A new video posted to YouTube by Industrial Light & Magic shows the incredible work and detail put into the CGI in Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
For all J.J. Abrams and co. touted the liberal use of “practical effects” in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, CGI was by no means a secondary tool.
And a good thing, too. Without the work of Industrial Light & Magic, the visual effects company within Lucasfilm, we wouldn’t get the chase scene in the Millennium Falcon on Jakku, CGI characters like Maz Kanata, or the epic lightsaber battle at the end of the film.
See more examples of ILM’s magic touch in The Force Awakens in a video showing the process of creating the film’s CGI visual effects.
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While practical sets and effects, like puppets, are really cool and should be used where appropriate, Star Wars would not be the visual treat it is without the use of CGI. Star Wars has always been a pioneer in special effects. The props used in the original trilogy and the stop motion animation used to make them move on-screen, were precursors of CGI technology. Once computer animation became a viable tool, ships and battles in Star Wars became even better and more realistic. Not only that, but new worlds – like the water-drenched planet of Kamino, and the weapon-equipped Starkiller Base – entered the realm of possibility.
Practical effects and CGI are means to an end. They should be used where and when appropriate, in order to create a specific visual result. Lucasfilm is not using practical effects more than they did in the previous Star Wars films, nor is it using more CGI. The differences between The Force Awakens‘s visual effects and those of, say, Revenge of the Sith are twofold: CGI technology is more sophisticated and better-looking today than it was in 2005, and J.J. Abrams only wanted CGI where it was needed or where it would look more realistic than a set or prop.
Not to say Revenge of the Sith‘s use of CGI was a bad decision. George Lucas was merely being experimental in using it so liberally. But CGI just didn’t look as good back then. The results were a sort of artificiality in some of Episode III‘s environments and characters. What Lucasfilm aims to do with the sequel trilogy is incorporate the best of both the previous trilogies to deliver a seamless bridge between the two worlds of visual effects magic – the practical and the computer-generated.