Rogue One cast and crew discuss Star Wars secrets behind-the-scenes at ILM

A rare glimpse at the inner machinations of the magic which brings the Star Wars universe to life

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The Independent Culture

For Star Wars fans, Industrial Light & Magic HQ in San Francisco is a place of worship. In fact, the chances are at least one of your favourite films - scrap that: four of five of them - wouldn't exude such quality without ILM. The latest film to be dashed with its craft is Rogue One, the first of three planned Star Wars prequels, that is out on DVD and Blu-ray now.

Whether it's the Yoda fountain greeting visitors as they enter or the open plan lobby scattered with gadgets, gizmos and life-size figures acquired from a galaxy far, far away, the influence of George Lucas' world is effervescent. Elevating this notion is the addition of that very director's collection of authentic foreign film posters - the world's largest, we're told - bearing the symbolic message: we would not be here without our predecessors.

For those who don't know, ILM has created effects for over 300 films, seven of which sit very comfortably in the top ten most successful of all time. We're not just talking blockbusters, either: last year alone, the maestros helped bring Deepwater Horizon and Silence to screen.  

But it's Rogue One we were there to talk about and thankfully, the right guys were present to chat to us - namely executive producer/VFX supervisor John Knoll and animation supervisor Hal Hickel, who both introduced a packed out ensemble of journalists to a behind-the-scenes look at the film.

Highlights of the day's unearthed discoveries all point to one conclusion: director Gareth Edwards is extremely adept at his craft. Every regaled anecdote, every learned tidbit typically comes with a footnote hammering home this very notion. In fact, so impressed was Knoll with Edwards' previous work (Monsters, Godzilla) that ILM basically pioneered the technology for him to delve into the film's very environments.

Stepping on board ILM's xDECK, we see firsthand just how the this enabled Edwards to shoot visual effects scenes as fluidly and presently as he would live-action ones - the very fact that he managed to wrap the film with his grip on reality intact is every bit the success as the film itself.

Another interesting piece of info we discovered involved the film's Jeddah sequences, inspired by locations in Jordan. Edwards, who was intent on eking all he could from the setting, deployed what is known as a 'virtual set scout' - a camera which captures a thousand random positions in one location. It was then down to the filmmaker to scroll through every single shot to handpick one which would fit into the end product seamlessly. In many ways, this tactic is emblematic of Rogue One's streak of spontaneity.

The day's key focus, however, was placed on K-2S0, the droid at the film's heart played by Disney's 'lucky mascot' Alan Tudyk. Despite not seeing his face on screen, the actor was as much a presence on the film's set as leads Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Riz Ahmed and Ben Mendelsohn (we learn that motion capture actors have worn their suits on set ever since second Pirates of the Caribbean film, Dead Man's Chest,  in 2006). One slight wrinkle? K-2S0 is seven-foot tall meaning that Tudyk - who clocks in at a humble six - got to waltz around set on stilts, towering over the film's cast and crew (something, it's revealed, he enjoyed a bit too much).

We were fortunate to get a rare glimpse at the real-time rendering technology which helped bring K-2S0, not only to life but ensured he became yet another beloved addition to the roster of many robot characters featured in every Star Wars film since A New Hope (1977). With Tudyk busy elsewhere, today's participant was a ILM employee named Alex whose most famous role to date is as one of Chris Pratt's raptors in Jurassic World.  

It was a subtle enthrallment to be able to chart Rogue One's journey from ILM to screen and directly into the hearts of Star Wars fans around the world.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is available to own on DVD and Blu-ray now.

Special thanks to everyone at Disney and ILM.