Meet the Singapore visual effects team who worked on The Rise Of Skywalker
One of the Star Wars scenes that was worked on right here on our little red dot is that lightsaber fight between Rey and Kylo Ren on the wreckage of the you-know-what.
If you haven’t watched the final instalment of the Skywalker saga but you want to at some point in the near future, you may want to sit this story out.
But if you have watched Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker or are not bothered by spoilers, then you may proceed. Consider yourself warned.
*** SPOILERS AHEAD ***
*** YOU'VE BEEN WARNED ***
*** OKAY THEN, BUT DON'T BLAME US ***
Remember that pivotal fight scene in the movie where Rey and Kylo Ren duke it out with their lightsabers on top of a downed ship? (Which we won’t name until later in case you still haven’t processed the fact that this story contains spoilers – we're serious!)
Well, the digital effects of that scene were created right here in Singapore at Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), the effects and animation studio that’s a division of the Lucasfilm production company.
MADE IN SINGAPORE
If you let out an audible gasp during that action-packed fight scene on the Death Star wreckage like we did, you have layout artist Irfan Sherif to thank for that.
With 10 years of work experience at ILM, Irfan was one of the artists responsible for tracking the clashing lightsabers – which were just “hilts with sticks” when the actors were filming the scene – up until Rey gets Kylo Ren real good.
Tracking involves placing a point or multiple points on a real world object so the layout artist can map it to a digital sequence for other artists to place visual effects in the scene. The other departments then came in to map the digital plasma blades on the lightsabers.
A layout artist’s job is done when viewers believe that actors Adam Driver and Daisy Ridley were actually filming on a wreckage anchored in an ocean with 12-storey high waves.
Together with texture and look development lead Elvin Siew and the 280-strong staff at ILM, our little red dot contributed vastly to the galaxy far, far away.
Siew not only oversaw the gripping Kef Bir scene, he was involved in the creation of the Sith star destroyer fleet, as well as the climactic battle between the fleet and the rag-tag rebels ships.
The Singapore team also worked on the interior and exterior shots of the Death Star wreckage, the ice-tunnel chase between the Millennium Falcon and TIE fighters, the hangar scene where Kylo reveals Rey’s lineage, and those horse-like alien creatures called orbaks.
“So, quite a big contribution over the past year,” said Siew.
The work started in October 2018, beginning with the Sith star destroyers. If you thought the massive ships looked familiar, Siew explained that it was because they were based on the ones from the original trilogy and Rogue One.
READ: JJ Abrams on the ending of Rise Of Skywalker: 'No matter what you do, some people will hate it'
He said, “We helped in the design and offered suggestions on how it should look, what new things we should add or take out. From the colour palette that was picked to the design of the decals; the stripes that you’ll see; and the big, giant canon underneath, they were all built here. The final ship design retained about 50 per cent of its original look with the other half being all new.”
One of the appeals of Star Wars has to be the alien characters. Director JJ Abrams is known to be a big fan of practical effects where puppetry is employed.
Enter the galloping orbaks.
Horses were used as stand-ins for practical shoots, revealed Siew. Some were dressed in costume so animators could get an idea of what Abrams wanted.
“We then had to (digitally) take the horse out, replace them with the animated assets and put them back into the scenes seamlessly so that the actors look like they’re actually interacting with the orbaks,” revealed Siew.
The steeds are a source of pride for Siew, who worked on the design.
“The final creature design was a contribution from everyone. We’d create 3D models from the initial drawings from Lucasfilm’s art department. After that, it evolves through back-and-forth with the film director as well as various department supervisors. We’d make the eyes bigger, shift it back because it looks better, or we’d change the hair colour and make tweaks as it transforms from the original artwork into what we see on screen,” said Siew.
READ: C-3PO as Star Wars villain? Rise Of Skywalker director and cast respond to fan conspiracy theory
When asked to reveal his favourite scene to work on in the film, Siew, who has been at ILM for nine years, chose the close-up shot of the droids with the orbaks eating grass.
He said: “We had to replace the horses to make it look like the real alien creatures were standing next to the puppet robots. That, to me, really blended the things together. That, plus nailing the Sith star destroyer – not so much the scene per se – but getting the design approved by (director) JJ.”
Irfan chose the scene where the Millennium Falcon is chased by a sortie of TIE fighters through the ice tunnels.
He recalled: “The audience is looking through the cockpit of the Falcon and you only see the backs of Poe Dameron and Chewbacca. Then the ship climbs up and goes level. That’s my work. The animation supervisor was so happy with that shot that it required no follow-up animation. It’s a real sense of achievement.”
“But my favourite scene has to be the fight on the Death Star. That’s an incredible achievement for ILM Singapore,” Irfan added.
Having already worked on several blockbuster films such as Avengers: Endgame, Avengers: Infinity War, Aladdin and Ready Player One, do these ILM veterans still stick around at the cinema for the end credits?
“I definitely do stay to watch the end credits,” said Siew. “The goosebumps come when you see everybody’s name on screen – not just mine because it’s not a one-person job. I wouldn’t be able to make what I’d made, no matter how good I am. It’s the team that is with me. Basically, everyone who’s worked on it is a fan and had wanted to put their best foot forward to bring the last chapter to life.”
Irfan, too, makes it a point to stay till the end credits are done as a “way of showing appreciation”.
So, what’s next for these Star Wars fans after the final chapter in George Lucas’ planned movie series?
“There’s always more Star Wars. There is Disney+ and all the upcoming projects so it’s not the end per se,” said Siew.
Siew revealed that he’d just completed some work on the next season of fan favourite, The Mandalorian, the highly rated TV series from Disney+, while Irfan has just closed his timesheets on Disney’s Jungle Cruise starring Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt.
Perhaps now you'll also want to stick around for the shows’ end credits to glimpse the names of our hometown heroes.