Solo: A Star Wars Story has some of the most cutting-edge computer-generated imagery to date. But CGI still can’t fool the human brain one hundred percent of the time. Physically built sets and costumed characters wearing make-up or full masks are still often the best option.
At a recent press conference for Solo, director Ron Howard was asked how he combined practical sets and characters with CGI. Howard said, “As great as visual effects and CGI is, even… only the great CGI, the effect supervisors will tell you, you know, in-camera is always what you want to go for first.” In-camera effects are those that can be produced while shooting the scene. A few examples include special lightning, radio-controlled droids, and pyrotechnics.
Not to say CGI isn’t appreciated. Howard went on to say, “And so, you know, with the Millennium Falcon and with just the great sets and so forth, the approach here always was to try to get as much in-camera as you could, and then build — and that’s what’s so magical and amazing about ILM and what they can do — to make, you know, the experience as palpable and immersive as it could possibly be. It’s a blast.”
Practical sets and effects are also great for the actors to get in to character. At the same press conference, actress Thandie Newton talked about her experience on set. “The production design is so amazing. That we would feel like we were in, like real sort of battle scenarios with explosions going off and, and debris and you know, like mud in places you didn’t even know you had places. You know what I mean? [LAUGHTER]”
One of the oldest and most beloved practical effects characters from Star Wars is Chewbacca. Originally played by Peter Mayhew, Chewbacca is now brought to life by actor Joonas Suotamo. When talking about the role he said, “When I got to know that I had a chance, and then when I got to know that I was going to playing this character, I really couldn’t sleep at night. And I was so excited because… this was a life-changer for me. I mean, I was borderline jobless when I got this role. [LAUGHTER]”
Both practical effects and CGI are still just tools to help tell a story. Ron Howard was very appreciative of the crew that helped him make Solo. “Because the people around a movie like Soloare so dedicated to not just what’s existed before, but what else they could do within that framework, within that universe, that galaxy — and creatively it’s… unbelievably stimulating for a filmmaker.”