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SPOILERS FOR ROGUE ONE.
If you haven’t seen Rogue One yet, you might not know it had a few surprise cameos. That’s not new for a Star Wars film, but in this case, one of the actors had been dead for decades.
Many were caught off guard when Imperial Grand Moff Tarkin showed up not just briefly but in multiple scenes. The actor who originated the role, Peter Cushing, died in 1994, but because filmmakers felt the character was integral to the tension depicted in Rogue One, they included him.
Nightline and reporter Clayton Sandell visited Industrial Light and Magic in San Francisco, where teams of visual effects artists were working to recreate the two actors for the final film. Officials explained how they tackled the project and why with special care given to recent criticisms. The Cushing estate gave the creators permission, but it’s still jarring for the audience to resurrect a dead actor for a movie.
Instead of casting another actor, like with Wayne Pygram, who picked up Tarkin responsibilities in Revenge of the Sith, Industrial Light and Magic decided to try something new. By using actor Guy Henry to capture mannerisms and physical movements, along with footage from the older films and a bust of Cushing’s head made in 1985, they were able to digitally recreate Cushing himself.
Screengrab via Nightline
Not only that but for a brief moment, when Rogue One catches up with the beginning of A New Hope, the audience sees Princess Leia, recreated from footage of a 19-year-old Carrie Fisher. Norwegian actress Ingvild Deila did the motion capture, and in the final film, we see Fisher’s face.
John Knoll, executive producer of Rogue One and chief creative officer for ILM, as well as Paul Giacoppo, digital character model supervisor, spoke with Nightline on the risks the studio took with
“Making digital humans is one of the hardest things you can do,” Giacoppo said. “We were very immediately excited and immediately terrified.”
“We look at human faces all day every day, so people are very tuned to seeing anything that looks off.”
“This work was done with great affection and care….the role we gave Tarkin in his film is one that Peter Cushing would’ve been very excited and happy to play,” Knoll said.
Personally, the inclusion of Cushing was mostly distracting. There’s something in the eyes that makes him stand out from the actors around him, and it’s hard to focus on anything else. It’s also tough to be emotionally affected by the final words, spoken by Leia when her face looks plastic (I saw the film before Fisher’s passing, so now it must seem stranger). Regardless of ethical questions, the technology needs to be improved before we can continue implementing it in other movies.
Watch the full interview below.