Geekery: Creating Grand Moff Tarkin

One of the impressive feats in Rogue One: resurrecting Peter Cushing.

It seems that digital Grand Moff Tarkin (played by Peter Cushing, who died in 1994) was too creepy, and Rogue One didn’t pick up an Oscar for visual effects on Sunday night. It went to talking animals, instead. ILM did, however, pick up an award for the years of work behind the tech that created him. Kiran Bhat, Michael Koperwas, Brian Cantwell and Paige Warner picked up a Technical Achievement Award for the design and development of the ILM facial performance-capture solving system.

That system is explained here:

A little more about that life cast they scanned: it was created by make-up Supervisor Stuart Freeborn for Top Secret! in 1984 to create the prosthetic for his role as the bookstore owner.

It’s more creepy than digital Peter Cushing.

You’re welcome for the nightmares.

Rogue One will be out on BluRay and DVD April 4th.

  • Agent of Change

    Impressive technical feat yes, but we should at least mention the questionable ethics of resurrecting a dead actor for a role.

    It’s kinda shaky ground going forward, especially when technology that can literally put words in your actual voice using only a few recorded sentences to synthesize whatever the user wants you to say.

    I’m not anti-tech in the least, but what’s next resurrecting John Wayne to star in a Western next to a de-aged Eastwood?

    Just something to think about while marveling at our ability to actually raise the dead by proxy.

    • vulk4n

      This is a pretty good article relevant to what you’re saying, it certainly is a very interesting ethics question undoubtedly.

    • Cergorach

      Don’t we do that already by using stories and portraying historic characters? And watching old movies by actors long dead? What about coloring black & white movies?

      I would say that the actor has the right to decide, if he did not while alive, then his family can decide. And after 90 years, it’s public domain…

      • Agent of Change

        It’s a bit obviously different though, I mean just point by point:

        – using stories: I’ll grant you this can be questionable when the story is taken out of context or drastically changed without authorial intent but that’s credited isn’t it? I don’t like this sometimes but it doesn’t feel like dragging a person out of their grave to me.

        – portraying historic characters: This is just pretty much history, no? Even fictionalized most are grounded in actual historical reference and we don’t presume to ressurect the person themselves, it is always a role played by an actor that informs the performance.

        -And watching old movies by actors long dead? I have to assume this is an absurdist overstatement of your point. If the actor had already created the work and recorded it on film it’s their for as long as it exists to be watched, it’s the literal point of writing down words or recording your voice or filming anything.

        – What about coloring black & white movies? This can be a bit of a sore spot for cinephiles but personally in this context it doesn’t actually change the performances.

        It is very much about consent and agency. I find your argument to be a bit dangerous because it basically puts anybodys very being as nothing more than a trademark that they can’t enforce once they expire. The Tu Pac hologram example is a good one. When you can take someone who has dies and generate wholey new content with them in their image with their voice you would seem to be crossing a line. I mean this is a territory with some really nasty implications in the long run both legal, political, and social.

        • bobrunnicles

          Fwiw I believe the Cushing Estate was consulted about using a CGI Peter Cushing in the movie and they were fine with it.

    • Frank Krifka

      don’t forget essentially “raising” tu-pac to perform onstage alongside dre and snoop dogg via holographic and voice synthesis.

  • D. B.

    CGI Tarkin was the scariest thing I’d seen on a cinematic screen for a while. Smaug was pretty cool. Cumberkhan was magnificent in his demented, yet calculating way. Paul Schäfer of “Colonia Dignidad” was an all-too-real creepy pervert micro-fascist.

    Tarkin, however, was pee-your-pants scary. You looked in that face and you saw him exuding the soulless technocrat every second. I remember Heinrich Himmler saying in one of his Posen speeches: “Whether 10.000 Russian females keel over from exhaustion when digging a German tank trench is only of interest to me insofar as the trench gets dug”. You could imagine this guy saying “Whether 10.000 Wookies keel over from exhaustion when building an Imperial superweapon is only of interest to me insofar as the superweapon gets built”, and you’d feel the full horror of this genocidal iceberg every syllable. I think that is what made Tarkin here such a nightmarish figure – he was simply all too believable.

    Given Peter Cushing’s propensity for scary movies, I think this master of the macabre would have been more than pleased to learn that even after death, he could still scare people.

    Plus, he was a miniature wargamer, so he was one of our own.

  • Heinz Fiction

    This special effect was the only thing I didn’t like about Rogue One. Really deep in uncanny valley and not convincing at all (and not necessary – take a double and show him from behind or something).

    • steelmage99

      I had the complete opposite experience.
      I didn’t spend an iota of brainpower on him being CGI as I simply didn’t notice it. It didn’t once cross my mind.
      It was only after I got home from my first viewing of the movie (as I started watching reviews) that I went; “Oh yeah. Peter Cushing isn’t actually alive”.
      The Leia bit at the end had me reacting though. That was my uncanny valley moment.
      I am willing to suggest that a movie goer that isn’t deep into Star Wars (and doesn’t really know Peter Cushing) won’t notice that he is CGI at all.

  • Drpx

    Some day, the Oscars will just be computers patting each other on the back.

  • petrow84

    I’m really curious how many times did they have to shoot that bookstore part… no matter, the result was awesome.