A not so long time ago, in a country across the pond, a small collective of Star Wars journalists went on a pilgrimage to London, England, for an experience unlike any other. We traveled to the legendary Pinewood Studios, where distinctive groups of people from many different backgrounds converged to celebrate the many ways Star Wars tells a story. We were treated to a bevy of sumptuous hors d’oeuvres, and other various sundries, as we enjoyed the festivities in London.
Walking into the event, a glance to the right revealed an assortment of costumes from many of the major players in Rogue One. Several of us flocked to them like myknocks on a power cable, and for good reason: they were stunning! Both the Imperial faction, as well as a smattering of Rebels were there, complete with costumes, weapons, and a small description that revealed more about each of these new characters. The display was museum quality, revealing the attention to detail that Star Wars fans have come to expect. I noticed that, save for the death troopers, every character was sans mask, adding more of an ability for the audience to connect to them.
The main attraction, for Star Wars fans, was Neal Scanlan, creature & droid FX creative supervisor. The Oscar winner was credited with being the “father of BB-8” by event host Matt Edmondson. Scanlan was quick to say, “All credit to J.J. [Abrams].” Scanlan then went on to share the story about how BB-8 was first visualized on a napkin by The Force Awakens director, and then explained, “… which I always sort of likened to the Picasso, which he sketched when he couldn’t pay a restaurant bill, so the genius is very much in that design.”
Photos by Tim Whitby, Getty Images for Gillette
StarWars.com caught up with Scanlan to ask him how the effects created by ILM have enhanced, rather than distracted, from the storytelling process. He shared that the two work together in harmony to create the wonder we get to experience on film. Scanlan explained, “There is this language, this sort of charm that you want to hold on to. And you begin to understand what each director wants for the film; in a sense, their sense of humor and their sensibilities, generally. You begin to get a feeling that, you know, this would be well-served as a practical effect, or this is well-served as a digital effect. It’s never about which effect it is. It’s about which effect carries that message or that language.”
When discussing the differences between the two types of effects, as far as the perception for the actors, Scanlan suggested, “Sometimes it’s just better for the actors to have something practical there, because they will respond in a way that’s very different than maybe having a blue stick or a pair of eyes. And there’s other times where it’s distracting to try and do practical effects because the infrastructure around it. So there are so many things that play into the decision of saying which will be the most successful, not only for the film, but during the filmmaking process.”
And it’s not always about the “wow” effect for audiences, either. It’s about the director’s ability to tell a story, and that connection the filmmakers need, in order to tell a story. Scanlan explained, “As soon as an effect becomes an obstacle to a director’s ability to shoot, it no longer has what we call precious quality. It just becomes a problem, and that’s one of the wonders of CG, is that CG is a post-production effect.”
The event at London’s Pinewood Studios helped perpetuate the hype for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, revealed more ways to tell a story, and represented the ever-growing, diverse fan base that is Star Wars. Is it December 16 yet?
Dan Zehr is a high school English teacher with an MS in Teaching and Learning, and runs Coffee With Kenobi (with co-host Cory Clubb), a Star Wars podcast that analyzes the saga through critical thinking, analysis, interviews, and discussion. He is also the Rebel teacher in the Target Rogue One commercial.