No matter how accomplished someone already is in the entertainment industry, for many, the opportunity to work on a "Star Wars" movie tops the list of dreams come true.
That was the case for three of "Rogue One's" major players, even though none of them scored actual in-the-flesh screen time: actor Alan Tudyk, who provided the voice and on-set motion-captured physicality of the breakout droid K-2SO; visual effects supervisor and producer John Knoll, who along with his jaw-dropping fx work for Industrial Light & Magic concocted the plot and characters of the film; and ILM animation supervisor Hal Hickel, who led that team that translated Tudyk's performance into the digitally rendered K-2.
During Moviefone's recent visit to the San Francisco headquarters of ILM to mark the Blu-ray release of "Rogue One" (out now) the trio of creative forces revealed exactly what it meant to them to have a big hand in a new "Star Wars" film, how they never quite left George Lucas's galaxy far, far away after their first viewing in their youths, and how even now they're still fans at heart during encounters with Original Saga stars, like Mark Hamill and Anthony Daniels.
Moviefone: The beauty of this kind of work for you, Alan, is that, despite whatever fate your character has by the end of the film, you can come back to the "Star Wars" universe as an entirely different character. A droid similar to K-2SO, a totally different kind of digital character -- you can come back as yourself! Is that something you'd like to do, keep returning to the "Star Wars" universe in some form in the way that you're returning to Disney's animated films?
Alan Tudyk: Yep, that's exactly what I would love to do! But Han Solo has evidently been taken -- young Han Solo, also young Chewbacca, but that's cool, that's cool. Absolutely.
I hadn't really thought about that, that I could come back as me. I was sort of hung up on, "How do we get K-2 back? He was sort of on a planet that was destroyed. Maybe his head is floating through space, and somebody just picks it up as space garbage and he becomes a pirate for a while? I don't know. I haven't really fleshed it out.
I would definitely be in any "Star Wars" movie. This has been a great experience. We had a blast. Everybody who works on them is really proud of the work they're doing, at Pinewood, everybody. The grips, they love being able to go around town and say, "I'm working on the new 'Star Wars' movie." Who doesn't want to say that? That's great.
Looking forward, John, you're certainly going to have your hands in "Star Wars" for a while to come, presumably, on the effects side of things. How about on a story level? After "Rogue One," do you have another pitch in your back pocket?
John Knoll: I'm tinkering with something. We'll see if anything comes of it. I've got about three quarters figured out. If I can figure out that last quarter, I'll try to pitch it to Kathy [Kennedy], president of Lucasfilm], and she may well throw me out of her office. I may try just and see what happens.
On a visual effects level, John, "Star Wars" does come with a built-in challenge of wanting to have some degree of matching the design, style, and aesthetic of the originals, which are now pushing 40 years old. You want to have some connective tissue in the look and feel of it, but still keep pushing all those boundaries. What's your philosophy on that equilibrium?
Knoll: Of course that was one of the fun things about this story, was that it's a fun mixture of new characters, new locations, but then you start to see familiar things. That sort of increases as the film goes on with additional characters showing up, and environments converging, and made right up to it. That meant that we were going to be depicting a lot of very familiar things, the Death Star, Death Star control room, Yavin secret base, X-wings, TIE fighters, all of that were going to appear again.
What was interesting was going back and actually looking at the original props. I remember them as being better than they were. Partly, it's the time lapse. I saw the film when I was 14. Partly, it was shot on 35mm film, that had a fair amount of grain to it. Then the prints that you saw in the theaters, originally, were two optical generations down from the original negative. Film jumps around in the gate, the projectors aren't super bright and all that. So everything looked great in the theaters on the day. A lot of those same things don't hold up to the kind of scrutiny that they get when you've got modern projection systems and modern cameras.
We would look at some of the costumes, the original Stormtrooper helmets, some of the original models that were beautifully done for the day, but when you frame in as tight as we were planning to do in our film, some of that stuff just wasn't going to hold up. What we decided to do was match your memory of these things more than the reality.
Tell me that first big impact that "Star Wars" made on you, and if you see a direct line to what you ended up doing for "Rogue One." Was there something about the droids in particular that you carried all these years to remember when this opportunity came your way, and for your line of work as well?
Tudyk: Definitely the style of the movie. More living in that world, that K-2 was in that world. On set, you felt it. I was just always looking at everything. Going through the ship, and looking at all the buttons. It isn't like futuristic as much as it is modern. There'll be screens that are just geometric shapes, and lines that it's not easy to figure out what the heck that thing would be doing. But it's beautiful in its own way.
This movie, especially because it was put right before "A New Hope," it's in that order, it was kept in that '70s look. I think there were set pieces that were the same. Maybe they were just recreations. On the console where I smash the thing at the end, there's a thing that comes out of the console, and it was the thing that exactly what Han Solo talked into, like, "We're all fine!"
So there are little things that echoed that world. That was the line for me, just being in that world. They don't kind of fill it in when they make a set -- it's full on! Jedha was this little city.
Hal Hickel: I was 12 when "Star Wars" came out, the original "Star Wars," and I was already interested in special effects. I'd gotten interested in stop-motion animation, but I was living on a cattle ranch in Colorado, and wanting to leave this ranch, and go to Hollywood, and work on movies. So from a fantasy angle, "Star Wars" totally, I was a perfect target, because here's Luke Skywalker living on a farm, wanting to go to the stars.
