CGI characters in Star Wars: Rogue One

CGI in Star Wars Rogue One
Recreating Peter Cushing's character 40 years later (Image: Industrial Light & Magic/Lucasfilm)

CGI (Computer Generated Imagery) technology has been used in movies for several decades now, but the latest Star Wars film, Rogue One, has pushed this technology to new levels. Set in the period immediately before 1977’s Star Wars: A New Hope, Rogue One uses CGI to recreate the characters of Grand Moff Tarkin (played by British actor Peter Cushing, who died in 1994) and Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) as they would have appeared in the original Star Wars film, almost 40 years ago.

How CGI technology was used

Digitally recreating Grand Moff Tarkin (Peter Cushing) and Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) was done using different techniques, with Tarkin being the more challening. Guy Henry, a British actor with similar physical characteristics to Peter Cushing, was chosen to portray Tarkin while wearing performance capture equipment. This enabled key points on his faced to be tracked during the action. A digital version of Peter Cushing’s face – taken from the original Star Wars film – was then mapped onto Guy Henry’s face, using the key points from the motion capture to line everything up correctly. According to Industrial Light and Magic, it was an extremely labour intensive process.

CGI in Star Wars Rogue One
Guy Henry wearing performance capture equipment (Image: Industrial Light & Magic/Lucasfilm)

Creating a 19 year old Carrie Fisher was somewhat easier given that she is initially seen from behind. In these shots she is portrayed by actress Ingvild Deila, with Leia’s famous hairstyle digitally superimposed. In a later reverse angle shot where her face is seen, digital recreations of Carrie Fishers face, hair, and costume from A New Hope are used.

Other films using CGI characters

Of course, Stars Wars: Rogue One is not the first film to use CGI to include people who are no longer living:

Forrest Gump (1994) used computer technology to have Tom Hanks’ character ‘meet’ famous personalities including JFK and John Lennon, and take part in historical events such as the desegregation of the University of Alabama. However, in these cases footage of Tom Hanks was filmed separately and overlaid on existing historical footage – there was no ‘digital recreation’ of JFK or any other characters.

A more recent example is Paul Walker, star of the Fast and Furious series, who famously died during production of Fast and Furious 7. A combination of body doubles – including Paul’s brother – and CGI were used to complete the unfinished scenes.

CGI in Furious 7
CGI recreation of Paul Walker in Furious 7 (Image: Universal Pictures)

Likewise, films such as Gladiator, The Crow, Tron: Legacy, and Superman Returns have all used digital technology to manipulate or recreate scenes using deceased actors images. Audrey Hepburn even ‘starred’ in a TV commercial more than 20 years after her death.

CGI – Social and Ethical Issues

At least two more Star Wars films are planned by Disney – Episode VIII is due for release in 2017, and Episode IX in 2019 – as well as several side stories that cover the backgrounds of characters such as Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Boba Fett. For continuity purposes it seems likely that these films will need to include at least some characters from earlier Star Wars films, and with the Star Wars franchise almost 40 years old, the producers may need to turn to technology to achieve this.

This digital recreation of dead actors clearly raises questions about intellectual property rights:

  • Who owns a person’s image?
  • Who owns that image after the person has died?
  • What issues might arise from the types of characters or acts that a digitally recreated character portrays?
  • What moral issues arise from the use of a dead person’s image?

The use of Peter Cushing’s image was reportedly done with the permission of his estate, but with the recent death of Carrie Fisher, it remains to be seen how the character of Princess Leia will be incorporated into future films, and what issues this will cause.

ITGS Practice exam questions

Here are a few practice exam questions to get you back in the swing of things after the Christmas holidays 🙂

  1. Define the term CGI. [2 marks]
  2. Distinguish the terms lossy compression and lossless compression. [2 marks]
  3. Describe two factors that affect the quality of an image. [4 marks]
  4. Describe two factors that have enabled the development of more realistic CGI effects in films [4 marks].
  5. Explain one advantage and one disadvantage of using CGI effects in film. [4 marks]
  6. Evaluate the issues that arise when using CGI reconstructions of actors in media in films. [8 marks]

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