‘You can’t wipe them off, they’re holograms.’ Well………

How closely were you watching that game of Dejarik in Solo? Now’s the time to take another look…

Pretty much every Star Wars film has fun Easter Eggs. But Ron Howard’s Solo has one of the coolest ‘inside visual effects’ hidden gem played out so far. And it’s to do with the game of Dejarik – or Holochess – that Chewbacca and Tobias Beckett play on the Millennium Falcon (which is at this stage owned by Lando Calrissian).

Holochess should be something that most avid Star Wars-watchers are familiar with. It showed up first in A New Hope, where Phil Tippett and Jon Berg animated stop-motion creatures that were composited as holograms into a scene of Chewbacca playing the game against R2-D2. A brief refrain of the game appeared in The Force Awakens, too. Then, in Solo, Chewbacca loses at the hands of Beckett.

But…something pretty cool happens during that most recent incarnation in Solo.

Let’s start with the actual clip from the film.

Did you see it? Watch it again and look what happens when Chewie gets frustrated and slams and wipes the board with his arm.

That’s right, two of the creatures actually ‘pop off’ as holograms, presumably because Chewie uses his Wookie strength to almost break the Holochess table.

Both the ‘new’ chess pieces are there (look above the second light from the left on the table).
Chewie goes nuts.
After the table sparks, the pieces have now ‘popped’ off. You can see the gap left on the board.

‘Big deal,’ I hear you say. Well, it’s actually a completely intentional thing. That’s because those two creatures that pop off the board were actually two creatures originally intended to be in the game during A New Hope.

Wait, what?

Well, here’s what happened, as described by Solo visual effects supervisor Rob Bredow at a recent Visual Effects Society screening and Q&A of the film.

The story was, Tippett had originally built 10 more characters, two more than he needed. Apparently George Lucas came out when they were lining up the shots for A New Hope 41 years ago and he said, ‘Oh it’s too crowded.’ So Tippett took a couple of them off the board and they were never seen again.

But…those pieces were not actually lost forever. Relatively recently, Tippett did find the original designs to the two creatures. What’s more, it turned out he’d given the unused stop-motion models to ILM visual effects supervisor Dennis Muren after A New Hope wrapped. And Muren had kept them, all these years.

Just to be sure, watch this clip from A New Hope, which shows just eight characters on the table.

The discovery of the two missing creatures seems to have happened as Tippett was simultaneously cleaning out his studio and preparing rewards for a Kickstarter for his short film project MAD GOD. His studio accessed the original models, scanned them via photogrammetry and moulded new versions for the rewards.

In fact, that Kickstarter project was all documented last year in a video for Tested, which showed how the new moulds were made and the figures crafted for awards.

Jump to production on Solo, and Tippett Studio – which had already re-made the original eight Holochess characters for a brief scene of Finn activating the table in The Force Awakens – was called upon to make this new Dejarik game between Chewie and Beckett.

That spurned the idea, as a story point, that perhaps there were originally ten creatures to the game on Lando’s Falcon, until Chewie’s meltdown.

Bredow related further on this at the VES event:

Tippett said, ‘Wouldn’t it be fun if the pristine Lando Falcon has two extra characters on the board?’ And then we realised when Chewie does this [mimes hand thumping], two of the buttons popped off the table. If you watch carefully…two extra characters for two shots. Then they disappear, never to be seen again.

Which just goes to show, it really is unwise to upset a Wookie.

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A pic of one of the original missing chess pieces (from the Tested video).
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A pic of the other missing chess piece (from the Tested video).
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Tippett with the collection of chess pieces during A New Hope (one of the missing pieces is identified). This pic from the Kickstarter for MAD GOD Part 3.

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Jurassic Week: the Dinosaur Input Device

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Next up in vfxblog’s Jurassic Week is a brand new oral history on the making of the Dinosaur Input Device. It was this dinosaur-shaped stop-motion armature fitted with special encoders that kept Tippett Studio in the game during the making of Jurassic Park, after its original stop-motion dinos were scrapped in favour of ILM’s CG. This oral history includes a ton of rarely seen behind the scenes images.

https://vfxblog.com/dinosaurinputdevice

Phil Tippett is speaking at FMX: a look back at his visual effects highlights

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Star Wars, RoboCop, Jurassic Park and Starship Troopers are just some of the projects Phil Tippett has left his indelible mark on. The visual effects supervisor famously navigated a major transition in the visual effects industry from practical effects – in which he had specialised in stop-motion animation – to the digital world we are so familiar with today.

Soon Tippett will be sharing this journey at FMX in Stuttgart, Germany, as part of a Then & Now series of talks I’m co-ordinating at the conference. His talk is called ‘Lessons in Motion: “Star Wars” to “Starship Troopers”, and Beyond’ and will take place on Friday April 27th. There’s also going to be a screening the night before of MAD GOD, Tippett’s return to the world of stop-motion.

Right now, vfxblog has this special gallery featuring Tippett’s work from over the years in film – from humble beginnings through to major effects blockbusters. Enjoy, and hope to see you at FMX. Continue reading Phil Tippett is speaking at FMX: a look back at his visual effects highlights

The story behind Cloverfield’s classic Statue of Liberty shot – in the teaser AND the final film

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In the summer of 2007, Paramount Pictures ran a teaser trailer for an unnamed film with the release of Michael Bay’s Transformers. It featured a group of New York friends at a party who suddenly witness a massive explosion and then see the head of the Statute of Liberty careening down a city street.

That teaser, which went majorly viral, was of course later revealed to be for the Matt Reeves’ monster movie Cloverfield, produced by J.J. Abrams. Eventually the ‘found-footage’ film released in January 2008 would go on to be a huge hit. But there were two fascinating things about that intense teaser; the first is that it was filmed largely while the production was still in prep as a test-bed for the hand-held VFX requirements of the movie.

The second fascinating fact was that, although the majority of the visual effects for the final film were handled by Double Negative and Tippett Studio, the visual effects for the Statue of Liberty head teaser were done by Hammerhead Productions (a fact even mentioned in the official production notes).

It’s certainly not unusual for a different studio to tackle teaser trailer shots or for shots and elements to change from teaser to final – in fact, it happens regularly simply because these teasers need to get out there, quickly. But it is interesting to see what the differences were between the original teaser (above) and the final scene from the film (below).

Now, on the tenth anniversary of Cloverfield, and as a brand new viral marketing campaign for a third Cloverfield film directed by Julius Onah (once known as God Particle) gets underway, vfxblog revisits the original film’s teaser and the final Liberty head VFX from the film. Continue reading The story behind Cloverfield’s classic Statue of Liberty shot – in the teaser AND the final film

Randal M. Dutra on ‘RoboCop’ and the stop-motion ED-209

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Illustration by Aidan Roberts.

Recently on vfxblog, I was able to speak to former ILM animation supervisor Randal M. Dutra about his work on The Lost World: Jurassic Park for that’s film’s 20th anniversary. I invited Dutra back to talk about his stop-motion contributions to RoboCop, which this week celebrates 30 years since its release.

On that film, Dutra was one of the animators of ED-209 at Tippett Studio (others included Phil Tippett, Harry Walton and Tom St. Amand). The enforcement droid was realized as both a full-scale puppet used on set and an articulated stop-motion miniature animated by the Tippett Studio crew, often against a rear-projected background plate advanced one or two frames at a time. Here’s Dutra’s thoughts on helping to make the ED-209 character so memorable. Continue reading Randal M. Dutra on ‘RoboCop’ and the stop-motion ED-209