The visual effects team behind the awesomeness that is Rogue One spent some time chatting with Comicbook.com about the balance between including both practical and CG effects in the film.
“In terms of physical effects versus visual effects, I’m not proprietary about any of that stuff,” Knoll told Comicbook.com in an interview,” we just want to do the smar thing for the show [industry term for any one project]. If there’s a good way of doing something physically, we should do that. I had a great relationship with Neil Ellis on the show, I thought we worked really well together to try and figure out the right ways to do things that got us the optimal results.”
Indeed, Ellis told Comicbook.com that from the very beginning of development on Rogue One, Knoll “gave me free reign, and just said to put as much in front of the camera as [I] can. ‘Don’t worry about smoke, we’ll deal with that,'” was one of Knoll’s few notes early to Ellis, “which is great, because a lot of the time you do these projects and they don’t want any smoke, they want it as clean as possible and then they cut out their layers later on and the way that Gareth shoots as well, you know. We just wanted to get as much in camera as we could, and John would sort it out later in his scene.”
The way director Gareth Edwards shoots is extremely hands-on. Animator Hal Hickel describes his technique as “this very visceral, almost documentary style of shooting where he does a lot of handheld cameras.” When Hickel and his team observed that, they knew that if he couldn’t do that same thing, “go into the scene and find angles that feel good to him” in the space battle scenes, they would feel disjointed compared to the rest of the film.
So the team at ILM did what anyone in that situation would do, and invented an entirely new way of shooting a digital sequence. They built a studio where a virtual environment could be projected all around, on teh floor and walls and ceiling. Then they shaped a basic animation, “these story beats, independent of camera,” and gave Gareth a handheld tablet camera that let him literally move through space and find the angles he wanted the TIE fighters and X-wings to be soaring through the air at.
“I didn’t want the style of the movie to suddenly switch every time we went from live-action to some kind of virtual world,” Hickel said to Comicbook.com. “The animation group would create a beat, sort of a chunk of the battle, a moment, and animate it kind of in the round, without respective camera angles,” and Gareth took over from there.