‘We explained to the studio that we were going to do everything backward’

Read Gareth Edwards’ in-depth statement on the making of ‘The Creator’: how the director and his team took the unconventional approach of shooting the film first without sets and then approaching production design and visual effects later.

Here’s something I very rarely do at befores & afters: run something directly from the official production notes for a film. But in the case of The Creator, from director Gareth Edwards, I thought this required an exception.

Quoted in the production notes, Edwards gives a lengthy discussion about his own history in filmmaking and how The Creator came to be. So, I thought I’d reproduce it in full here.

I would highly recommend seeing the film; it’s original sci-fi IP and it just feels and looks so natural. This is of course thanks to the direction of Edwards, plus the efforts of joint DOPs Greig Fraser and Oren Soffer, production designer James Clyne, the VFX team led by Industrial Light & Magic (Julian Levi was VFX producer, Jay Cooper was ILM VFX supervisor, and Andrew Roberts was on-set VFX supervisor), along with many other key crew members.

One thing Edwards has spoken about, too, especially in relation to the VFX, is that same ‘reverse-engineered’ process that was taken. For example, where action scenes might be filmed with live-action actors, and then only later would they decide if a live-action actor might be replaced with a CG robot.

Coupled with shooting at many different locations and using the lightweight Sony FX3 camera this is what helps give the film that very organic feel. The production did, of course, utilize stand-ins for some robots, and it also made use of ILM’s StageCraft (LED volume) for certain moments. There’s a holistic approach to the visual effects work that makes it, again, feel different to other films.

Here’s Edwards full statement from the film’s production notes, along with official imagery and official behind the scenes b-roll.


In his statement, Edwards discusses the process he took to get The Creator made, including a test. Plus, he looks back on his Star Wars experience with Rogue One, recalls memories of a holiday in Asia, how he got into VFX (and made them himself), and reflects on the art of crafting science fiction.

When I grew up, nearly every film at the cinema was an original blockbuster. Not a month went by where another sci-fi classic wouldn’t appear, as if dropped from the heavens by the cinema gods. Films whose imagery and characters would stay with you for decades after, bouncing around your head for the rest of your life.

A still on the set of 20th Century Studios’ THE CREATOR. Photo by Glen Milner. © 2023 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

I can’t remember how old I was when I first saw “Star Wars,” it was kind of always there. It was a semi-religious experience watching that film. The way it married ancient mythology with a far-off technological future, I instantly knew what I wanted to do for the rest of my life… I was going to join the Rebel Alliance and blow up the Death Star.

Then slowly, it started to dawn on me. These things called films were not real. The Rebel Alliance didn’t exist, this whole thing was a big lie called ‘movies.” So, after much dismay, I eventually
decided to do the second-best thing; I would become a liar too, and I would make movies. But wait, how on earth do you become a filmmaker?

A still on the set of 20th Century Studios’ THE CREATOR. Photo by Oren Soffer. © 2023 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

I grew up in the middle of England, so Hollywood seemed a million miles away. Then, one day when I was about 12 years old, my dad came home and announced we were all going on a holiday to Asia, and even more excitingly, he was going to buy a video camera to capture the whole trip.
That was it…No one in my family stood a chance. I grabbed that camera the second it arrived, filming every moment as we traveled through the megacities of Hong Kong, Bangkok, the tropical beaches, and the jungles of Thailand. It had a massive impact on me, it was like nothing I’d
experienced before. I didn’t understand any of the culture, the signs, advertisements, I felt like a complete outsider. and I loved it.

By the time I turned 18, I had amassed a collection of VHS short films that paved the way for me to get into film school. I just so happened to be sharing a house with a film student who was studying this very new thing called ‘computer animation.’ This was 1993, and seeing what he could do on his home computer blew my mind. It was clear that this tool was going to democratize filmmaking, or so I thought. If Hollywood didn’t call, it didn’t matter anymore, there would be nothing stopping someone from making an epic sci-fi film from their bedroom.

Madeline Voyles as Alphie in 20th Century Studios’ THE CREATOR. Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios. © 2023 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

Hollywood never called. I couldn’t get a directing job, so I got into debt and bought a computer. After spending far too long learning visual effects, I got offered way more computer graphics jobs than any jobs related to filmmaking. I ended up with a reputation at the BBC as ‘this kid who does visual effects from his bedroom’. But I would constantly try and bribe producers |worked with, saying, ‘If you let me direct one of your TV shows, I’ll do all the visual effects for free.”

As each year passed, I kept making excuses as to why I couldn’t quit my job just yet. Until finally I  just hit a tipping point where the fear of failing was less than the fear of never trying. I knocked on the door of a low-budget film company, showed them my visual effects showreel and short films, and somehow convinced them that the industry was at a tipping point, that you could now make a big-looking movie without lots of money, for whatever reason they believed me…Three
months later I was in Central America shooting my first feature film “Monsters.”

A scene still from 20th Century Studios’ THE CREATOR. Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios. © 2023 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

We had very little money, but it didn’t matter. It was a sci-fi film and the less control we had, the more real it felt. We traveled throughout Central America and every time we saw an interesting location we would jump out and film a scene; it was incredibly organic and efficient. We shot real people mixed with just two actors, and everything that would normally hold you back became our strength. Turns out, there are loads of advantages to making a movie with no money.

