The moment Rey and Kylo Ren take on Snoke’s Elite Praetorian Guard’s is one of the many highlights from Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi. I’ll have more on how Industrial Light & Magic crafted Snoke soon, but here’s overall visual effects supervisor Ben Morris on how that lightsaber fight scene, which was overseen by ILM London VFX supe Mike Mulholland, came to be, including the curtain of fire surrounding them and the weapons used by the guards.
Ben Morris (overall visual effects supervisor): On paper it was an incredible thing, and you can feel the dynamics. To me that took the roof off of the LA premier. People were just screaming when they went back-to-back. What we always knew was, we had this amazing throne room set on Q stage at Pinewood. Rob Inch, who’s the stunt coordinator, had rehearsed for ages with Adam and Daisy, and Adam is a force to be reckoned with as an actor, as a physical actor as much as an emotional one, and Daisy worked very hard.
We knew they’d put in the hours, and Rian always had this vision of this red throne room that he designed with [Lucasfilm Design Supervisor] Kevin Jenkins, that he wanted this incredible boudoir to just, at some point during this fight, set on fire, and reveal that epic space outside.
So we sat down and said, ‘How much of this are we going to be able to do physically?’ We had the active LED sabres, which were far more reliable this time, more or less the same thing that, we’d dialled down the saturation of our sabres enormously in this film, which I think is a good thing. We spoke at length with [special effects supervisor] Chris Corbould and his special effects guys, and what we realised is Chris could provide us with some ember-y atmospherics that were basically fanned cardboard embers that lasted just for a brief period. Also, he could do the odd piece of burning wad, or red fabric soaked in isopropyl alcohol, so it’s a very cold burn. But that was it. This entire curtain thing going on had to fall to us.
Cutting it together for the first time you realise the energy of it, but the great thing about it is, it’s a sloppy fight, and Adam’s scraping his sabre on the floor, and it’s like a welding arc gouging out and throwing stuff up. The new weaponry that those new guards have got is great as well. We had to work out what to do with those weapons, and how they’ve got these sort of truncated lasers to make the edges more dangerous, the whip. Ultimately it was an awful lot of incredibly meticulous body tracking in roto.
The other thing we inevitably discovered is the red suits reflected all sorts of things. We were replacing helmets, arms, all sorts of stuff, and augmenting. We actually had to body track the majority of the highly reflective surfaces. The floor ultimately needed the full set of reflections.
I think everything layered on top of itself, great idea to start with, amazing stunt execution, super powerful sim work and body tracking, and then compositing. It was great. The thing where the guy pulls in the whip and pulls Rey towards him. He mimed the entire thing. There was no whip, and Daisy was pretending, just holding on to her stub of sabre. I was terrified that we weren’t going to have the right physical continuity of space as he was doing over there, but he’d rehearsed lots of times with a practical, and it worked out really well.