In The Last Jedi writer and director Rian Johnson introduces audiences to a cavalcade of new creatures.
Most “Star Wars” fans had long fallen in love with the Porgs, who quickly became viral favorites after they were introduced in the summer. But there are many other creatures that debuted in “The Last Jedi,” from Fathiers to Vulptices and lest we forget the Caretakers, too.
But while it would have been easy for Rian Johnson and Lucasfilm creature creator Neal Scanlan to have just incorporated these animals through CGI, they made sure that most of it was done with practical effects.
Scanlan made this admission to me when I spoke to him at the end of last month over the phone, explaining, “It is really important to me, and we go to great lengths not to be seen as a special effect.”
“The idea is that we’re just another part of the cast. Our puppeteers, and ourselves and our choreographers, work very hard on rehearsing the scenes before we even get to set.”
“So that when we get to set people like Daisy or John are not looking at these things like they’re an animatronic object, but they’re looking at them as little creatures and they can act and perform. It’s important that they’re un-intimidated by it, because it is just another cast member.”
“I find that really wonderful. It is a piece of theater you are bringing. You are just part of the cast. Or another actor in a scene. It is a really important part of what we do. And that’s the joy of practical effects.”
Scanlan insists that this approach is better for everyone involved. “I think it’s great to everybody, the lights and camera, the cinematographer, obviously for Rian because he can direct us in the same way that he can direct the actors. And we can all be sort of spontaneous. Nothing is locked in stone, and we can all evolve in the moment.”
This was especially true for the Porgs. “Because they are primarily practical, we couldn’t shoot an entire sequence with just one Porg. So for instance we would have what we call a roaring Porg. And that’s the sequence where he roars. Then we’ll cut back and he’s anxious, so there’s the anxious Porg.”
“For each Porg that you see in the film there’s probably at least 10 versions of that Porg. Which was made with different body positions and different facial expressions. They’re all animatronic. They’re all little puppets. But we can only go so far practically before we need to remodel that object in order to change it in a drastic way.”
But while practical effects are preferred, the fact that “Star Wars” is set in space in a galaxy far, far away means that CGI has to be incorporated from time to time.
“Obviously CG can assist us, and in some cases we do things just for CG. We’ll know that we’ll replace it with CG later, but we will act it out on the set, and bring all of those moments, like eye-line, to the moment, knowing full well that that will ultimately be a CG moment. And that’s just the smart way of using effects.”
You can try to spot the difference in the film from today, as “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” is now finally in cinemas.