How Lucasfilm Brought Back Old Characters


Rogue One: A Star Wars Story has become a hit over the last couple of weeks in theaters. With the help of CGI and Motion Capture technology, the film seemingly brought back old characters from the original Star Wars trilogy as they originally looked in 1977, specifically Grand Moff Tarkin and Princess Leia Organa, originally played by Peter Cushing and Carrie Fisher.

Image Courtesy of The New York Times

Tarkin was a character the filmmakers wanted to bring back because his role with the Death Star is vital, and they wanted to make sure that character has role in the movie. Other characters who appeared in the other movies were either recast or the actors returned to play them again. Jimmy Smits as Bail Organa and Genevieve O’Reilly as Mon Mothma both appeared in the prequels trilogy. With Tarkin, they chose not to recast him and chose the motion capture route using the late Peter Cushing’s likeness.

“If he’s not in the movie, we’re going to have to explain why he’s not in the movie,” said Kiri Hart, a Lucasfilm story development executive and “Rogue One” co-producer. “This is kind of his thing.”

English actor Guy Henry who has a build and stature like Cushing’s and could speak in a similar manner, was cast to play Tarkin through motion capture. Throughout filming, Henry wore motion-capture materials on his head, so that his face could be replaced with a digital re-creation of Cushing’s digital likeness.

Mr. Knoll described the process 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,” Knoll said.

Guy Henry filming his scenes

The animators worked hard to make sure every single detail of Peter Cushing’s likeness, including subtle things like facial tics and expression were included to make it look as real as possible.

Lucasfilm and Industrial Light & Magic said their re-creation of Cushing got the approval of the actor’s estate, since Cushing himself has passed away in 1994.

Princess Leia Organa was also brought back using the same method, but with her appearance being much more brief. While Carrie Fisher has unfortunately passed recently, she was alive during the filming of this movie, and recreated what she looked like in 1977 in the original Star Wars film. The actress who did the motion capture for Leia was Ingvild Deilia.

The technique has drawn criticism from a number of viewers and writers. In terms of if any of the future Star Wars films will do this again, John Knoll, the chief creative officer at Industrial Light & Magic, said that the chances of this method being used again is highly unlikely.

“This was done for very solid and defendable story reasons,” Knoll said. “This is a character that is very important to telling this kind of story. It is extremely labor-intensive and expensive to do. I don’t imagine anybody engaging in this kind of thing in a casual manner. We’re not planning on doing this digital re-creation extensively from now on. It just made sense for this particular movie.”

Source: The New York Times