Before anyone had see a frame of The Force Awakens, director J.J. Abrams was receiving plaudits for returning the series to the models, puppets, and other practical effects that George Lucas perfected in his original Star Wars trilogy, then abandoned in his CGI-heavy prequels. But in a bit of audience sleight-of-hand craftier than any plot twist, it turns out nearly every shot of the film involved digital effects. The difference is, the technology has improved in the years since Revenge Of The Sith so that the director was able to capture the look and feel of Lucas’ ship models and desert landscapes using CGI.
Two videos on The Verge show how images from The Force Awakens were made, from BB-8’s thumbs-up lighter, to the Millenium Falcon skimming the sand on Jakku, to the ruined Star Destroyer, to various air and space battles throughout the film. Most fascinating is the software that can completely rearrange Lupita Nyong’o’s exquisite bone structure into the shape of Maz Kanata, her all-CGI character.
The second, 48-minute-long video is an extensive interview FXGuide conducted with members of Industrial Light & Magic’s effects team, who speak at length about how various shots and characters were created, and how motion capture “king” Andy Serkis was a tremendous resource to the other actors performing CGI characters.