Like any proper “Star Wars” show, the chief challenge of “The Mandalorian” was that no one was quite sure the technology would work before they had to begin filming.
“I was asked to get into Star Wars television back when George Lucas was his show. Back in 2007-8, George felt like he needed a breakthrough to achieve the stories. Those stories were never made,” Richard Bluff said of his experience. The technology simply wasn’t there to do movie-quality “Star Wars” on a TV size and scale. But he offered to get involved if Lucasfilm got back into that arena.
The special effects wizards at ILM were gearing up to begin production of “The Mandalorian” in October of 2018, but by June of that year, they still had no idea if they could do it. Janet Lewin, one of the heads of ILM, found it entertaining, saying, “The most fun part of making the first season of “The Mandalorian” was putting all of these geniuses in the room and making the impossible happen.”
The team, led by Bluff, showed up at their soundstage that June and started throwing game engine VFX work and pointing a camera at it, hoping it would work. They captured photography from “The Force Awakens” and other movies and did their best to make it look right, because it would save so much money to do it with their Stagecraft.
Lewin said there was simply no way to stay on budget with the Mandalorian’s helmet alone, and the helmet would have needed to be CG if they didn’t have the technology, because otherwise they would need to take out all of the green-screen reflections.
But it was James Cameron who let them know they had a winner on their hands. Busy filming the sequel to “Avatar” on the next stage over, he came in to watch the tests. “Yeah, that’s really good,” he told them, and then asked questions about the compositing. When they showed him that it all of the photography had been done in-camera on the Stagecraft, he took his glasses off, leaned into the screen, and said, “Really? That’s amazing.”
Bluff said this was the moment they knew it would work.
Rosengrant added that he started his career on the first “Terminator” and says definitely that James Cameron is one of the most discerning eyes in VFX and his sign-off meant something important.
They were going to be able to pull off the impossible.