What it took to visualize this Star Wars fan film

Star Wars

How Reallusion’s iClone Character Creator helped previs ‘Dark Resurrection – Keepers of the Force’

When director Angelo Licata looked to continue his popular Star Wars-inspired Dark Resurrection saga – a series that has been watched millions of times on YouTube – he faced a couple of steep hurdles.

One was that he did not have a budget to match the first chapters that had garnered hour-long films. The other was that he wanted to approach this differently, as a video product more like halfway between a trailer and a short film. The idea was also to lead viewers to an ebook novel to find out the thrilling end to the Dark Resurrection series.

Director Angelo Licata
Director Angelo Licata.

It was a reduced budget, but there were still high ambitions on what would be seen in the video, including an array of visual effects work featuring lightsabers, spacecraft and exotic digital environments. So Licata figured he’d need to condense the live-action shoot, done largely on greenscreen, for what ultimately became Keepers of the Force to just four days.

And that meant knowing exactly what needed to be captured on those four days before filming began. For this reason he decided to previs as much of the video as possible with an animatic. “My experience in the world of cinema and advertising had taught me an important lesson,” shares Licata. “If you predict it precisely, you can get it in half the time.”

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The first step was to make avatars of the characters. Licata collaborated with Andrea Navicella using Reallusion’s iClone to build CG versions of the characters. These were made both in DAZ 3D and Reallusion’s Character Creator tool.

“I have been using DAZ 3D for many years and for this reason I have many libraries of characters, clothes, objects, etc,” outlines Licata. “The possibility of transferring them easily into iClone using 3DXchange, and therefore being able to animate them in real time, was the thing that convinced me to invest in Reallusion software.”

Keepers of the Force
Previs for a scene in ‘Keepers of the Force’ inside Reallusion’s iClone 7.

The animatic made use of digital characters crafted to look extremely similar to the real actors and their physical characteristics. “Having digital actors similar to the original ones makes the animatic closer to the final shot, allowing you to better follow the action and manage the height differences,” Licata says.

“Two photos are now enough to have a truly realistic model, and this can even help you understand what is the best shooting angle for the actor’s face.”

On the set of 'Keepers of the Force.'
On the set of ‘Keepers of the Force.’

After two months, Licata and Navicella had animated a previsualized version of the video. “Working with iClone allowed us to discard all unnecessary shots,” the director states, “thus defining a much smaller list of shots than the initial shooting list. It also made communication with all departments extremely simple and made actors understand the necessary actions during filming. The crew was also excited to watch the animatic, and this motivated every element of the team enormously.”

After the greenscreen shoot, the previs (shown below) came in handy again for post. Indeed, says Licata, some sequences in the previs worked so well that “some scenographic elements, and in one case also one of the digital actors, were transferred into Cinema 4D and rendered with Octane render to go in the final movie.”

Licata, who is both a filmmaker and author, says it was back in 2016 when he learned to use iClone and Character Creator, in just one day. “I was going to shoot an advertisement with only two days’ notice and I needed agile software to create the animation. I was driven by despair because I had very few hours available on the set, so I had to be sure that I would bring home some excellent material to edit.

“In one morning I understood the basics of animation in iClone and in the evening I had an approximate but extremely functional animatic. Although the environment was done with simple volumes, the movements and action mirrored exactly what I had in mind. Since then I always have a preview of the filming with iClone, especially if there are special effects or elaborate camera movements. It is an exceptional tool that allows me to solve many problems before going on set.”

The user interface from Reallusion's iClone 7
The user interface from Reallusion’s iClone 7.

You can find out more about Reallusion’s iClone at https://www.reallusion.com/iclone and about Character Creator at https://www.reallusion.com/character-creator.

Keep up with the Dark Resurrection saga by heading here. Angelo Licata and Andrea Navicella’s previs studio is Lords of Illusion.

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This is a sponsored article and part of the befores & afters VFX Insight series. If you’d like to promote your VFX/animation/CG tech or service, you can find out more about the VFX Insight series right here.

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