Who ever thought you’d have to make the case for Star Wars winning the VFX Oscar? But with all the buzz surrounding Mad Max: Fury Road and The Revenant bear, which earned three additional VES awards for ILM, there are no guarantees. And that’s the point: ILM has done such outstanding photo-real work on the J.J. Abrams’ record-breaking Star Wars reboot — zeroing in on $2 billion worldwide at the box office — that there might be a tendency to take the work for granted.
But, as ILM has pointed out, “Star Wars” is part of its DNA and it changed the VFX industry. Besides, there’s so much to admire about ILM’s accomplishment with “The Force Awakens”: You’ve got realistic simulations and artistic-looking explosions for two great action sequences (the Millennium Falcon chase on Jakku and the attack on Maz’s castle on Takodana), a cool-looking lightsaber that’s as unstable as Kylo Ren, the adorable BB-8 droid inspired by Marilyn Monroe, and the brilliantly mo-capped Maz and Snoke.
In other words, The Force Awakens represents the entire photo-real package from ILM on its 40th anniversary — old school, new school, the best that practical and digital has to offer. The fact that it also seamlessly fits together and ties in wonderfully with the first trilogy is part of its great strength.
However, there were many noteworthy advancements as well, including ILM’s new simulation pipeline for water, fire, and smoke, its refined facial capture and animation tech for the creation of the bug-eyed and philosophical Maz (performed by Lupita Nyong’o), a new methodology for the digital modeling of the Falcon with more defined curves, and the creation of Unified Assets, which pulls together modeling, texturing, and shading practices for sharing with other studios.
Yet if you ask ILM VFX supervisors Roger Guyett and Patrick Tubach what their favorite moments are, it’s all about the action and aesthetics. ”There is something so interesting about the desert moments to me,” recalled Guyett. “One of my favorite shots is at the beginning of the movie where you find Rey inside the Star Destroyer. She comes out and slides down the sand. It’s a fantastic shot — you just tilt down as she comes down. It’s very quiet but we’re back at the Star Destroyer with the engines and everything.”
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