STAR WARS: ROGUE ONE – Just how convincing was CGI Tarkin?

ROGUE ONE: Just How convincing was CGI Tarkin?

 In 1977, audiences were blown away when the first Star Wars film, a New hope hit the theatres. It was a massive, revolutionary step in visual effects, one that would change the way we view cinema forever. This was pretty much the reaction I suspect audiences would have had when it first came out. (I say “suspect” because I was born well after, in a time when the Star Wars prequels decided to pop into existence with their Jajars and CGI saturated cities).

Since Star Wars a New Hope (1977), the Star Wars special effects team (Industrial Light & magic) have been the founder of hundreds of visual effects techniques that have been used around the world in countless films. Techniques such as detailed morphing (in Willow 1988) and the first computer-generated character (in young Sherlock Holmes 1985). Today they have done it again with a revolutionary technique in CGI: virtually recreating the notorious Grand Moff Tarkin. When I first saw virtual Grand Moff Tarkin, I was blown away, even though I knew it was CGI (and I will explain why later). Now, since I’m a social butterfly I did not experience this revolutionary step up alone. I was with friends who did not notice it was CGI until I asked, “What did you think of Grand Moff’s CGI, and they quickly respond with, “Huh?”. But looking at people’s reaction in the media, the same cannot be said for the majority who disliked the rebirth of a character using virtual aids. Why, I hear you ask? Well, there are three main reasons I can see:

  • Some people didn’t think Grand Moff Tarkin (the commander of the Death Star) should be in a film about the Death Star.
  • The highly topical argument in the media about resurrecting deceased actors using CGI, which I think is fine as long as they portray the actors performance in a respectful manner, I think revisiting passed away actors is a very memorable decision.
  • Lastly, Is some people thinking it did not work well enough visually. (Which is the one I will be discussing this further)

Now for the fun part, how they did it. Most CGI recreations of real life actors beforehand were to make old actors look younger, like Robert Downey Jr in Captain America: Civil War (2016). Currently they must use an entirely different actor, in this case, Guy Henry, who has a similar shape and voice as Peter Cushing. After filming Henry’s movements they had to completely map out Peter Cushing’s face from older films to virtually mold it over Guy Henry’s. So there you have it!

Here we see Guy Henry performing Grand Moff Tarkin on set, all before being molded into the face of Peter Cushing.

The finished product looked outstanding: the details of the skin, hair and eyes were perfect; the way his facial structure moved as he spoke was on point. So why did it still feel computer generated? Well it’s simply how good we are at discerning faces. Such as them not being able to synchronise the mouth to the voice, which you have to understand would be incredibly hard because our mouths can be full of expression. As viewers we are very good at discerning whether something is out of sync when it comes to dubbing audio onto faces. CGI Cushing is surrounded by real actors. This totally exposes the limits of the virtual character before us.

Yet, It did not deter me from the plot. It was good enough to accept the existence of his appearance as something exciting and surprising. When I walked out of the cinema, I left with two thoughts: the obvious mind blowing that took place watching the movie; and thinking about how advanced CGI is now. Imagine how realistic artificial characters will look in the future! It may be unrecognisable, and put actors out of their jobs!

We still have a long way to go before this technique of art can be perfected. I’ll be looking forward to how they’ll use these advancements next. Overall the visual effects team did a revolutionary job at resurrecting Grand Moff Tarkin, what they call is the costliest and expensive visual effect they have ever produced.