Director J.J. Abrams and Producer Kathleen Kennedy have promised a movie full of practical effects. How close have they come to keeping that promise?
The Star Wars prequel films come under a lot of fire, one particular point of contention being the heavy use of CGI instead of practical effects. Indeed, as the prequels went on they relied more and more on blue screening to create their worlds. Unfortunately, this led to often bland shot composition and a difficulty for the actors to give credible performances due to the fact they were often playing off of tennis balls on sticks.
With The Force Awakens, the powers behind the film have pledged to make the film in the style of the original trilogy. That includes real sets, shooting on location, using puppets and make up to create aliens, and never using CGI to create storm troopers. That said… some shots are probably going to be completely CGI.
So… how many of these shots will be CGI?
If Making Star Wars is to be believed, then about 28 shots will be 100% CGI.
Why will those shots be CGI?
Some things you simply can’t do with models or people. We imagine almost all the CGI shots will be space shots or atmospheric scenes. Pretty much all difficult stuff with space ships is tough to do without computers. After all, there are some spectacular shots in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi during the asteroid field chase and the Battle of Endor respectively. However, when on a shear technical level CGI gives an ease and flexibility to filmmakers that allows them to compose much more intense and complex shots while allowing for dynamic camera movement.
Is 28 shots a lot?
It’s not a lot at all. In fact, it’s extremely impressive that they’ve managed to keep the number down when so many modern blockbusters tend to overuse CGI until it becomes a crutch. The production team must be using a great deal of models and extras to get a more practical look. It would be great to see some old school matte paintings as well, but it’s more we’ll see CGI set extensions in their place.
What’s a matte painting?
Remember some of those incredible shots from the original films? They were live action footage composited with fantastic paintings. Here are some examples:
Is it possible we may see these paintings in The Force Awakens?
It’s possible and as we said we’d certainly like to see it happen, but using matte paintings these days is probably more time consuming and costly than simply applying a green screen. However, that’s true of many effects and it seems the new Star Wars team is taking great care in making sure everything feels as real as possible on screen.