Watch: How Rogue One Brought Grand Moff Tarkin to Life

A new video from Industrial Light & Magic illustrates the detailed, multi-layered process that went into reviving the classic character Grand Moff Tarkin for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. The anthology film's Oscar-nominated visual effects team, led by John Knoll, delivered some of the most spectacular results in the entire Star Wars franchise, mixing a wide range of techniques together to create a convincing world filled with unique characters.

Rogue One also hearkened back heavily to the original trilogy, which it could not avoid as a bridge to the plot of 1977's A New Hope. Darth Vader's cameo was easy enough for the makers to pull off, but a much harder task was to bring back the Empire's Grand Moff Tarkin without recasting him. The villainous Death Star commander needed to be CGI in order to appear as original actor Peter Cushing, who died in 1994. ILM just released a new video that further illuminates the work that went into bringing Tarkin to life.

Related: How Rogue One Brought Peter Cushing Back

Watch the new video above, via the ILM Visual FX YouTube channel. It runs through a variety of clips from Rogue One and reveals the multitude of effects that the team had to layer on top of each other in order to fully realize the world the actors were inhabiting. In the case of Tarkin, the effects were needed for the actual actor. At the 0:42 mark, you can see a shot of stand-in Guy Henry while wearing a mounted motion-capture rig around his face. As you can see, ILM had to remove Henry's head entirely and layer the mo-cap back on with full CGI, making the actor look exactly like Cushing as Tarkin.

Grand Moff Tarkin CGI In Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

The rest of the video shows how ILM mixed 3D modeling, CGI, lighting effects, and color correction to create the pitch-perfect vision of new settings like Jedha for director Gareth Edwards. But easily the most striking creation in Rogue One was Tarkin, who not only appears but plays a central role in the Empire's scenes. In an interview with Nightline earlier this year, ILM revealed a painstaking process in which they had to go frame-by-frame to make sure Henry's facial movements matched their model for Cushing. Henry and the visual effects team had previously studied the original Tarkin's mannerisms thoroughly, in order to give as accurate a representation as possible.

Needless to say, ILM's gamble on using CGI to bring back Tarkin (and depict a young Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia) paid off. The film won the Saturn Award for Best Special Effects and received dozens of other nominations, and it was of course a colossal hit at the box office with over $1.05 billion worldwide. The CGI used to recreate Tarkin was incredibly convincing, and it sidestepped any unintended consequences as far as appearing off-putting to broader audiences.

Edwards was nervous about presenting Tarkin as a CGI character, and for good reason. It was a big risk for Rogue One because of the "Uncanny Valley" effect, whereby the depiction of a dead actor in computerized form may have crossed into creepy territory for some viewers. But that potential backlash certainly didn't have any appreciable effect on the film's commercial or critical success.

Next: Should Movies Use CGI to Bring Actors Back From the Dead?

Source: ILM Visual FX

Key Release Dates
  • Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018) release date: May 25, 2018
  • Star Wars 8/Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017) release date: Dec 15, 2017
  • Star Wars 9 / Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019) release date: Dec 20, 2019
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