Not long ago, in cities not too far away, a group of filmmakers on a tight deadline gathered to discuss how to kill a monster.
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Inside the San Francisco headquarters of Industrial Light & Magic last September, members of the “Solo: A Star Wars Story” visual effects team were brainstorming ideas.
Director Ron Howard, busy editing the film in Los Angeles, joined a conference call.
As a monitor played a clip of a tentacled space monster being sucked into an enormous toilet-like gravity well, the discussion turned to exactly how the creature -- affectionately dubbed the “space-o-pus” -- should meet its fate.
“Could it dismember?” Howard asked. “Could it, like, tear apart?”
That’s when design supervisor James Clyne spoke up.
“Is it too graphic to have all its flesh ripped off at the last second? You just see a skull for a moment?” Clyne began.
As the idea was met with a few awkward laughs, Clyne asked sheepishly: “A little too far?”
The scene takes place as the story’s heroes -- Han, Chewie, Qi’ra, Lando and Beckett -- make the infamous Kessel Run aboard the Millennium Falcon and suddenly awaken the enormous creature.
"Solo" visual effects supervisor and co-producer Rob Bredow was sitting with Howard when Clyne floated his idea.
“Ron goes, ‘Oh!’ and I thought his laugh was like, ‘That’s too gross!’” Bredow said.
For Howard, though, the idea worked.
“If what we’re trying to do is have a monster that the 12-year-olds love, you know, honestly, revealing the skull...” Howard pondered aloud a moment later. “I’d want to see it.”
“The whole room goes, ‘Oh, way to go, James!’” laughs Bredow. “Because not only was it a really fun idea, it was probably the hardest possible thing James could have come up with.”
The film was already on a very tight schedule thanks to significant re-shoots under Howard, who took over directing duties after Phil Lord and Chris Miller were fired over creative differences with Lucasfilm.
To figure out just what the space monster’s skull should look like, Clyne’s team turned to nature for inspiration, looking at the skeletons of snakes and goats. They also drew inspiration for the mouth of the creature by studying sea turtles and penguins.
Once a team of artists and designers finished the look of the space monster -- later officially named a “summa-verminoth” -- it was passed along to 3-D modelers supervised by Sunny Li-Hsien Wei.
“We have 42 eyes, eight major tentacles and 24 minor tentacles,” said Wei. “We have more than 100 teeth.”
In the film, the creature is massive, nearly 5 miles in length. The tentacles alone are designed to be 3 to 4 miles long.
“That scale pushes the envelope of our technology,” Wei said.
“We did tentacles before,” explained creature supervisor Karin Cooper, who also worked on the Davy Jones character in “Pirates of the Caribbean.”
“The difference was, it was really, really large,” she said.
The ILM visual effects team finished the shot on time, completing a hair-raising sequence in which the Falcon escapes the "summa-verminoth" and the gravity just in the nick of time.
“It really boils down to a team of extremely creative people who just make it happen,” said ILM visual effects producer Erin Dusseault.
“The Kessel Run is honestly one of the biggest challenges and, therefore, one of the biggest rewards,” Clyne said. “I think the payoff is all up there, on screen.”
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