Tony Gilroy once said that Andor doesn’t use volumetric sets, and while that’s mostly true, this claim was debunked by a panel titled “Behind the Magic: The Visual Effects of Andor” at Star Wars Celebration Europe. Volume was not used in the same way as The Mandalorian, where entire sets are seen on a curved screen, but it was used to create Corsicant outside the Embassy windows of Chandrilan, as well as some space scenes from ships’ cockpits. While used sparingly, the series hasn’t broken Lucasfilm’s streak of using the technology in every Disney+ series to date.
For ILM Visual Effects Supervisor Scott Pritchard, who leads the London and Vancouver teams, using the volume required unlearning many practical filmmaking techniques. Fortunately, he was able to access a test wall in a west London studio in preparation for filming the scenes. But the volume proved much better than a green screen, as the city lights outside cast reflections in the actors’ water glasses and eyes. Even raindrops on the window, which are actually lumps of glycerine, we can refract the light of the virtual city behind the windows.
Because Andor was more grounded in reality than any other Star Wars series, incorporating Coruscant into the story presented unique challenges. The urban planet that has been portrayed in films and animated series is portrayed more as an upscale, glamorous setting. The Barbican Estate in London eventually solved many of the creative challenges, according to visual effects supervisor Mohen Leo. Digital set extensions and overlays have been applied to add Coruscant in the distance, while the real-world buildings of the city give an aesthetic consistent with the Andor series.
Lucasfilm Visual Effects Producer TJ Falls oversaw the logistics for each shoot, being heavily involved in the pre-visualization phase and guiding all the way through post-production. He and Mohen Leo worked together on Rogue One and were intimately familiar with the style that would carry through to Andor. Physical sets and locations were used as much as possible to ground the series in reality. TJ was part of the location scouting team, matching concept art with real-life locations that could be married to each other. For example, the McLaren Technology Center in Surrey was the site of a shipping port. The concept art didn’t have a water feature, but a lake outside the curved windows cast water reflections on the ceiling. Rather than removing them, the art was modified to give the terminal a water feature.
Special effects supervisor Richard Van Den Bergh was primarily responsible for safety when it came to practical effects. From blowing up a real train that was hurled down Ferrix’s backlot set to operating a giant gimbal that rocked the set during the meteor shower, Andor presented some unique challenges. The scene he’s most proud of , was the benefit of a longer planning process for the series due to the pandemic. When Cassian Andor escapes from a room full of chains in the first episode, everything came in handy. 379 chains were hung from the ceiling of the sound stage and dropped. It would have taken a long time to reset, so after lots of rehearsals and planning, it was done in just one take.
While bringing Star Wars to life isn’t easy, one of my favorite parts of the panel was learning how the team can draw on the past to create new projects. A digital “boneyard” of artifacts can be extracted, which made designing the Ferrix Shipyard much easier. Of course, they have to consider where they are in the timeline, with Pablo Hidalgo being consulted to ensure they don’t use any part of a ship that isn’t from that era.
The team was very excited about their work on Andor Season 2, but you could tell they’ll be telling stories just as exciting as this one at a future Star Wars Celebration event. Stay tuned for more coverage from Star Wars Celebration Europe.
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