How to Make a Moff: The Secrets Behind Peter Cushing’s Appearance in Rogue One

By  · Published on January 6th, 2017

It’s groundbreaking technology, but is it ethical?

Hands down the biggest surprise of Rogue One was the appearance of Peter Cushing reprising his role from A New Hope as Grand Moff Tarkin. The reason it was a surprise? Cushing’s been dead for 22 years. What you saw in those few scenes wasn’t actually Cushing, of course, but really actor Guy Harvey with Cushing’s appearance CGI’d over him. Just how such a thing was accomplished might seem beyond comprehension, but where there’s a will there’s a way, and in the following video produced for ABC’s newsmagazine Nightline, that way is revealed.

Long story short, after getting permission to use his likeness from Cushing’s estate, director Gareth Edwards and the team at Industrial Light & Magic had Harvey act out the scenes in costume while wearing a fancy new motion-capture helmet kind of thing that recorded his facial movements, which were then translated to Cushing’s computerized countenance. The process is, of course, significantly more complicated than that, which is what we have the video for.

Beyond the sheer wow-factor of being able to digitally resurrect the dead there is a question of ethics, one that has since moved to the forefront of the Star Wars conversation since the death of Carrie Fisher, who’s Leia Organa was supposed to have a large role in Episode IX, which hasn’t started filming yet. That film’s director, Colin Trevorrow, is scheduled to meet with Lucasfilm exec Kathleen Kennedy to determine just how to move forward, but really they have two options: CGI her or write her out. Whichever decision they arrive at is bound to be polarizing for fans, but the bigger question of whether this practice should become an industry standard lingers and no doubt will for years to come.

Regardless if we should or not, though, we can, and this is how:

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