Planning the Rebellion: A Star Wars Rogue One FX Story
All Images copyright Lucasfilm and courtesy of The Third Floor, Inc.© Industrial Light and Magic on the Final Visual Effects
All Images copyright Lucasfilm and courtesy of The Third Floor, Inc.
© Industrial Light and Magic on the Final Visual Effects
Take a look behind the scenes of 'Rogue One: A Star Wars Story' and find out how The Third Floor helped visualize the filmmakers' epic vision...
Sophisticated visual effects are a hallmark of the Star Wars franchise, and recruited to produce the previs and techvis required for the majority of the action sequences featured in Rogue One was Los Angeles-based The Third Floor, and its London facility.
"For previs, key parts of the work included the Eadu mission in Act 1, the destruction on Jedha in Act 2 and visualizing the majority of Act 3, including the Space Battle,” states The Third Floor Co-Founder and Previs/Postvis Supervisor Barry Howell. "One of the goals of our director, Gareth Edwards, with previs was to help map out the story and find interesting ways to get the characters from point A to point B. The previs was also useful in exploring the pacing for the storytelling, and how information and characters could be revealed as the plot moved along."
"The technical work from our team ranged from visualizing size relationships for ships and vehicles to some R&D; for the wave of destruction the Death Star creates. We also produced multiple diagrams for Act 3 to help show the location of what would be happening where. Additionally, we created spherical renders of our virtual sets, working with ILM to deliver content that could be projected on large-format LED screens surrounding the actors on the shooting set. Postvis on the film was significant. We worked on hundreds of shots, progressing from simple blue screen composites to extensive shot reimaging with large portions of the frame removed, and replaced with digital characters and environments.”
"We started with a team of two in the art department at the Presidio, working with Production Designer Doug Chiang,” explains Barry Howell. "Most of our time was focused on building previs assets and fleshing out environments based on the concept art that Doug and his team had wonderfully painted. When production transitioned to the UK, we added a team of artists from The Third Floor's London office, led by my Previs Co-Supervisor Margaux Durand-Rival. At that point we entered more of a previs shot production phase while still also creating previs assets as needed.Once at Pinewood, we collaborated with Gareth regularly each week.”
Two full-time previs asset builders modeled sets vehicles, creatures, props and characters as well as customized pre-existing ILM assets to be used in previs shots. "During the initial phase of asset building, our previs shot creators created generic animation cycles and vignettes of action to be used in the background later on to flesh out the big battle scenes. Once we were given a sequence to work on, the previs shot creators switched gears and started producing shots that I then cut together into an edit. We would sometimes quickly pose out action and create still frames to rapidly flesh out the previs edit until we felt like it was telling the story the filmmakers wanted. As soon as we had a working edit, I would provide it to Colin Goudie in the edit bay, who would refine and improve it, and add a soundtrack and sound effects. We would continue to progress through, adding missing shots and refinements as Colin or Gareth requested.”
"Having worked with Gareth previously on Godzilla, we had a good sense of his visual style and the ways he likes to use previs,” notes Barry Howell. "In general, we would create shots working from scene descriptions in the script, storyboards or from Gareth himself. He would typically give us the parameters of what we wanted and let us present ideas based on those variables. Lead Concept Artist Matt Allsopp and his team provided iconic mood boards and concept art that were a great jump-off point to visualizing the potential action in between."
"The techvis focused a lot on size relationships. How large or small should a planet be in comparison to the Death Star? How much destruction would its firing create and what would that look like from different viewpoints? On Scarif, we created a techvis that laid out the geography of the base, position of the Citadel, landing pads and other points of interest. This helped to define where the characters would be as the action unfolds. For postvis, we were not only working with plates as you normally do, but we were often asked to deliver individual elements on blue or green. This, for example, might have been a ship on a turntable that would allow editorial to pick and choose any angle they needed.”
"Before kicking us off on a sequence, Gareth would walk us through it step-by-step,” remarks Barry Howell. "He would go over every detail and made sure to convey the important aspects of each shot so we understood the purpose and motivation for each scene. Gareth was open to suggestions and seemed to enjoy watching how we interpreted his words into previs. Because of his visual effects background, Gareth understood how to express what he wanted and could appreciate the level of difficulty in some of his requests. Doug Chiang was a fantastic resource and always had amazing artwork to share. We would regularly seek him or Neil Lamont out before starting a new asset to see if their team had done new work."
