“Rian [Johnson, director] and Steve [Yedlin, DP] wanted a ‘filmic’ look for this movie,” says Ben Morris, the overall super-visor for The Last Jedi and ILM London’s creative director.
“They felt some of the final composites in the earlier prequel films and The Force Awakens contained color values beyond what could be captured and projected on film. Steve created a color pipeline used by our compositors that bounded our color gamut to ranges available on film. This gave our sabers a less saturated feel, more like the ones in the original trilogy.”
Rey’s blue lightsaber shifted to a paler, whiter color as bright values can’t hold saturation on film.
“Initially, I thought this might not read well, but when we started to dial down the saturation in the bright core and let the glow contain the color, it felt really good,” Morris says. “So we stayed within those bounds.”
The effects artists started with lightsabers created for The Force Awakens, the previous film, and modified them to fit Yedlin’s aesthetic. On set, the actors held faintly colored LED tubes.
One of the most dramatic lightsaber scenes in The Last Jedi is a fight between Rey and Kylo that takes place in Snoke’s throne room. Some of the pivotal scenes in the overall Star Wars saga, though, are flashbacks with Luke Skywalker and Kylo Ren.
Artists in ILM Singapore, led by Visual Effects Supervisor Alex Prichard, created lightsabers for those shots.
“We matchimated the filmed light tubes to get geometry for running our render passes,” Prichard says. “We had one pass with high-frequency flickering lines, like an electrical current. A more solid pass with a core of light that falls off toward the edges. And, a few utility passes that compositors used to rebalance the light based on the scene. We had dark, moody environments, so the lightsabers looked really cool. We added nice flares and reflections in the [actors’] eyes.”
There are certain rules you can’t break with lightsabers, according to Prichard. “We can innovate, but lightsabers will always kinda look like lightsabers,” he adds.