Director J.J. Abrams may have stressed the importance of practical effects in the creation of The Force Awakens, but anyone who's seen the seventh Star Wars movie will know that his proclamations didn't mean the series would be moving away from computer-generated graphics. Episode VII is full of impressive CGI, and now, thanks to a video cut by Lucasfilm that compares the raw footage shot on set with the finished scene, we can see how these scenes were made. Well, at least we could — until the video was pulled a short while ago.
The explosions were real
The video, which was originally uploaded by the Oscars' official YouTube account before being pulled there, showed some of the vast indoor green screen sets used to depict the galaxy far, far away. Those green backgrounds become the hangar of a First Order Star Destroyer, the blackness of space, and the interior of a crashed ship. They're also used for smaller objects, too. We see that surprisingly, a number of Adam Driver's scenes were shot without Kylo Ren's mask, and his trademark helmet was added to the scene later — perhaps to help the actor not fall over as he stormed moodily around the set.
But where the prequel trilogy used this kind of green screen (not always green) almost exclusively to build its weirdly clinical version of the Star Wars galaxy, this video shows that The Force Awakens' sets maintained a fairly consistent physicality. One shot shows Rey sliding down a sand dune in Abu Dhabi set against the backdrop of a huge crashed Star Destroyer. The ship is fake, obviously, added in post-production, but the double portraying Rey, the dune, and the sheet of metal she's using to slide down it are all very real.
In some scenes, Kylo Ren's helmet was added by computer
So are the explosions. One shot, in which a TIE fighter makes an unscheduled exit from a First Order hangar, shows that Abrams didn't want to rely on CGI fireballs for his vision of Star Wars. The raw shot isn't far off the finished version, with armor-clad stormtroopers launched impressively far into the air by an all-too-real explosion. Daisy Ridley and John Boyega have confirmed their director's penchant for real-life pyrotechnics in interviews, describing their panic as they sprinted through the desert away from timed explosions during their escape from Jakku.
The decision to combine both practical and computer effects resulted in a movie that feels much more grounded than the prequels, but one that still works as a space fantasy matinee, allowing rubber-suited aliens to rub shoulders with cutting-edge CG spaceships.
Update, 2:13PM ET: Post updated after video pulled.
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