The world of Star Wars expanded in a big way in December 2016 as the "Star Wars Story" brand was officially launched with the release of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. In these films, the Skywalker family of the Saga films gets in the backseat and we get untold stories from throughout the galaxy. That meant new characters, from warrior monks to a troubled (but ready to fight) daughter of an Imperial scientist and beyond.
Perhaps none was so beloved, however, as the latest droid to enter fandom's hearts and souls, K-2SO. Unlike other droids, operated by someone in a suit or by puppeteers, Kaytoo was performed live by Alan Tudyk in a motion capture suit (or sometimes two suits on top of each other) and more often than not on stilts. His performance was then translated by the team at Industrial Light & Magic, led by animator Hal Hickel.
Hickel and Tudyk sat down with Syfy Wire in the ILM offices in San Francisco, CA to talk about developing the character, the technology behind it and what dance Tudyk would be most surprised to see Kaytoo perform.
Going into this film, I don't know if anyone was prepared for just how much of your performance would be seen on screen, but it was very clear watching it that, yeah, that's Alan Tudyk. Did you know just how much they'd be using of you from the start?
Alan Tudyk: Getting a chance to do I, Robot years earlier, I knew not only what doing a CGI character was like but a CGI robot, oddly! This was going to be quite different because in the world of Star Wars the robots have a lot of emotion, they have a lot of humor, so I knew that I would have a lot of room to play.
Talking with Gareth [Edwards, director], he was very committed to the actors, what the actors brought to it, and working with their ideas of the characters and growing them from there. Once we got on set, I knew that it would change even then – moving and playing with the other characters. I knew that my relationship with Diego Luna's character, Cassian, would change my performance. Luckily, we got along and it was a lot of fun, we had a lot of fun on the set.
Was ILM on set, Hal? Were there things set up so you could be showing Alan in anything close to real time or dailies of how his performance would translate?
Hal Hickel, Animation Supervisor ILM: Alan's there every day shooting, and the sequence gets cut by Gareth and the editors, then sent to us. We get the whole sequence of Alan as Kaytoo, and then it's up to us to transform him into Kaytoo and not f*** it up! (laughs) We spent years developing our on-set motion capture technology and developing this suit, really as a way to humor the actor, so they feel like what they do is theirs, when in fact we're going to change it all.
Tudyk: When did I do the cha-cha? I'm seeing a cha-cha and I don't even know how to do that dance (laughs).
Now I really want to see Kaytoo cha-cha.
Tudyk: (laughs) Right?
Hickel: Now you've got that in your head! But really what we're trying to do is translate it as much as we can. Fortunately Gareth was really on board with this because some directors will see a CG character as an opportunity to sort of defer creative decisions. They'll shoot their film, they'll concentrate on their live actors, and sort of be like, "We got it, we'll make the CG character great later on." But Gareth was on board, and we at ILM have this mindset, having done a bunch of characters this way, that you want to treat that character with every bit the same seriousness as your other actors, and say that what you're getting on the day is what you're getting [out of the performance].
Our job is then once we've given them their opportunity to do their best work, is, again, to not f*** it up. To make sure that what Kaytoo is doing is a true expression of the performance Alan gave on set.
Obviously you do a considerable amount of voice acting, as well, Alan. Is it different seeing Kaytoo on the screen in the final piece since you were on set and part of those scenes versus seeing a character you simply voiced in an animated show or film?
Tudyk: Yes, because a lot of it you're seeing for the first time in an animated movie. You'll get early versions of it before it's all colored or really done – they'll go right up to the last minute in animation, it's amazing. It's really surprising how close before release they'll continue to work. I didn't even know that King Candy was beating a little girl with a car antenna until weeks before Wreck it Ralph came out, shocking as it was! I think he misses her every time he swings, but he is doing his best. But yeah, it's a different back-and-forth with the animators when you're doing just voiceover. You can make noises as a voice actor, just clear your throat, and you'll see the character clear his throat, it's a fun thing. You're inspiring people back and forth.
So how was it when you got to finally sit down and see K-2SO come to life, getting that final result?
Tudyk: I was so excited! We got to watch it at Skywalker Ranch in the special movie theater, it was the whole cast together, and we were all so blown away. It was such a full-on process, you know? We had six months that we were there and traveling all over the world, then we had some reshoots that came later, I did some ADR that again was much later, that you'd almost forgotten parts of it! To see it all put together and for it to work …
Even just the opening of the movie, the spaceship is cutting across those dotted lines and you're like, "What the hell am I even looking at?" Then it shows that it's the rings; that kind of stuff you can't imagine! Or you read a script and it says, "battle in space," you're not gonna see that! That had me on the edge of my seat. Cutting back to that and back to us, what a ride!
Yeah, [EP and VFX Supervisor] John Knoll told me you at ILM got the script for the space battle, and it was basically four story beats, then you were left to your own devices.
Hickel: Yeah, that happens with a lot of action-driven films! When the third act has a lot of moving parts and is kind of a three-ring circus. We had to be very nimble with the space battle to make those beats fit in with the storyline and any changes that happen around them. It was fun! It was good, we got to have a lot of creative input on the space battle. John himself came up with the gag of driving one Star Destroyer into the other one.
Tudyk: Don't call that a gag, come on! What was that thing called? [Goes into rough Admiral Raddus voice]: A [garbled] Corvette!
A hammerhead corvette, yeah.
Tudyk: A hammerhead corvette! Did he say a corvette?
Hickel: I love when they get through to him, and he leans over, he's looking down and shouting, "Rogue One! We're here!" (laughs)
Tudyk: Where was his microphone? You need a better device! I'm tired of explaining it to him. Just let him shout at the ground.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is now available on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital HD.