How bringing Carrie Fisher back to the screen 'was a gigantic puzzle'
Fans get to see Carrie Fisher one last time in "Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker," and it was no easy feat to bring her to the screen one more time.
"It was a massive kind of problem, I mean, puzzle really. It was a gigantic puzzle," visual effects supervisor Roger Guyett told Insider of the challenge the Industrial Lights & Magic team at Lucasfilm faced.
Fisher died in December 2016 after her filming for the last "Star Wars" movie, "The Last Jedi" wrapped. At first, Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy told "Good Morning America" the actress wouldn't appear in "Episode IX." But, in July 2018, Disney announced unused footage from "The Force Awakens" would be utilized to bring Fisher to life to close out the Skywalker saga.
How exactly do you repurpose footage from a previous film to work for "Episode IX"? Very carefully.
Guyett and creature effects supervisor Neal Scanlan spoke with Insider Monday on the Walt Disney Studios lot in Burbank, California, about the difficulty of bringing Fisher's scenes to the screen and the importance of making sure her performance came across as authentic.
'TROS' director J.J. Abrams originally thought they could do Leia digitally. They realized that wasn't going to work.
General Leia Organa is seen in "The Last Jedi," above.
Back in January 2017, Lucasfilm denied that Fisher would be recreated digitally in "The Last Jedi." The topic was, at least, broached during a discussion for her appearance in "Episode IX."
"The first conversation I had with [Abrams] about it was that he thought we could just do a digital version of Leia," said Guyett.
That wasn't going to work.
"So say you went along that path. The issue that he had with that was that the performances that she gave at any moment would just be authored by some other actress or actor," he added. "[Abrams] didn't want that. He wanted to be able to look at this movie and say, 'That's Carrie Fisher playing Leia.'"
The team accomplished that with a stand-in, a mix of Fisher's past performances, and a digital character.
What are we looking at when we see Leia in 'The Rise of Skywalker'? Fisher's face was put onto a digital character.
That's not all footage of Fisher moving around in "TROS," but it's very convincing.
"When you see Leia in 'Episode IX,' basically it's a live-action element of her face with a completely digital character," explained Guyett of what the audience is seeing.
This was done because they wanted to make sure that Leia's look in "The Rise of Skywalker" was distinct from her look in the previous two films.
"The reality of doing this is that you want her to have a new costume," said Guyett. "It would be weird if she just looked like she did in 'Episode VII' or 'Episode VIII.' You want her to have a new hairstyle because she's very specifically part of 'IX.' So we knew that we were going to have to do all of that."
If you're imagining that ILM simply cut and pasted Fisher's face onto a body, it wasn't that simple. ILM visual effects supervisor Patrick Tubach told Eric Eisenberg at Cinemablend the team tracked Fisher's posture and body movements from "The Force Awakens" to apply to their new scenes in "TROS."
One of the biggest challenges was matching Fisher's voice to specific scenes in 'Episode IX'
This is where the puzzle comes into play. Abrams and co-screenwriter Chris Terrio wrote scenes based off of the dialogue available to them from Fisher's unused footage.
"The mechanics of that then became very much in J.J.'s court, initially, about writing scenes using lines that we knew we had access to so you can break it down in this massive pre-plan thing where you write the script, and you base it around deliveries," explained Guyett of how Leia started to come together.
There were times where they found the right dialogue, but it wasn't the correct intonation. They had to just move on.
"We went back through all that footage and you can see, 'Oh, how did she deliver this line?' You know, 'Never underestimate a droid.' Once you've got whatever the line is, once you've got that kind of library, you can start feeling the emotional quality," he continued.
Imagine sifting through footage to figure out the perfect place to utilize a line of dialogue or a particular delivery. It had to be just right. There were times where they found the right dialogue, but it wasn't the correct intonation. They had to just move on.
"Some things just didn't work," said Guyett. "Even though [Fisher] might be saying the right thing, she's saying it the wrong way. So sometimes we'd abandoned certain ideas within the script. But basically the premise is now you have to stage the scenes and integrate her into those scenes, which is a massive undertaking."
There was a stand-in for Fisher on set so the actors had someone to play against
Daisy Ridley was looking at someone dressed up to look like Princess Leia while performing scenes with the character.
When you see Daisy Ridley, Kelly Marie Tran, or any other cast member acting next to Fisher in "TROS," there was always someone acting opposite them.
"There was great effort made to represent Carrie in those moments as well," Scanlan told Insider. "There was a huge respect. It's not just a visual effect. It wasn't, 'Oh, she doesn't exist.' There was actually a person there and the hairstyle and straight makeup. [We] found a place for [the cast] to feel comfortable and to feel that there's some way we were representing Carrie in some physical entity."
"We had a fantastic stand-in for Princess Leia who looked at all the footage and tried to learn the lines and represent Carrie as best as possible so that if you're acting against her you're not just looking at an empty space, you're looking at a human being who's delivering the line," added Guyett.
There wasn't a lot of wiggle room to fix things after filming
"The thing that I reiterated to [Abrams] about a million times was we had to get it right on the day we shot it," said Guyett.
Roger Guyett (left) is seen on the set of "The Rise of Skywalker."
"When you do something, quite often, you might do something and go, 'OK, well we can fix that.' We can change the timing of that explosion of something or whatever later on in post [production] or maybe that creature's moving too fast or whatever. This was something we couldn't do that with. We had to get it right on a day."
During production, when the team looked at a moment with Leia, they made sure it had elements that they were going to use. Test composites of scenes were done to make sure everything would fit right and then they would go back and re-edit the scene together to make sure it felt authentic and correct.
"Having been through this process, you can put your hand on your heart and you can say every one of those performances is delivered by Carrie Fisher," said Guyett.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
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