Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker
Blowing up Kijimi
When renowned VFX Supervisor Roger Guyett invited us to ILM to discuss some work on what would be the culmination of the saga that started over 4 decades ago we could not wait to hear what he had in mind. After all, our facility has played an integral role in that saga for much of those 4 decades. However, when Roger said he wanted to see something that they have never seen before, we knew we had a challenge on our hands. The Star Wars franchise and ILM have changed the visual language of filmmaking time and time again, and here we were being asked to show them something they’ve never seen. Oh, and by the way it is blowing up a planet!
Our practical effects supervisor Geoff Heron was up for the challenge and having heard from Roger what he would like to see, Geoff set about figuring out how to achieve it. The effect they were looking for was the result of a high-powered laser like energy heating up the inside of the planet until the crust could no longer contain the boiling magma. There needed to be cracks and eruptions from multiple parts of the planet, all timed in a way for maximum dramatic effect, as well as a realistic appearance of the exploding planet crust showing the various layers and a variety of different sized chunks, some as big as continents, heading out to space. All at approximately 1:10,000,000 scale!
Geoff spent several weeks testing different types of pyro on various materials, provided by our model supervisor Sean House, singularly and in combination with each other, to achieve a repeatable and spectacular effect.
The testing showed it was going to be some formulation of pyrosil so Sean set about figuring out how to mold a planet, weighing around 200 pounds, and hang it from the stage grid without it falling apart prematurely.
We knew we would be shooting this at very high frame rate with a camera on the floor looking directly up at the suspended model in order to achieve the look of an explosion in zero gravity. Our director of photography, Pat Sweeney, calculated that in order to get the length of shot that ILM required, and shooting at the speed required to give the correct sense of scale, we would need to open up the pit in the stage floor to achieve the correct distance from camera to model.
We decided to go with a model that was basically a complete hemisphere, 4 feet in diameter. Sean and his team commissioned a custom mold and experimented with ways to get material of the correct formulation in there, in multiple layers, and to provide enough structure to support it, but not so much that the support structure would be visible during the shot.
Once materials, pyro and methodology were determined the model shop provided six finished models, 4 of which were used for further testing primarily to fine tune the timings between events and gather further feedback from Roger and JJ. The final two hero models were then hand painted based on artwork provided by ILM and prepped for shooting.
The models were then attached to another structure that held in place most of the pyro, bringing its weight to about 450lbs. Geoff’s team then loaded the pyro and carefully raised the model to exactly 32 feet above 2 Phantom Flex high speed cameras. No stress!
Ultimately the pyro team prepped and placed 28 separate pyro events in the model designed to create cracks, high speed eruptions, explosions, flashes of light, fire of different colors, sparks and flaming magma. Each event was precisely timed through a custom built timing board to occur exactly when needed to within 1000th of a second. The whole event took less than 2 tenths of a second which gave us about 8 seconds of screen time.
Screen time that we thought was well worth the effort.
Industrial Light & Magic
Practical Effects & Practical Elements