One of the most iconic Baby Yoda scenes in The Mandalorian was actually CGI. The VFX crew recently revealed some behind-the-scenes secrets about bringing the Child to life for the hit Disney+ series. While the bulk of the series utilizes a practical puppet for Baby Yoda, there were times where CGI was needed to get the right feel down for particular scenes, including one of the most pivotal scenes in the series.
The Mandalorian season 1 begins with Din Djarin meeting the Child for the first time. By the time we get to episode 2, it's clear that there is something very special about this little green dude. When Mando is getting thrown around by the Mudhorn, we get to see Baby Yoda use the Force for the first time, which blew minds upon first watch. Star Wars fans were hooked from that point on. As it turns out, that image of Baby Yoda doing the heavy lifting was done with CGI. Animation supervisor Hal Hickel explains.
"We had a handful of shots of the Child where it wasn't the puppet. Of course, the puppet does the heavy lifting in the show - the puppet is the baseline - but at that moment in time we were still figuring out what the puppet could do and how to get the best out of it. That particular shot of the baby using the Force to pick up the Mudhorn was the hardest from a CG perspective because it was such a big performance moment - its face was so concentrated. We were trying to make sure we didn't do more than the puppet could do, and that we didn't break what's awesome and charming and perfect about the puppet."
While the Baby Yoda aspect of the Mudhorn scenes was done in CGI, the rest was done live-action style. Heavy machinery was brought in to dig holes in order to make it look like Din Djarin was really thrown into the Earth by the gigantic beast. A lot of work went into getting the right shots, which included getting Baby Yoda just right. Cinematographer Baz Idoine had this to say about that particular day on the set.
"We shot the scene on the lot in a big, huge mud pit under a hot sun. The stunt team did a great job of throwing Mando around in the mud, but the most important shot of the whole scene is that beautiful one of Mando's profile with the Mudhorn floating above him. [There's a] close-up on Mando when he's got nothing left to give: all he can do is hold up his knife at this charging beast, he's ready to accept as fate. Then he looks up and the beast is floating and he turns to look at the Child. It's a fantastic moment and it was a joy to shoot."
Regardless, even if Baby Yoda was 100% CGI, Star Wars fans would probably still love him. The character's design is almost too perfect, but the fact that it's a real-life puppet helps add to the magic. Actor/director Werner Herzog is still enamored with his experience of working with the Child on The Mandalorian set. When talk of CGI came up. Herzog pushed for more of the puppet.
Even months after starring in The Mandalorian, Werner Herzog is still gushing about Baby Yoda and the technical triumph that Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni pulled off for the series. Fans are looking forward to seeing what comes next for Din Djarin and the Child, but they might be going back to re-watch season 1 to see if they can spot where the character is CGI and not the puppet. The interviews with The Mandalorian creative team were originally conducted by Variety.