The digitally recreated Grand Moff Tarkin and Young Princess Leia in Rogue One were unsettling and creepy for some Star Wars fans. But that technology is almost two years old and only improving at an expedient rate. The next time an actor gets digitally inserted into a Star Wars movie, it's gong to be a lot harder to tell the difference. And before long, the line will be completely burred. Soon, Lucasfilm and Disney could have the potential to create a whole Star Wars movie featuring an authentic young Han Solo, Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia, which practical effects built around them. And this will be entirely possible, even for Carrie Fisher, as Lucasfilm has confirmed they have digital clones of all Star Wars actors both young and old.
Incredible, right? As of now, these digital clones are being used sparingly and are often mixed with live-action footage of the actor to create scenes that would be impossible to shoot or are deemed far to expensive to do practically. We've seen this with Tarkin and Leia in Rogue One, and we've also seen it in The Last Jedi, even if you didn't know that's what you were looking at.
The Last Jedi VFX supervisor Ben Morris has confirmed that they are keeping a database of digital clones for use at all times when creating a Star Wars movie. Which could even be used to manipulate someone like Alden Ehrenreich and his performance as Han Solo in the next Star Wars Story, overlaying minor Harrison Ford flourishes. That's not confirmed to have happened as of yet, but it is possible. Morris goes onto say this.
"We will always [digitally] scan all the lead actors in the film. We don't know if we're going to need them. We don't intentionally scan them as an archive process. It's for reference later."
One of those times that it was needed was in The Last Jedi, when Leia gets sucked out into space. This moment was shot while Carrie Fisher was still alive, but as the icon was sucked into space? They needed to combine a few elements to bring the moment to life.
"As she's sucked out, she's a digital Leia. As we pull in closer, that's all Carrie."
Digital animator Stephen Alpin further broke down how all this worked out, and why it was necessary. Filming the scene would have been far to expensive for what is already a very spendy endeavor. And there's also the fact that it takes place in the vacuum of space, which would be impossible to shoot under any circumstances.
"You don't just have the range of freedom that you actually get with CG. If we can shoot it in-camera, let's shoot it in-camera. If there's a certain aspect to it, let's shoot it, and then we can match to it. We had Rian [Johnson's] shot of Carrie doing the scene. That was for us to be able to add some of the idea that she's freezing over, as she's in that vacuum of space, meant that we had to do CG work and re-project her onto a CG version of the character. We kept her performance pretty much intact and were matching, where needed, with any animation stuff. It was pretty much all Carrie."
The Leia scene, which has become known as the Mary Poppins scene, was shot in three layers. Stephen Alpin went onto explain why having Carrie Fisher's digital clone was important for this to happen.
"We had to be very careful with Carrie. We didn't want to get any of the pyrotechnics near her. So we shot it in multiple passes, and added a lot of digital stuff on top. As she's sucked out, she's a digital Leia. As we pull in closer, that's all Carrie. And flying back through the detritus, that was a mixture. We didn't put Carrie on wires. We did use stunt people as a reference for [digital] replacements later. The thing is we have fast machines. The technology is faster, but what that means is that we can spend a little bit more time really working on the details and the minutiae."
If Lucasfilm and Disney did decided to create a future Star Wars movie with its classic characters using these digital clones, there would always be some sort of human element to it, with an actor brought in to carry out the heavily lifting. In the case of Rogue One, there were actors who were wearing motion capture, basically pulling on digital masks of these legendary characters. Actress Ingvild Deila stood in for Leia, and actually acted out the entire scene. She also provided the iconic Leia hairstyle, so that it was more authentic.
Most of the digital Star Wars clones are bald, because hair is hard to manipulate and make realistic at this point in the game. Alpin claims that much of the technology that he used in 2005's final prequel sequel Revenge of the Sith hasn't changed much. Again, the big difference all goes back to the speed of the computers, which allows these artists to get a lot more detail completed in the time frame they are given to get any given movie into theaters. And this is why Snoke is able to exist in The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, whereas that type of character would have been impossible to pull off back when The Phantom Menace was going through post-production.
"For something like Snoke, getting as close as we did on this film to a CG character, that wouldn't have been possible so long ago. Animation wise, you wouldn't have even thought about doing micro-expressions perhaps on a character, on a CG character...That's the key difference, with that speed, you get thrown more things in there."
The sky is the limit when it comes to using these digital clones, which opens up quite a few crazy possibilities for future Star Wars movies. And having Carrie Fisher return as Leia has never been out of the question, as we saw in Rogue One. The team behind Star Wars 9 didn't want to do this solely out of respect for the actress, not because they couldn't. It doesn't matter which character either, because all actors spanning all three trilogies thus far have their own digital clone waiting to be called to the spotlight. Morris explains.
"It's the young actors, the old actors. All the actors."
So, will we get to see Han, Luke and Leia ride again in an adventure that takes place between A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back? Yes. If they wanted to do it, it's entirely possible. Do fans want that? We'll have to wait and see what the ultimate response is to something like Solo: A Star Wars Story. There will come, without a doubt, a time when Lucasfilm could replace Alden Ehrenreich in the movie with a young Harrison Ford. Seriously. But now the companies involved will have to figure out where the ethical line lies in all this madness. This news first appeared over at Inverse.