The practical v. special effects debate has raged on within the Star Wars fandom since The Phantom Menace hit screens twenty years ago. Finding the balance between practical and visual effects is a difficult thing to do. Look no further than fan criticism of Lucasfilm’s prequel trilogy. (Then again, even attempts at practical effects in the prequels went awry). So when it came to Solo: A Star Wars Story, what did the Solo VFX team due to strike that balance? Turn to YouTube, of course.
In an interview with ComicBook.com, ILM VFX Supervisor Julian Foddy discussed the daunting task of creating the Solo VFX. Specifically, he talked about filming the coaxium explosion scene in detail. In creating that scene, they drew inspiration from the unlikeliest of places: the Slow Mo Guys channel on YouTube.
“Part of the problem with explosions and things like that is, if you’re shooting a miniature explosion, the scale of the gravity gives itself away,” Foddy said. He went on to describe how they came about the idea for the explosion shoot.
Solo VFX Team Turns to YouTube
We were trying to do an explosion that’s the size of a mountain and [Visual Effects Supervisor] Rob [Bredow] had the idea of, ‘Well, if we can’t go big, how about we go absolutely tiny?’ And he was a big fan of The Slow Mo Guys on YouTube…. [T]hey did a thing where they were doing underwater explosions, like firing off tiny little firecrackers in a fish tank and shooting it at something like 120,000 frames a second. So we decided to have a go at doing something like that and ultimately that’s what we did.”
The end result was nothing short of spectacular. The explosion scene the Solo VFX effects team put together was one among many that garnered the film an Oscar nomination for Best Visual Effects. Making the scene even more interesting is the fact that it reverses traditional logic when it comes to computer generated imagery:
[W]hen you look at the shot, most people would think that the mountain range is real and the explosion is CG, but it’s actually completely the other way around… [t]he explosion elements are absolutely real and the mountains are all CG.”
In that Solo missed out on one Oscar nod, here’s hoping the Solo VFX team gets some well-deserved praise come the Academy Awards.