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Video: Award-winning actress transformed into ‘Star Wars’ character using Disney technology


January 31, 2016

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HOLLYWOOD — A new video explaining a bit of movie magic featured in box office blockblaster “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” shows Academy Award-winning actress Lupita Nyong’o being transformed into a character featured in that galaxy far, far away.

The video, created by Wired and hosted by Mike Seymour, shows how Nyong’o’s acting performance was adapted from set to screen.

The Star Wars universe has always been filled with fantastic characters that the series’ controversial creator George Lucas used all manner of movie technology to establish. The creatures ranged from a puppeteered Yoda, heavily suited actor playing Chewbacca in the original trilogy to an entirely CGI Jar Jar Binks in episodes I-III. Similarly, J.J. Abrams was willing to have fully digital characters, though they were based on the acting of remarkable people.

As seen in the video, Nyong’o would say her lines and have the motions tracked using the complex Medusa Performance Capture System, developed by Disney Research in Zurich. Her realized role as the cantina owner and artifact collector Maz Kanata is possible by the tracking dots that translated the motions and was then utilized by the animation team.

“This captures just her fixed facial expressions,” Seymour said of the Medusa System, “but is also used for animated lines of dialogue.”

The result is convincing, and anyone who saw “The Force Awakens” could appreciate the meticulous attention to detail that went into both performing and digitizing the character.

There’s a real argument to be made that a new awards category needs to be created for Best Motion Capture Performance, considering how prevalent the work is becoming in Hollywood.

“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” premiered on Dec. 14, 2015, became the quickest movie to reach $1 billion after just 12 days in theaters and has grossed nearly $2 billion since its opening. The release of Episode VIII was recently postponed seven months and is now scheduled to hit theaters in December 2017.

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