But as much as that registered with me, I also just really wanted to know, "How did they make his landspeeder appear to float? How did they do the lightsabers? How did they make the spaceships look so big?" It broadened my interest in visual effects from just stop motion to all visual effects, and kind of cemented my path: "This is what I want to do."
So getting to work on this movie, particularly, is super gratifying, because it takes place, it was almost right in this perfect nostalgia part of the "Star Wars" timeline, right before the events of the original film. So the costumes, and the sets, and things all have that feel.
But Gareth was doing something really different with the movie in terms of tone, and the way it's shot, and it has a more mature emotional element, I think, which was really exciting to do. I felt like this was the grown-up version of "Star Wars" that I'd been waiting for for many years, for me personally. So it was just right in the sweet spot in many, many ways, on a lot of different levels. It worked for me on many levels.
Knoll: I have a long connection to "Star Wars" in that I was at a young, impressionable age of 14 when "Star Wars" came. I was probably the perfect age for seeing that film. It was such a revolution. This wonderful story that was so well-told, and amazing craftsmanship that went into it, and it just was unlike anything that was done before.
It had a huge impact on the industry. Suddenly, there was this scramble to start making more ambitious stories that could use these new tools that had been developed. In theory, you could depict anything now. That's really what pushed me over the edge into going into the entertainment industry, was the excitement that was in the wake of "Star Wars." So that really got me into the industry.
Then I had this wonderful opportunity to work directly with George Lucas on the prequels. I supervised visual effects on "Episodes I," "II," and "III." So I worked with George for 12 years or so pretty intensely. That was a really fun experience. I got a whole career's worth of experience in a really concentrated form and doing these gigantic projects.
To have this opportunity, where Lucasfilm was the kind of company where something like this can happen, where I can pitch an idea, and it gets all the way as far as that -- that's a great place to work, and a great environment to be in. So it's very emotionally satisfying to have had a chance to take a crack at something like this.Alan, you got to meet the proto-droid, C-3PO, Anthony Daniels, at the "Rogue One" premiere. Have you been able to maintain that communication with him at all? Have you seen him at conventions or things like that?
Tudyk: No, I haven't. I'm sure I will see him again. I can't wait because I've been talking a lot of trash ever since the movie came out. It's actually not trash as much as just relating things he said to me. We have a fun banter, as it were. He says very nice things to me about my performance, and then ends it with, "...And if you ever tell anyone I said that, I'll deny it." But he feels very comfortable calling me a sh*t, and saying, "f*ck you." But it's the most generous and complimentary FU I've ever received, because it was his response to my performance. It was a hug and that.
He was just like, "You got to do everything. You didn't have to follow borders, and then you had a great death." Although I'm pretty sure he's happy K-2's dead, just sort of in his heart. He's really excited.
No more competition.
Tudyk: Yeah, [mimicking Daniels as C-3PO] "That K-2 isn't around!" [Laughs] I like Anthony a lot.
That must be the extra surreal, but amazingly gratifying part of this, is making those connections with the folks that were part of the great history of "Star Wars" movies. Tell me a little bit more about that, whether it be the people who were on screen or the people behind the scenes.
Knoll: The "Star Wars" geek in me flipped out that now I'm working with [veteran ILM effects supervisor] Dennis Muren or George Lucas, working on an upcoming scene with Anthony Daniels. That's a lot of geeky fun to that. In the end, you're a filmmaker on a crew and you've got work to do. It just so happens that it's "Star Wars." It's great. It's a lot of fun.
Hickel: That's one of the cool things about ILM, actually. Visual effects companies in general don't tend to have really long histories, but ILM has been around for more than 40 years. Dennis Muren is still here. Paul Huston is still here -- those are both people who worked on the "Star Wars," our very first project. Bill George, who built the Death Star II, he's one of our visual effects supervisors.
So that legacy, that continuity, is very cool. I have to say it was super exciting when, just after we wrapped the film, and we're doing the junket, when we got word that George had seen the film, and that he was really happy with it. That was huge for all of us. It still matters. Of course it matters that the originator of all this was really pleased with the film. It's great to be part of that history.
Tudyk: I saw Mark Hamill at a convention. If it wasn't for this, I would have never spoken to him, because I would just be too much like, "Oh my God, it's Mark Hamill!" As I walked passed him, he was sitting signing autographs, and I had to walk behind him to go where I was going, and stopped and said, "I'm sorry, excuse me, Mr. Hamill. I'm Alan Tudyk, and I play K-2SO in 'Rogue One.'"
And he goes, "Oh my God!" Everybody in line has to wait, and he grabs me and pulls me in really close, and turns around and he's like, "Gareth told me about the ending of your movie! Oh my God! I can't believe it! A. I can't believe what happens, B. I can't believe he told me. Everybody dies? Everybody dies? Oh my God! Congratulations!" And he just gave me a hug.
This is a different world I'm in now, that I could just come up to him, just hoping for a handshake, and getting an arm around me, and a hug. And he ran his fingers through my hair. That was the weird part. I didn't know that was coming.