The only catch was I had to do all the 250 visual effect shots myself from my bedroom. Using all the new software that promised to democratize filmmaking, Ifelt like I was racing hundreds of other filmmakers in their bedrooms all over the world to be the first to do this. After several rejections, the film finally got into SXSW, where it was randomly seen by a Hollywood agent who offered to represent me. I was kind of pinching myself, but also by then it strangely didn’t matter…

Ken Watanabe as Harun in 20th Century Studios’ THE CREATOR. Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios. © 2023 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

It felt like a digital revolution was coming, that anyone could now make films, who needed Hollywood? Until my new agent called me up asking, “Are you a fan of Godzilla?”

Getting to do one of the biggest films of the summer was like being teleported directly to the Super Bowl final. It was as nerve-wracking as it was exciting. But soon it became clear that everything that was easy about making a no-budget film was suddenly hard, if not impossible, on a no- budget film. And everything that was difficult, like creating 250 visual effects shots, was suddenly easy. I wasn’t sure how I felt about this trade. It felt like there was a perfect balance to get the best of both worlds. I had decided I was going to step away from big franchise movies and try and take what I had learned and apply it to very ambitious smaller films, you know, without the pressure of a giant fanbase scrutinizing your every move. That’s when my agent called again, “Do you like ‘Star Wars’?”

A scene still from 20th Century Studios’ THE CREATOR. Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios. © 2023 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

It was a dream come true. The chance to play in the universe that had inspired me to become a filmmaker. In a strange way, it felt like ‘the force had destined this to happen. Yet, the whole time we were making “Rogue One,” we were always trying to push the process, go back to our roots, and do things differently. Greig Fraser and Industrial Light & Magic were up for pushing the
boundaries. Like using giant LED screens instead of green screens to film out of the ship’s windows. Shooting in real locations and augmenting them later in the computer. It felt like everything I had been doing was all leading up to this film. But once you finally get a chance to join the Rebel Alliance and blow up the Death Star, what do you do next? What could possibly top that?

When a film is finally over, your brain can suddenly dump two years’ worth of ideas and images in a heartbeat, like formatting a hard drive. You find yourself suddenly with this massive blank canvas in your mind, completely open to new ideas and storylines; It is one of my favorite moments in my life when you feel like a sponge, and anything is possible.

Director Gareth Edwards on the set of 20th Century Studios’ THE CREATOR. Photo by Glen Milner. © 2023 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

When “Rogue One” was over, I needed a break. I went on a long road trip with my girlfriend to her parents in lowa. As we traveled across the Midwest, I watched the endless farmlands scroll by listening to movie soundtracks. When suddenly, there, in the midst of all the tall grass, was this strange factory. I remember it having a Japanese logo on it. I started to wonder what they were building in there. Well, it was Japanese, and I’m a science fiction geek, so my mind went straight to robots. It had to be robots, right? Imagine you were a robot built in that factory, and that’s all you had ever known, then one day something went wrong, and you suddenly found yourself outside in this field for the first time, seeing the world, the sky, what would you think?

I tfelt like the beginning of a movie. I found it fascinating, and by the time we arrived at my girlfriend’s parent’s house, I had the whole film pretty much worked out in my head. It’s very rare this ever happens. I took it as a good sign, and thought, maybe this should be my next film.

A scene still from 20th Century Studios’ THE CREATOR. Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios. © 2023 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

But I hate writing screenplays. It’s like having the worst homework in the world. The only way I  can bring myself to do it is to lock myself away in a nice hotel and promise to never leave until the script is finished. I was doing exactly that, in a resort in Thailand, when a director friend of mine, Jordan Vogt-Roberts, who had made “Kong: Skull Island”, was in Vietnam and invited me to join him. We spent a week traveling across the country and having just been in a creative, screen-writing headspace, my imagination was going wild the entire time. I started envisioning massive futuristic structures rising out of paddy fields, or thinking about fascinating spiritual questions that would come of a Buddhist monk being an Al. I found it captivating, and I got really excited about the idea of something “Blade Runner”-esque being set in Vietnam I was seeing. If I didn’t make that film now, then someone else would beat me to it…I had to do this!”

I truly believe the way you make a film is just as important as the actual idea. It was important to me that we approach this film completely differently, or not do it at all. But trying to convince a major studio to do an original sci-fi epic in this era is very difficult, if not impossible. It was clear our only real hope would lie in making it for a lot less money. It was time to find that holy grail of
filmmaking, where we get all the benefits of big and no-budget filmmaking. I  contacted the producer of “Monsters” and tried to explain “We aren’t making a low-budget blockbuster; we are making the most ambitious indie movie ever!”

A scene still from 20th Century Studios’ THE CREATOR. Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios. © 2023 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

It’s easy to say that kind of thing, but what does it really mean? We explained to the studio that we were going to do everything backward. Normally in a big studio film, you first sit down with artists and design the whole world, then realize you can’t possibly find these locations and must then build giant sets in a studio and shoot everything against a green screen. I didn’t want to do that, so we went about it the other way around. We wanted to shoot in real countries, in real locations, with real people. Then once the film was edited together, that was when I would sit down with the designers and paint over the shots to create the science fiction world on top. It was the total opposite of how you normally do this. The studios were skeptical—would this work? It all sounded a bit of a crazy gamble. So, we set out to prove it.

Under the guise of a location scout, we secretly took cameras and shot a short film with just myself and my producer Jim Spencer. We went to the best locations around the world for each sequence in the film. James Clyne, one of our production designers, painted on top of the shots and fortunately Industrial Light & Magic agreed to add all science fiction on top as part of a test. It was all done incredibly quickly and for way less money than it looked. The studio was blown away, we had the green light and were off making the movie!

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