VFX Lessons To Learn From 3 Awe-Inspiring Mandalorian Season 2 Moments | ActionVFX
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VFX Lessons To Learn From 3 Awe-Inspiring Mandalorian Season 2 Moments

VFX Lessons To Learn From 3 Awe-Inspiring Mandalorian Season 2 Moments

From Krayt Dragons to Luke Skywalker, there's so much to learn from the The Mandalorian's VFX.

Season 2 of The Mandalorian came to a close in one of the best finales of 2020 and an overall highlight for many peoples’ years. 

In one of the most challenging times we’ve all faced in recent history, Disney and Lucasfilms’ latest episodic adventure stands testament to the power art has for giving us an escape and something to look forward to all the same. 

As a VFX artist, Star Wars has always had an even stronger resonance than the ordinary viewer. It was the catalyst for my passion when I was a kid watching the Original Trilogy, and now for all of us it represents the forefront of technology and filmmaking.

The following are some of the best moments from Season 2 which inspire and offer many lessons for those looking to create movie magic. Also, a final warning, SPOILERS AHEAD

1. Killing the Krayt Dragon - Episode 1

Sometimes the best moments equal the biggest explosions. The death of the Krayt Dragon saw Mando overcoming his first task of the season in spectacular fashion. This cinema-quality shot has it all: dust, debris, a massive shockwave, and a giant dying beast. It was like a Godzilla moment smashed into a Western.
Though most of us aren’t one-person-armies (just take a look at that effects crew), there are many fundamentals to be honed here and even some lessons for stock footage. 

A prime example is the amazing depth achieved with the explosion through extreme layering and variety of assets. This is achieved first and foremost through an understanding of the forces at play. You have the dragon itself bursting from the sand, the explosion coming from within its body, and all of the subsequent reactions. 

For a quick and dirty desert explosion using stock footage, consider a combination of our exploding debris, assorted haze and atmospheres, and my favorite part: a large scale dust wave to start incorporating that shockwave. A quick hue shift to a rust color and you’ve got sand from all of it!

2. Ahsoka’s Entrance - Episode 5

One of my favorite scenes in the whole show comes with the revelation of a fan-favorite. Seeing Ahsoka in live-action was a huge deal for many, and the VFX team on Episode 5 did not disappoint with her entrance. We find Ahsoka outnumbered, but not even close to outclassed, as she slices through a small platoon in a dreary forest.

Check it out in the opening moments of this video.
The lightsabers are amazing, the stunts are on point, but there’s one thing that makes this scene and that’s obfuscation. If you’ve ever seen a Batman movie, you understand the power of not showing things.

One second Ahsoka is a dancing whirlwind of dual glowing blades and next: darkness. This is not only incredible image design, it’s clever use of the lightsabers themselves as in-world lighting. 

Anytime you have variable in-world lighting, consider how you can structure your scene to make use of obfuscation and really ramp up the suspense. Muzzle flares, lightning strikes, and if you want to go one for one, blasters/sabers are all amazing light sources that can reveal and then hide information from the audience, leading to some really great effects. 

One final thing to keep in mind is to use practicals and then enhance with VFX. This will leave you with the full environmental lighting necessary to achieve a realistic look. 

3. It’s Actually Luke! - Episode 8

Of course, how could I not talk about it. The biggest bomb-shell appearance dropped on the Star Wars world since young Leia at the end of Rogue One.

The use of digital characters is at an inflection point right now that will really set a tone in the history books of VFX (as if the incredible team at ILM doesn’t have enough entries in there). The ethics, the implementation, does it even land? All of these topics are up for debate. 

For me, Luke’s appearance in the end of The Mandalorian didn’t hit a perfect 10, but it didn’t need to and that’s the point. There’s a misunderstanding that VFX has to be perfect and indistinguishable to achieve their purpose. This isn’t the case, rather VFX is just another tool in the storytelling repertoire of the filmmaker.
In the case of The Mandalorian, this incredibly emotional moment and the grand finale of the whole season utilized VFX to place a character in the scene which made perfect sense in the context of the narrative.

Once again, the use of obfuscation created a build-up of suspense while also allowing the filmmakers to limit the amount of time the effect was present on screen. This is another crucial takeaway! Polarizing effects like this are very similar to seasonings. You don’t always want cups of cayenne powder in your recipe, a couple of pinches can be more than enough. 

If you continue this exercise through other big VFX shots in The Mandalorian, you’ll find the underlying theme is to really stick to purpose-driven effects. Nothing is thrown in for the heck of it, every pixel drives the story forward and keeps us engaged with the narrative as it unfolds. This is true mastery of the art form and something all of us can apply to our work.

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