how the new Disney+ saga came to life through technology

After The Mandalorian, the Obi-Wan Kenobi series, available on Disney+, gives pride of place to technology to recreate the Star Wars universe. Director Deborah Chow used StageCraft, a virtual set that immerses actors in any environment. A radical change for Ewan McGregor since his first appearance as a Jedi master.

Ewan McGregor reunites with Obi-Wan Kenobi // Source: 2022 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

What do the opening scene of the children at Jedi Academy, Obi-Wan Kenobi’s crossing the rocky desert on animal back or the city fight scenes of Reva, the Third Sister and new character from the Star Wars saga? They were all shot in the same setting.

Yet on the screen, no visual similarity, everything seems very real. As in The Mandalorian and the Boba Fett booktwo other Disney+ series on the Star Wars universe, Obi-Wan Kenobi relied on technology to bring Return of the Jedi Master to life. Here, no green background, but a very large screen called StageCraft to travel, change environment without leaving the (very large) room that serves as a film set.

When the virtual invites itself into the real

Created by Industrial Light & Magic, StageCraft is a kind of virtual film set. It consists of a large LED screen (or mini LED) almost 6 meters high and about twenty meters long. It is in front of this “canvas” that Deborah Chow created her episodes by broadcasting the sets to better immerse the actors.

I started using this technology on The Mandalorian. During the first season, the technology was already breathtaking”, explains the director. ” But as the years go by, it progresses at high speed. We were able to do amazing things on Obi-Wan Kenobi that were impossible before.”

mandalorian virtual board stagecraft disney
The Mandalorian inaugurated the LED screen to shoot with a 3D decor that evolves in real time // Source: LucasFilm

StageCraft is a totally stunning new way to design visual effects. At the same time as the actors perform and the cameras record, the environment of the scene is diffused on the screen and evolves according to the movements of the camera (often on an articulated arm) as well as the performance of the actors. “This is so game changing for us“, emphasizes Ewan McGregor.

The British actor returns to his Obi-Wan Kenobi outfit in a story that takes place ten years after the events of Revenge of the Sith. But above all, he was totally immersed in these virtual sets mixing real images and 3D creations. ” When I shot Episodes I to III (of Star Wars, editor’s note), there were so many green or blue screens that it was very difficult to make things believable without anything around you » he recalls.

“George (Lucas) was a pioneer in technology, sound and image. This meant above all that we were most often in front of a screen. It’s quite a challenge for an actor. There we have this incredible plateau. If you shoot in the desert, there is nothing but desert as far as the eye can see on the screen. If you fly in space, the stars pass in front of you. It’s incredible. »

Series Obi-Wan Kenobi // Source: 2022 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

17 years after Revenge of the Sith, another tech life

His character has aged in this series which focuses on the events linking Episodes III and IV — A New Hope (the very first film in the saga created by George Lucas and released in 1977). Ten years have passed in the story, 17 years in reality (and much more since the end of filming). ” I feel like I had a totally different experience this time in the same role.», Analyzes Ewan McGregor.

Jedi fights were choreographed in the same way, with some new gestures, but it’s the visual immersion that changes the game, according to him. “Just because it’s a TV show doesn’t mean it’s different from the movie. It’s the filming context that’s different. Obi-Wan Kenobi is more of an episodic movie than an episodic story.”says the actor.

Technological developments that are not just limited to a studio setting “more alive », but also by the entire creative process. Because to make this virtual set work, you have to think about what is generally left to post-production… in pre-production. We had the chance to introduce you to this new filming technique on the set ofHuman Space Explorationa short film produced by the European Space Agency (ESA) and the French studio Duck Factory which took us to Mars… from Porte de Versailles in Paris.

Thanks to the Unreal Engine, the same engine used to design video games, the virtualization teams were able to recreate Mars on the screen and animate it according to the movements of the actors and the angle of view chosen. by the tracking camera. But all of this had been worked out long before the shooting. “Many times I wrote scenes trying to visualize in my head how it would take shape through StageCraft and how we could get the most out of the technology. », Analyzes Deborah Chow. “It’s very exciting to be able to create from this technique . »

George Lucas, digital pioneer and adventurer

The site used to bring Tatooine to life does exist in Morocco. But now also on the computer of a cinema technician if necessary, in order to avoid travel and save time and money. “A lot of things done during the filming of the prequels by George Lucas, the fact that he was pushed digital so early in his realization, all of this served as a basis for us to also direct Obi-Wan Kenobi “, recognizes the director.

And on this subject, Ewan McGregor has a technical anecdote which shows that the contribution of technology can be as positive as it is random. He thus explains thatAttack of the Clones was one of the very first films shot with digital cameras, which were state-of-the-art at the time. They were, however, equipped with huge connection cables at the back and fixed lenses that took 30 minutes to change. Everything was shot with a zoom, with two digital cameras fixed on cranes whose mission was to zoom in and out.

Obi-Wan Kenobi Disney+ town
The city is born on an LED screen and moves following the actors // Source: 2022 Lucasfilm Ltd.™. All Rights Reserved

They were hooked up to machines in a large buzzing tent in one corner of the set. It was so loud… that they realized in post-production that the sound of the cameras was on the same frequency as the human voice and that everything was inaudible. So we had to post-sync all the dialogue from Episode II. “, he recalls. And still laugh about it today:The cameras were so new that none of the bugs had a fix yet. »

Star Warshas evolved, technology too. “The day and the nightfor Ewan McGregor between his first intergalactic experience and this role, which he takes on with pleasure. “Between the series and the previous Star Wars films, the technology has evolved enormously. It also helped me in my character. It’s easier to flesh it out in important scenes. I wanted it to be closer to Sir Alec Guinness’ Obi-Wan(the original actor ofStar Wars, editor’s note) of which I am almost the same age today and I think it helped me to get closer to it, “he concludes.

Obi-Wan Kenobi resumes 10 years laterRevenge of the Sith// Source: 2022 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

SeriesObi-Wan Kenobiis now available on Disney+ for the first two episodes, then one per week from June 4 (6 episodes in total).

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