Meet Maz Kanata
Barbara Robertson
March 19, 2018

Meet Maz Kanata

This odd-looking humanoid female is a pirate and smuggler who, as a fully formed digital character, gave Rey and then Finn a lightsaber in The Force Awakens. In The Last Jedi, when Finn and Rose need to find a codebreaker, they contact Maz through a holographic transmission. Maz hovers in the hologram long enough to talk to Finn, and then zooms off using a jetpack to exit the frame.

For both films, Lupita Nyong’o plays the role of Maz, and the crew motion-captured her performance. But Maz is only four feet tall, with a wrinkled face that only vaguely resembles that of a human and is so physiologically different from Nyong’o that animators created the character’s performance in both films using keyframe animation rather than motion-capture data. 

“The big challenge with Maz is that her character moves quite differently in this film [The Last Jedi] compared to how she was in The Force Awakens, says ILM’s Steve Aplin, who was overall animation supervisor. “She appears in a holographic bubble in the midst of a battle, moving quickly and with some agility around the destroyed remnants of an unknown city. There’s smoke and debris everywhere, and the holographic image is highly degenerated, so we had to focus on giving her strong, readable silhouettes to ensure her storytelling was clear. Added to this was the idea Rian had that the bubble has been shot by a Star Wars version of a GoPro camera, always hovering at a set distance, as if attached to Maz, to give the scene its unique feel. We ended up giving our animators a real GoPro camera to hold at arm’s length whilst they ran around our acting room, replicating Lupita’s actions to better inform the animation of both camera and Maz together.”

(related story from Vicon)

Audiomotion and Vicon Help Lupita Nyong'o Keep the Rebel Alliance Alive in 'The Last Jedi'

OXFORD, UK – In a pivotal moment in Lucasfilm’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi, the CGI character Maz Kanata, played by Oscar-winner Lupita Nyong’o, shows up just in time to give the Rebels a vital piece of information. Although Maz’s appearance is brief,  the complex shoot involved creating a temporary, studio-grade motion-capture stage inside the famed Pinewood Studios. To complete this task, Lucasfilm turned to Audiomotion and its Vicon system. 

The Maz shoot was a small piece of a major multimillion-dollar production that spanned multiple continents, involved more than a dozen visual effects studios and utilized countless VFX specialists. However, the firm December 2017 release date, set long before production even began, made staying on schedule absolutely vital. To this end, rather than attempting to find time to send the cast and crew to a fixed mocap studio, Audiomotion brought in 30 Vicon cameras to Pinewood. This ensured that the actors, mocap specialists and director Rian Johnson could all be involved without taking them away from the rest of the production. 

“With a film that has as many moving parts as Star Wars: The Last Jedi, it’s not always practical, or even realistic for the cast and crew to come to us, so we need to be flexible,” said Brian Mitchell, managing director of Audiomotion. “We’ve been using Vicon cameras for around 20 years now, and they make it possible for us to capture professional, high-quality mocap footage almost anywhere.”

While in character as Maz Kanata, Nyong’o speaks with members of the rebellion, sending them on a mission to recruit a master codebreaker. Throughout the conversation, she is engaged in a pitched firefight against off-screen foes in what she casually refers to as “a union dispute.” Although Maz appears exclusively as a hologram, the scene required Nyong’o to maneuver through a precisely blocked stage, constantly ducking and dodging unseen weapons fire while simultaneously reacting and responding to the characters of Finn (John Boyega), Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and C3-PO (Anthony Daniels) – all of whom were able to be on set during the shoot thanks to Audiomotion’s mobility. 
Before Nyong’o even stepped onto the set, Audiomotion spent two days building its ad hoc motion-capture studio inside Pinewood. It began by installing Vicon cameras to determine the capture volume – the three-dimensional mocap space. After the initial setup was complete, a stunt double then spent two more days helping to determine Nyong’o’s movements, giving the team a clear indication of exactly what data it would need. On the fifth day, Nyong’o took to the stage in a full motion-capture suit, running from mark to mark while delivering her lines. 

Once the shoot was complete Audiomotion quickly broke down its setup, left Pinewood Studios and returned to their headquarters outside of Oxford, England. From there, the team cleaned up and processed the data using Vicon’s Blade software. The footage was then sent on to Lucasfilm, while Audiomotion moved on to its next major production. 

Lucasfilm’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi went on to receive several accolades for its visual effects, including nominations from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts Awards for “Best Special Effects,” Visual Effects Society nominations for “Outstanding Visual Effects in a Photoreal Feature” and “Outstanding Effects Simulations in a Photoreal Feature,” and a nomination by the Academy Awards for “Best Visual Effects” along with many others.