neal Scanlan creature shop Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is filled with practical effects, costumed creatures and puppets. Some of the practical effects are so good that you probably believe they were created inside the computer. After the jump, you can read an excerpt from my conversation with Neal Scanlan — creature & droid effects creative supervisor, creature shop concept designer, creature shop head — and SFX supervisor Chris Corbould. (The full interview will be posted in February). In the excerpt, Scanlan and Corbould reveal some of the invisible practical effects of The Force Awakens and more.

starwarstrailer1-xlarge (1)

Peter: What is something practical in this film that most people would assume is CG?

Neal: Well there’s certainly from mine and then I’ll let Chris have a quick, get involved. I know that like for instance the Luggabeast, which is the big, blue beast from the scene where BB-8 is trapped. I know that the very large beast that’s at the watering hole that nudges Finn out the way, I know that the large red robot that’s walking outside of Maz’s castle have been quoted to me as CGI characters and they’re all fully practical. So it’s both a compliment and to me and a compliment to everybody, the whole visual effects team, that people are not really quite sure which is which and what is what. And from Chris?

Chris: I think a very, very small thing I think a lot of people thought was CG was Rey’s bread in that little bowl, which we did completely practically.

Peter: How was that done practically?

Chris: We had a little bowl of liquid. At the bottom of that bowl you had a bread molded inflatable bladder. And as we inflated that, we sucked all the liquid out. So that as that was coming up, the liquid was disappearing by using a vacuum dump. A very simple procedure, but quite effective.

Peter: It was.

Chris: I mean, what took a lot longer time was actually finalizing the design of what the bread looked like. Whether she’d have cracks in it, what color should it be. That took a lot longer than the actual mechanics of it.

Peter: Now someday somewhere at Disneyland, people are gonna be eating that bread.

Chris: Yeah.

Star Wars The Force Awakens maz kanata

Peter: The original plan was to do Maz as a puppet. How far along did that get? And when was the decision made to go full CG or…?

Neal: Yeah. There was the truth of the matter was that Maz’s role in the film was always very fluid. As the scripts evolved, as J.J.’s ideas for Maz evolved, so did our technique. So the idea was at one time, Maz’s role was quite small. And at that time, that was perfect for a puppet. We could work in a very intimate environment with this character. We could deal with it in a very confined way. And as Maz’s role expanded, we looked at the possibility of doing it as a small person in a suit and having a sort of partial CG version. And but her role grew further than that. And at that time, we decided that to give the freedom to allow her to be developed in J.J.’s mind and also developed within the film, if we went to CG it would be a fabulous, that would be the by far the smartest move. Also as well, generally speaking, animatronic puppets and other things obviously don’t have the freedom a CG character has. And Maz was one character that needed a lot of freedom to be able to move around her own world. And for that reason, CG was chosen.

Peter: Was there anything for the actors to interact with on set during those sequences?

Neal: Yeah, there was an absolute life size, what we call, photorealistic replica of her. So she didn’t move. And we made no attempt to puppeteer it. But she looked exactly like Maz in the film. In fact, it was the maquette that CG used, Roger and the guys used, to scan into the computer and take from there, yeah.

Come back in February for my full interview with Neal and Chris!

Cool Posts From Around the Web: