Carrie Fisher CGI

Leading up to Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, J.J. Abrams spoke a lot about his plan to incorporate Carrie Fisher‘s performance from the deleted scenes of The Force Awakens into the new movie to pay proper tribute to the late actress and Star Wars icon. Abrams promised we wouldn’t get a digital version of Leia, but if you’ve seen the movie, you know that the spirit of what he’s saying is true, there actually was some digital trickery necessary to achieve the end result.

In a new interview, a couple of visual effects supervisors from Industrial Light and Magic clarified just how Fisher’s outtakes were enhanced with CG to bring her last performance to life.

CinemaBlend spoke with ILM VFX supervisors Roger Guyett and Patrick Tubach about their work on The Rise of Skywalker, and specifically on bringing General Leia Organa to the screen one last time. They digitally altered things like Leia’s costume and hair so she didn’t look exactly the same as she did in The Force Awakens, and they explained to Abrams that they could “basically extract her face” from those outtakes to give them more creative freedom in this new story.

As Guyett explained:

“When you see Leia in the movie, essentially what you’re looking at is Carrie Fisher playing Leia probably in Episode Seven outtakes. We’ve taken her face and built a digital character around her. That’s the layer that you see in Nine. The interesting thing, of course, is it’s not a trivial thing to just do that. You have to build her and stage her into all the scenes. You have to write the scenes around her performance and dialogue that she’s delivering from those performances…It’s not the easy option, but you also want to integrate her into the scenes. We wanted her to move. So now we’re in motion control world, which of course in production terms is difficult but worth doing if, you know, when she says ‘Never underestimate a droid’ or whatever, she walks past Rey. And it required rehearsal, and it required pre-planning.”

They also revealed that they used a body double on the set – but according to Tubach, that isn’t as reductive as you might think:

“It’s not like we’re just taking a stand-in and then pasting Carrie’s face on the stand-in. You can’t do that, and the thing that we had to do, which people probably don’t realize, is we analyzed that Episode Seven footage of her to the point where we were tracking her exact body and posture, and then applying that to our new scene as well. Because if you didn’t do that, it didn’t feel like her.”

I guess if you want to get hardcore about it, you could take issue with Abrams’ early promises that we wouldn’t see a digital version of this character. But I think ultimately what he was getting at was that he wouldn’t resort to using a fully digital version, like what we saw at the end of Rogue One. Instead, the team at ILM was able to retain important elements of Fisher’s actual performance and just spruce it up to work in the proper context. Even if you didn’t care for how the final result flowed with the rest of the movie, I think we can all agree it was the best option on the table.

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