‘The Mandalorian’ VFX Team Had ‘Eureka Moment’ When James Cameron Visited Set

Cameron's opinions on special effects carry a lot of weight in Hollywood.
FILE - This Feb. 5, 2019 file photo shows producer James Cameron arrive at the Los Angeles premiere of "Alita: Battle Angel." Cameron has no bad blood with the Avengers, even though “Endgame” has eclipsed “Titanic’s” worldwide record and bumped the 1997 blockbuster to third place. He tweeted a note Wednesday to Marvel president Kevin Feige and its employees congratulating the company for its success. Cameron writes that an iceberg sank the real Titanic, but it took the Avengers to sink his Titanic.(Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP, File)
James Cameron
Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP

The Mandalorian” is widely considered to be one of the best “Star Wars” projects that Disney has produced since acquiring Lucasfilm in 2012. The show’s episodic storytelling and Western-influenced world-building have been a huge hit with longtime fans of the franchise, leading Disney to indicate that the bulk of its future “Star Wars” plans is in the television space.

But the team behind the hit show was not always so sure.

In an interview with Vanity Fair, Industrial Light and Magic department head Richard Bluff spoke about the difficulty of designing convincing effects within the show’s budget. He ultimately settled on a technology called The Volume, which allowed the team to digitally recreate real-world settings on virtual backdrops. The result was that Mandalorians could be filmed running around locations that the team had scouted without ever having to leave a soundstage.

The technology was promising, but the team still wasn’t sure if they had executed it properly. That nervousness only increased when a legendary filmmaker visited the set.”

James Cameron came to visit,” Bluff said. “He was next door working on the ‘Avatar’ sequels in his water tank. Jon [Favreau] had asked for us to display on the monitors the test we’d shot earlier in the day.”

Cameron is one of Hollywood’s leading authorities on special effects, having launched his career with visually dazzling films like “Terminator 2: Judgement Day” and “Aliens” before pioneering motion capture technology with “Avatar.” His long-awaited sequel to that film, “Avatar: The Way of Water,” was delayed for years because Cameron had to develop new technology to film motion capture scenes underwater.

So when he took a look at the latest “Mandalorian” footage from ILM, the team was understandably nervous. But they showed him a scene and all breathed a sigh of relief when Cameron liked what he saw.

“I remember distinctly Jim taking off his glasses and leaning close to look at the quality of the image and how convincing it was,” Bluff said. “I think, for everybody, that afternoon was the eureka moment because it was working.”

“The Mandalorian” Seasons 1 and 2 are currently streaming on Disney+. “Avatar: The Way of Water” will be released in theaters on December 16, 2022.

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