Tarkin Care Of Business: Rogue One’s Digital Peter Cushing

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One of the most exciting, groundbreaking and controversial elements of Rogue One A Star Wars Story, is the inclusion of a character, Grand Moff Tarkin, played in the original Star Wars by the now deceased Peter Cushing. Controversial, because the method used was a CG scan of his face over a physically similar actor (Holby City’s Guy Henry, speaking his own lines in an approximation of Cushing’s inflection) in far more in-depth screen – time than anyone had envisioned.

The film-makers reasoned it would be hard to omit Grand Moff Tarkin from the storyline, seeing as it occurs so soon before he usurps Director Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) as de facto boss of the dreaded Death Star – he can’t just turn up in the “sequel”. In the spirit of Lucasfilm and ILM’s pioneering work, the decision was made to push the technical envelope with a digital capture. If the work failed to come up to scratch, other means of presenting the character were considered, such as Tarkin participating in shadow or holograph conference. The idea of simply recasting with make-up doesn’t seem to have been an option.

Guy Henry wore motion-capture equipment on his head, so that his face could be replaced with a digital re-creation of Cushing’s face. A stroke of luck aided in the digital mapping of the original actor’s striking features – a life cast by make-up Supervisor Stuart Freeborn for the film Top Secret! (1984).

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Rogue One story originator, VFX Supervisor, and ILM chief creative officer John Knoll described the process as “a super high-tech and labor-intensive version of doing makeup.”

Differences in lighting between Star Wars (A New Hope) and Rogue One meant veeery fine adjustments and testing.  At one point, Henry stood in for Cushing in the scene where Tarkin interrogates Leia over the whereabout sof the rebel base (you can see it in the video below). Ultimately, it came down to “realism trumping likeness”. The film had the blessing of the Cushing estate, and, for the other more minor digital actor inserts, the blessing of those actors too. Carrie Fisher saw and approved of the final scene where a young Leia accepts the Death Star plans – as played by Norwegian actress Ingvild Deila, and voiced from Carrie Fisher’s original performance – turning to camera with just one, iconic word for the fledgling rebellion – “Hope.”  That word came from one of several takes of the hologram message to Obi-Wan discovered in an archives box at Lucasfilm by Sound Editor Matthew Wood.

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Rogue One co-producer and Lucasfilm story development executive Kiri Hart felt that “To deliver on that moment of hopefulness, that is really underscored by the fact that you do get to see her face.” Added so much extra poignancy by Carrie Fisher’s recent demise. Here is Ingvild on-set before the digital additions:

Director Gareth Edwards came across unused Star Wars footage at ILM, and inserted Red and Gold leaders from the Death Star attack (Drewe Henley and Angus MacInnes) into his film. “At the world premiere in LA, there was this massive cheer at a particular point in the film,” Edwards recalled (when the pilots appear, rotoscoped into computer generated cockpits. “It was the only time during the premiere where I actually punched the air.” In the spirit of remembering how it was, not how it looked, Rogue One’s pilots got proper looking flight suits – Red and Gold Leaders make do in the Scarif attack with their “original” dyed boiler suits.

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As for the prospect of future films resurrecting dead stars? John Knoll believes there were solid story telling reasons for doing so in Rogue One, but the process was extremely labour intensive and costly. Don’t forget, the matching performances were based on very staged scenes, with little distraction otherwise. “We’re not planning on doing this digital re-creation extensively from now on. It just made sense for this particular movie.”

ABC’s NightLine correspondent Clayton Sandell  got an exclusive behind the scenes look at the digital process at ILM, whose wizards are to receive a Sci-Tech honour from The Academy for their ground breaking work on the film’s performance capture. Watch it below.

(Quotes from New York Times)

A further interesting interview with Guy Henry for The Hollywood Reporter can be read here.

 

 

 

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