 digital vintage model kit pieces that they used to construct and decorate things for Rogue One.

Knoll also showed off a few gags that the Rogue One creative team considered to make the film feel authentic. These included intentionally mismatched colors for Star Destroyers and the Death Star and fake matte lines — you know, those darker boxes that surrounded ships using 1977-era special effects technology — around objects. Obviously, those visual effects goofs didn’t survive for the theatrical release.

The creative team also showed a few other gags, including a nod to the late Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru, who were last seen as a pair of smoking charred skeletons in A New Hope. Knoll showed a variation of one of Rogue One’s final scenes, in which Jyn Erso and Cassian Andor are destroyed by the Death Star’s blast on Scarif. For just a frame or two, Erso and Andor are visible as a pair of hugging skeletons.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is available to buy now digitally and on Blu-ray and DVD.