Star Wars: The Force Awakens Had More CGI Than The Phantom Menace

Thursday, 14 January 2016 - 2:27PM
Star Wars
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Thursday, 14 January 2016 - 2:27PM
Star Wars: The Force Awakens Had More CGI Than The Phantom Menace
Star Wars: The Force Awakens was nominated for the Best Visual Effects Oscar today, and it's well-deserved, because the effects were spectacular. I personally wasn't a fan of Snoke's appearance, and think that we could use fewer all-CGI characters in general, but other than that, the blend of practical and computer generated effects was nearly flawless. Much was made of its usage of practical effects, but in reality, it had more computer generated effects shots than the much-reviled Phantom Menace.



Although Phantom Menace is often cited as a perfect example of "too much" CGI, VFX supervisors Roger Guyett and Patrick Tubach reveal in a new interview with Slashfilm that TFA had 2100 VFX shots, while Phantom Menace had 1900. But the key to The Force Awakens' success wasn't less CGI, it was the combination of practical and digital effects, which The Phantom Menace didn't quite master (and is probably why Snoke was the least effective visual effect in the film). For example, the adorable and well-received BB-8 was a physical robot, as we all saw at Star Wars Celebration, but Guyett and Tubach claim that approximately a quarter of the BB-8 shots were digital. And in the scene between BB-8, R2-D2, and C3PO, sometimes the heads were CG and the bodies were real, or vice versa, so the digital and practical effects worked together and supported each other.

Opening quote
"We literally sit there going, which one was the real version of this?" Guyett said of editing that scene.
Closing quote

Similarly, they used a combination of real and CG shots in the scenes right after the Millennium Falcon takes off:

Opening quote
"After the Falcon takes off, after the depot town, there isn't a single un-manipulated shot after that. They're all CG shots," said Tubach. "But there are real elements within them. And that's what I think gives is the real tangible thing, 'cause Roger went up and shot a lot of desert plates in a helicopter and we're using a lot of those plates in there. But they're all some CG version of that. They're all mashed up in but the cool thing was is to have that real tangible reference. It really makes it feel real."
Closing quote

And then there were small background things that a viewer wouldn't notice were CGI, like adding random Stormtroopers here and there:

Opening quote
"When the X-Wings approach and you pan the camera over and the troopers are getting ready to fight off the X-Wings as they approach and you see the X-Wings in the distance, the two troopers that you pan on to at the end of the shot are completely digital," said Tubach. "But they are, they just look amazing. And the first time we saw that and the first time J.J. saw that, I remember his reaction was just his mind was just blown."
Closing quote


Opening quote
"We come to post-production, I'm going fuck, let's just put some in, you know. And we just started putting in some Stormtroopers," said Guyett. "And I was just like holy crap, you know. This actually works. And they look incredible."
Closing quote

There is also at least one scene in the film in which Kylo Ren's helmet is completely digital, in order to preserve the surprise reveal of Kylo's face with Rey:

Opening quote
"Certain moments between Snoke and Kylo Ren, J.J. went, oh yeah, actually I'm gonna shift the position of that scene. And so that it plays out in a different point in the movie. Now there was a certain point in the movie where he took his helmet off. And now you're taking a scene that was after that and you're putting it before that. And you're going oh shit, he doesn't have his helmet on. And so in a couple of those scenes, the guys in London actually did an incredible job."
Closing quote

And finally, they put in a bunch of Easter eggs for our re-watching pleasure, just for funsies:

Opening quote
"Well, we have a long history of putting R2-D2 in movies with J.J. I mean, obviously they're in both the Treks and they're in all his movies. But there are many Easter eggs. People are gonna watch this movie over and over again, right?

There's a mouse droid jumping into a pit at the end of the TIE escape sequence. One thing that we put in that was a fun little detail is when Rey is jumping off the piece of [rope] into the pit in the beginning of the movie where she's going down the rope in the Star Destroyer. We had a little thing there that looked like a little gas cap and so we just said hey, let's just put an Empire logo on that. And it's those little things that people don't notice, but then they go back and they say, oh look at that... There are many of those [little details]. Many."
Closing quote

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is now out in theaters.
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Star Wars: The Force Awakens