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Image credit: Disney/ILM

Watch how VFX artists crafted 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens'

Thousands of elements go into a shot that lasts seconds.
Steve Dent, @stevetdent
09.07.16 in AV
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Disney/ILM

ILM has unveiled the official "sizzle reel," for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, showing how it did major visual effects for the movie. If this sounds familiar, an apparently unauthorized making-of video made the rounds early this year, but was quickly pulled. The franchise is the gold standard for VFX, though, so fans can once again get a look behind the curtain, seeing how shots were created at houses in San Francisco, Singapore, Vancouver and London.

The dramatic reel goes in chronological order and includes scenes from the desert planet Jakku, the TIE fighter Star Destroyer escape and the light saber battle on the Starkiller Base. Shots often start with just an actor in a studio, and are fleshed in by dropping in layer after layer. Oftentimes, ILM marries practical shots (real desert and forest backgrounds) with digital models. In other cases, however, it's all created inside a computer.

The Starkiller trench attack scene, for instance, starts with crude 3D model. Thousands of intricately detailed layers literally fly into the scene (complete with whooshing sounds effects), and are lit and shaded. To complete the realism, ILM artists composite in smoke, lights and weapon fire. In the end the impressive final result, which took God knows how many man-hours, passes across the screen in just seconds.

Steve should have known that civil engineering was not for him when he spent most of his time at university monkeying with his 8086 clone PC. Although he graduated, a lifelong obsession of wanting the Solitaire win animation to go faster had begun. Always seeking a gadget fix, he dabbles in photography, video, 3D animation and is a licensed private pilot. He followed l'amour de sa vie from Vancouver, BC, to France and now lives in Paris.

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