Artists collaborated with Director Rian Johnson, ILM Visual Effects Supervisor Ben Morris, and ILM Visual Effects Producer Tim Keene to create previs that would help map out the action and see how moments in the story would play out.
“As the director and the writer, Rian knew what he wanted story-wise, and so the previs helped visualize how things would play on screen,” said Cheng. “He had a clear idea of what he wanted and had boarded the battles and action sequences extensively. We worked with Ben and Tim a lot during previs, and one of the biggest discussions was about scale and getting the sense of movement that Star Wars ship battles are known for.”
Following live-action photography, Howell’s team interfaced with the director, Editor Bob Ducsay, Visual Effects Editor Adam Avery, and Post Production Visual Effects Producer Chris Raimo to create postvis composites by temp’ing CG characters, elements, and backdrops into shot plates. During postvis, the team also created previs for new shots as needed.
“We were able to turn around ideas quickly in postvis to be viewed in the cut,” said Howell. “Rian was very hands-on and would thumbnail shots and go over what he wanted for the action and camera. Once he was happy with the shot and saw the postvis working in the edit, he would have us go back and ‘plus it,’ especially as we delivered shots for screenings that took place throughout the postvis phase.”
Between previs and postvis, The Third Floor worked across the movie, from the opening rebel attack and Dreadnaught bombing to the ground battle on the planet of Crait. Teams also worked on interior shots in the Mega Hanger, Throne Room, and on all of the various ships.
Techvis was an important component, with artists at The Third Floor visualizing equipment setups for ships and vehicles to be shot on gimbals on stage, and producing technical schematics and Quicktimes.
Tools used included Autodesk Maya for setting up previs, techvis, and postvis shots, and Adobe After Effects as postvis artists created slap comps, worked on set extensions, and produced CG-intensive composites. The team also used packages like Pixel Farm’s PFTrack as well as After Effects plug-ins, including Red Giant’s Holomatrix.
One of the film’s most visually stunning sequences unfolds in the salt landscape of Crait. The Third Floor prevised the scenes using assets designed by the art department, interpreting storyboards into moving cinematic form for the director. After reviews, The Third Floor London’s Ian Differ, previs editor on the show, assembled the shots into a previs cut. The teams also collaborated to make the previs as accurate as possible to the ships, vehicles, and sets being developed and worked to smoothly pass scenes into visual effects. (For an extensive look at the visual effects in the film, see the story in CGW’s Q1, 2018 issue.)
Similar to the other battle sequences, The Third Floor created a version of the entire sequence in advance of photography shoots in Bolivia. In addition to visualizing shots traveling along with the speeders or as aerial frame-ups, previs artists also depicted the red dust and ground-scarring effects that were central in the visual look and storytelling.
“We simulated the red dust in previs by creating particle instance effects in Maya that could be attached to the speeder blades to produce both rooster tail red dust as well as trail lines,” said Cheng, who was nominated for a VES Award for Outstanding Virtual Cinematography for the scene with nominees Cameron Nielsen, John Levin, and Johanes Kurnia from ILM. “The particle emitters could spawn red rocks in a range of sizes, with varying directions, densities, and speeds. We also used red mist particle sprites for the fine dust elements and created separate emitters for the ground churn.”
Cheng’s team also provided dawn-to-dust sun studies, developing time-of-day tools in Maya and running simulations of the shooting date in a previs version of a practical trench/paddock tank in Pinewood. “This helped validate the angle of the trench and shooting directions for production with a gauge of where the shadows would fall,” Cheng recalled.
Postvis on Crait encompassed numerous cockpit shots, where artists composited environments and effects behind actors and ships to create working temps with the plates. Postvis also included shots in the mines, adding characters like the crystal foxes, and producing temp composites for shots such as Rey lifting the boulders and the Resistance making its stand versus Kylo Ren.
Throughout the film, postvis artists created working comps to remove greenscreens, add holograms, and draft characters or backgrounds into shots prior to final effects delivery. A number of shots called for puppeteers to be painted out in postvis. Some of these were shots with Porg characters, each of which was controlled by at least one puppeteer wearing a green suit. Puppeteers were also removed in postvis for BB8 shots in which a practical droid was positioned using a pole on the set.
The Third Floor’s company name actually harks back to “the third floor” of George Lucas' Skywalker ranch, where founding members met initially while working on scenes for Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.