"Access to the art department was highly restricted so making sure the previs accurately reflected what Doug and Neil had in mind proved nearly as difficult as getting the Death Star plans ourselves [laughs]! Fortunately for us, Doug would stop by from time-to-time and if he saw that we were using something outdated or not to spec, he would let us know and try to get us a version of the correct asset or artwork. Once we finished a sequence, we would show that previs to Doug and Neil so they could gauge what was actually going to be seen in the shots and what might need to be built to give Gareth the angles he wanted. Working with Production Manager Simon Emmanuel was fantastic as he made sure that we had the resources we needed, as well as the adequate time to complete each new sequence turnover.”
"The great thing about previs is that it can be as simple or as complicated as you want it to be,” observes Barry Howell. "Gareth really wanted the previs to convey as much information as possible, so we spent time animating the characters so that it was clear what action they were performing or what emotion they were feeling. We were not going to have any dialogue in the previs so everything needed to be conveyed using body language. Normally we would use motion-capture to get the bulk of this done, but we had some really talented animators who were able to produce very good previs animation quickly. Extra effort was spent on the modeling and texturing to make sure the necessary detail was there for close-ups. We also paid extra attention to lighting, working hard to match the aesthetic of the black-and-white boards Gareth would show us. Whenever possible, we added extra elements like rain, dust or mist to help push the overall look and feel of the previs.”
A key task was visualizing the pivotal Space Battle that takes place during the third act. "We worked on the rush through the Space Gate first, moving on in the later part of production to help develop the ‘battle' section,” states Barry Howell. "Gareth had explored a lot of ideas using boards and asked us to animate a series of actions with X-wings and Y-wings making attack runs on the dry dock above the Space Gate. He wanted us to visualize each of these actions from a variety of POVs and provide that footage to editorial so they could begin fleshing out the bones of the sequence.”
Previs was turned into 360-degree spherical projections that could be wrapped around the physical set. "Gareth wanted to immerse his actors in this world, using the previs on-set to give them something to react to and help light them in a realistic way that would aid the final composites in terms of lighting cues and color temperature. For this, we worked closely with ILM's team and VFX Supervisors John Knoll and Mohen Leo to create the projection content. We started by taking our previs environments and adding more detail to the texture and geometry. We then lit these based on what was needed for each setup, using a plugin to generate large-scale 360-degree spherical images as playblasts out of the Maya Viewport 2.0 display. From there, ILM would ingest them into TouchDesigner, calibrating the images to optimize for brightness. In some instances, we rendered the scenes using several lighting setups so they could dissolve or combine from among them.”
"The Third Floor's software tools include Maya and After Effects, which we use for all aspects of visualization,” remarks Barry Howell. "Assets are either created or imported into Maya and then textured using source images created in Photoshop. On this particular project, we also found ourselves working a little bit in the Unreal Game Engine to create some of the 360 renders for the large LED screens that surrounded the cockpit motion base.”
A visualization tool was developed to auto-generate perspectives with previs scenes. "One of the things Gareth was interested in was finding new and unique viewpoints on specific action beats for Rogue One. The Random Cam tool we developed allowed us to select the major points of interests in a previs shot, define the importance of each and set the boundary area for the camera to maneuver in. By running the tool, we could automatically generate hundreds of distinct angles on the action for Gareth to review and as inspiration for further development.”
"One big challenge was visualizing how much damage the Death Star would inflict when it fires on its targets,” reveals Barry Howell. "We knew about this challenge from day one, so I had my previs lead artist work on a series of diagrams comparing different levels of destruction seen from a variety of angles. We had some boards and concept pieces to work from as well as an outline of beats from Gareth. From these, we did different iterations and variations on the sequence before presenting it.”
Howell attended a cast and crew screening eager to see the Scarif Battle. "I knew going in that this was going to be an amazing sequence that every Star Wars fan would truly enjoy. I had a smile on my face the whole time watching, as the final result was even better than what I had remembered from production. I was also curious to see K-2SO in action. We all knew he was going to be a memorable character.”
Rogue One was a special project for The Third Floor. "It was a pleasure to work with Gareth again and a real thrill to collaborate once more on a Star Wars movie. The six founders of The Third Floor met working as previs artists on the ‘third floor' of the Skywalker Ranch for Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith so it was nice to see the work that laid the foundation of our company come full circle in a way with the hard
work of our London and L.A teams on this film.”