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June 13
2018

ISSUE

Web Exclusive

Inside SOLO’s Millennium Falcon: Old School Meets New School

By IAN FAILES

(Image courtesy of Lucasfilm.)

In any movie where action takes place inside a spaceship, one of the biggest challenges for the filmmakers and actors can be imagining what’s going on outside. Recent films have used LED screens sitting outside the windows of the ship to show pre-rendered scenes, or to help with light interaction for images that will later be composited into the frame.

On Ron Howard’s Solo, this was taken one step further – or back, depending on how you see it – by incorporating the old-school effects technique of rear projection for the Millennium Falcon cockpit scenes. VFX Voice asked VFX Supervisor and SVP, Executive Creative Director and head of ILM, Rob Bredow how it was done.

Watch a Falcon cockpit scene during the Kessel Run. (Image courtesy of Lucasfilm.)

“First, we knew we had a lot of pages of material that were going to be shot in the cockpit,” observes Bredow. “Most recently on Rogue One, we used LEDs wrapped around the cockpit of the ships in that movie to give you better lighting into the cockpit, but in most cases it wasn’t directly photographable, because the LEDs weren’t fine enough pitch to be able to be used directly when you saw them in camera. So we took the basics that went into that original system for Rogue One, and improved the quality by changing to high resolution, in this case, 4K laser projectors, and had an array of projectors, I think it was six, behind the rear projection screen. This was 30-feet tall and wrapped around the cockpit 180 degrees.”

Solo Visual Effects Supervisor Rob Bredow.

What this meant, ultimately, was that the actors would sit in the cockpit and be able to see a star field directly outside. Or, when they pushed the levers of the Falcon to go into hyperspace, the stars would streak and form the familiar blue tunnel – an effect pre-made by Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) in 8K by 4K projected onto the screen like a ride film. Many cockpit shots, of course, still required extensive visual effects work that would be completed later.

The projection system on the set of Solo. (Image courtesy if Ron Howard’s Twitter account.)

“We took the basics that went into that original system for Rogue One, and improved the quality by changing to high resolution, in this case, 4K laser projectors, and had an array of projectors, I think it was six, behind the rear projection screen. This was 30-feet tall and wrapped around the cockpit 180 degrees.”

—Rob Bredow, Visual Effects Supervisor

“In the end,” says Bredow, “some of those shots are actually 100% in-camera. The shot where Han first walks into the cockpit and you see the stars in there, that’s an in-camera shot. The shot where Lando and L3-37 push the levers to go into hyperspace, and the camera pans over to the right and you see hyperspace reflecting in Han’s eyes, that’s all captured in-camera on set in real-time.”

To enable the projections to work on set, the filmmakers had to work hard to synchronize the camera system and the projectors. “It sounds like kind of a boring detail but until you achieve that, you can’t get those in-camera effects that we were looking to get,” says Bredow. “You need the camera to stay in sync with the screen so you don’t get any double printing or messing up of your animation. Getting that whole system working was actually quite a little science project.”

Outside the Falcon during the Kessel Run. (Image courtesy of Lucasfilm.)

“Some of those shots are actually 100% in-camera. The shot where Han first walks into the cockpit and you see the stars in there, that’s an in-camera shot. The shot where Lando and L3-37 push the levers to go into hyperspace, and the camera pans over to the right and you see hyperspace reflecting in Han’s eyes, that’s all captured in-camera on set in real-time.”

—Rob Bredow, Visual Effects Supervisor

The projections also came in handy during the ‘Kessel Run,’ where the Falcon is evading Imperial TIE fighters, a giant space creature and a major Maelstrom. Says Bredow: “We had about 20 minutes of media that we created for the Kessel Run. Ron Howard wanted to run it from top to bottom, so we would start at the beginning and run it all the way through and just do one cue after another, but oftentimes he would want to just do a section or repeat a section a bunch of times, then pop into the next one. We had various real-time systems in play with people able to operate it.”

Director of Photography Bradford Young was also able to use the projections as primary lighting cues, and he would light the shots accordingly. “If we wanted more blaster fire or ‘pew-pews’ from the TIE fighters,” says Bredow, “I could call for some TIEs to be firing on screen right or screen left, and Bradford might then say, ‘I just need more green backlight over here.’ We could do that all interactively, so we didn’t have to make those decisions in advance, which was really fun.”


Read about the visual effects of Star Wars: The Last Jedi in Crafting New Effects Frontiers in The Last Jedi

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