An Amazing Run: Supervising VFX on the Star Wars Universe

November 6, 2018
Patrick Tubach is well-known for his VFX work on a number of blockbuster films such as Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Marvel’s The Avengers, Star Trek into Darkness, the list goes on. His most recent work was VFX Supervisor for Solo: A Star Wars Story.

Can you tell us a little bit about what it was like working with Ron Howard and what, in your opinion, was the best thing he brought to the film?

Working with him was an unexpected surprise. Normally when you work with people who have a lot of experience, they may have lost a little enthusiasm, because they have done so many films. But Ron’s enthusiasm never flagged, and he was continuously cheering us on. The ability to show him shots and to get this instant gratification and visceral happy reaction when he saw something he loved, really kept us going. It made us enthusiastic to push things over the top.

As far as what Ron brought to the film, you can thank him for that spectacular space monster that we meet at the end of the Kessel Run scene. In terms of trying to figure out how to tap off such an exciting sequence, there is nothing better than seeing this massive creature and taking it to a place, like Star Wars has often done, of making it slightly weird. Ron put his stamp onto the film by making this space monster as unique and frightening as it is.

How much creative freedom did you get overall in this film?

You get a lot of creative freedom on these movies. Especially when it comes to a sequence where visual effects take center stage. There is just not an opportunity for everyone to weigh in on every visual in the frame. Too much is going on for Ron to comment on all of it. So, it is on us to make a lot of decisions. We get major beats and an overall idea of things, but as far as where exactly things are placed in the frame or how fast they move, we do a lot of that. If we don’t do it, nobody will and as Visual Effects artists this keeps you going and makes you feel important to the process. It gives you a lot of energy to know that you are integral to creating the ride we are taking the audience on.

For someone who has worked on many films in the Star Wars franchise; what sort of pressure do you have to deal with in terms of designing a film like this, knowing that millions of fans are watching and obviously it is going to be heavily scrutinised, as opposed to a Non-Star Wars film?

We like to think the fans keep us honest about things. We have a lot of different versions of these iconic ships you see throughout all of these franchise films. First, we have to do what’s right for the film. We try to put ourselves into the era of the Star Wars film we move in and try to choose the right type of ship for that moment. But when it comes to small details on films, we just can’t let anything go, because after we put something out there, people are going to create technical manuals to explain all of the things we leave unexplained. That is part of the fun for us too, we don’t necessarily have an explanation for everything we do. But we know someone will. Of course, this builds pressure not to cheat and to contradict ourselves. We don’t want to have a break in the logic, so we make up stories in our own minds to how these different pieces of the ship came, why this particular one is built like this, or how many landing gears the Falcon has on it. This stuff means a lot to us, because it means so much to the fans.

What was the main difference to designing this film as opposed to The Force Awakens?

Any process really starts with our work, because it is someone’s imagination that comes up with all of these things. So, I think in those aspects it was very similar. But when it came to The Force we were more looking into what had been done before and thinking about the next evolution for that; obviously the order was brand new on The Force Awakens. When it comes to Solo, we looked back to what was done in the classic films and created a bridge between Episode Three and Four, which was a time period we had not explored very much. So, I think this gave the designers and the artists a little bit more freedom to think differently about the era of Star Wars. It was really an exciting thing to do because it had not been touched upon yet.

The Kessel Run was so intense and nail biting, and one of the most talked about scenes of the film. How challenging was it designing this sequence?

We were looking at what needed to happen in that moment, to also make sure that it felt exciting and not just like something felt linear, in an outline structure way. You can fall into these traps very easily of trying to explain everything and every story beat becomes an explanation. To make a movie feel real and to make it feel like it is about more than those explanations, there needs to be a little more freedom, I think. We were trying to hit certain beats, to see the transformation of the Falcon for instance, and to understand how Han goes from being a kid who dreams of being a pilot to becoming one. You see him and the Falcon evolve through that scene. He has the arrogance and the bravado, and now he has to actually put it to the test and gets to use it. So, we were trying to design things, which allowed us to see him as the pilot we knew he was. Part of that was the dodging of typewriters early on and having this brilliant idea of throwing the space monster into the mar at the very end. Of course, he just survives by the skin of his teeth at the end, that’s what being Han Solo is like and we wanted to make sure that came across in the Kessel Run.

Not only with stand-alone films, but also with the episode films – how satisfying is it to see your work on the big screen, being projected like that and well received by so many fans across the globe? 

It is a thrill when you see the movie with time to sit back and to look at it as a whole. So often, as with anything creative, you get caught up in the detail and it is hard to see the entire thing until you pause to look at it. I always say that I haven’t seen a film until I have seen it with a “real audience”. The biggest thrill for me is seeing all of the people watch it and just hear how they feel about it and to feel the energy in the room.

What was your favourite sequence in Solo?

Okay, I am going to cheat a little and say, the Kessel Run, which I know involves so many different things. I am just really proud of the way we were able to create an action scene that told so many different stories all at once. It was engaging from end to end and, similar to the car chase on Corellia, we embarked on a space chase with Han Solo’s crew. All of these amazing environments culminate with this incredible space monster at the end, being able to help create that ride and to see it come to creation was probably my proudest moment.

Solo: A Star Wars Story is on Blu-Ray, DVD and Digital now

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