We still have a year and a half to find out what’s going on with Rey in “Star Wars: Episode VIII,” but it doesn’t mean that there’s no more “Star Wars” until then. This year marks the arrival of Lucasfilm’s first spin-off anthology film, “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” and director Gareth Edwards promises a darker, grittier, more realistic look at the fantastical galaxy we all know and love.
According to Neal Scanlan, who worked on the creatures for both “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” and “Rogue One,” that sense of realism will translate into how the aliens appear in this prequel story — so basically, don’t expect any lavishly shot, creature-crowded scenes in the film.
“In the world of ’Force Awakens,’ there was a real mixture of all different kinds, very much like the original Cantina sequence,” said Scanlan, referring to the iconic scene on Mos Eisley in “A New Hope.” “Working with Gareth now on ’Rogue One,’ he sees these aliens as being much more part of the human [world]. They co-habitate, they work together and so it’s pushed us very much to create characters that are more realistic.”
“They move more realistically, they’re able to emote more than maybe the characters that we did for ’The Force Awakens.’ So they’re a closer part of the storytelling. They’re less of the world, and they’re more of this group who have a mission, and play a part in that.”
As Scanlan told us, the approach for creating the creatures in “TFA” was very, very different than his “Rogue One” approach — although there were some puppets and creatures that needed to emote pretty believably, such as scavenger boss Unkar Plutt (Simon Pegg), or the froglike creature that Finn (John Boyega) attempts to leave Maz’s castle with halfway through the film. “He was quite complicated as an animatronic because he needed to do some speaking and he needed to be expressive,” he noted.
But the rest of the 110 different practical aliens and droids for the film, many of whom were only on screen for a few seconds at a time, were a bit more simplistic in design. When there’s so many people in such elaborate costumes on set at once, the challenge isn’t making them as expressive as they can be, but creating an infrastructure around them. “How do you get these people dressed in the creature costumes? How do you keep them cool? How do they see? And how do the people who are performing them on the outside, the operators, get to see in them as well?” he said.
To help with these problems, there was a “performance director” on set whose job it was to speak to the creature performers through a microphone and act as the eyes of every person on set who couldn’t see out of the alien they were standing in. The creature team also created smaller character arcs and stories for each group of aliens to play out themselves during takes, “which allowed J.J. [Abrams] to just treat them as part of the cast and feel free just to shoot the environment without worrying necessarily that these were particularly special in any way.”
“We didn’t try to treat them as a special effect,” Scanlan admitted. “We just wanted them to be part of the ’Star Wars’ world, and to feel natural in that world.”