In case you missed the flurry of activity that happens on Oscar morning, J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars: The Force Awakens secured five nominations for this year’s Academy Awards, including the team’s work in the visual effects field. Which made it all the more incredible that – earlier in the week – I was able to speak with newly-nominated ILM geniuses Roger Guyett and Patrick Tubach about the effort they put into the first Star Wars movie in years.  

Over the course of our fascinating conversation, we spoke about inspirations for the visual appearance of Supreme Leader Snoke, the challenges of lightsaber battles, and the one visual effect that they feared they wouldn’t finish in time for release. When I asked them which of the reported 2,100 visual effects in Star Wars: The Force Awakens presented the greatest challenge, however, I was surprised when they started talking about Finn (John Boyega) and Poe’s (Oscar Isaac) fallen TIE Fighter… the one that eventually gets swallowed in the sands of Jakku. Said Guyett:
The reason why that is so hard to detect what is going on is [that Abrams] was willing to build such a gigantic wrecked TIE fighter, out in the desert, you know, and put the effort into what it would take to actually make that set piece. And then light it on fire, of course. And then [the visual artists] took over, right?

But you have to have that tangible thing that [John Boyega] runs up to, and you’re just, your mind tells you this thing is absolutely real. And then we have a much easier time of having a real reference to match to. Then, when we do take over, it becomes, you know, much harder to detect that sort of thing, and then we’re able to… ‘taking over’ means that we can have [the TIE Fighter] interact with the sand properly as it gets sucked into the desert. Which would be kind of impossible to do in a real rig.

Not that it’s a throwaway moment. But in a movie that has more than 2,000 visual effects, I have expected the men to discuss the Starkiller base, or the creatures set loose on Han Solo’s commissioned ship. But it’s true. I’ve been lucky enough to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens three times now, and each time, I struggle to figure out HOW they pull that TIE Fighter into the sand. It’s a seamless effect.

I guess that’s why these guys earned an Academy Award nomination.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens is in theaters as we speak. As if you needed to be reminded.

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