Every time an episode of Disney Gallery: Star Wars The Mandalorian lands, Fantha Tracks give their responses, and here’s our thoughts on the fifth episode, Practical. Beware of spoilerific elements in here.
DISNEY GALLERY: THE MANDALORIAN is an eight-episode documentary series that pulls back the curtain on The Mandalorian. Each chapter explores a different facet of the first live-action Star Wars television show through interviews, behind the scenes footage, and roundtable conversations hosted by Jon Favreau.
The Mandalorian cast and crew celebrate the artistry behind the practical models, effects and animatronic creatures.
Each week, I look forward to this behind the scenes documentary strand almost as much as I did the show itself. Episode 5 of 8 focuses on the practical effects that have always been so important to the Star Wars galaxy.
“When you talk about the mix of the puppetry, animatronics, the Volume and all these great actors we had to work with, it’s like the mix of all that that makes everything feel real,” comments Rick Famuyiwa, director of The Mandalorian Episode 2.
“I’ve always felt that, for me, that’s what always made Star Wars different than most of the other big-effects shows is that there was always a real human, down-to-earth quality of how it was made and how it looks, so when I’m watching this as an eight-year-old, I’m going “This is real. This is a real world and one day I’m gonna be in it”.”
Rick is right. What made the original Star Wars so immersive is that it was achieved largely through practical sets and effects. You believed in it and all the possibilities and probabilities galaxies away from here. It is good, therefore, to see that The Mandalorian relies heavily on practical sets and effects to realise a Star Wars galaxy, post Imperial rule, but still very much in a state of chaos.
Dave Filoni and Jon Favreau likened it to playing with Star Wars action figures. Imagine you were to create a Star Wars adventure and you were asked to randomly select half a dozen or so characters from a bucket of action figures. So, you pulled from the bucket Boba Fett, IG-88, an ugnaught, jawa, stormtrooper and Yoda. Now make a TV series. I love the idea that that could have been the starting point.
I must admit, when watching The Empire Strikes Back just a few days ago, I feel quite differently now about IG droids and ugnaughts. We then get to meet Misty Rosas, the actor who embodies Kuiil the ugnaught in The Mandalorian. The mask itself is a work of art. So much more than animatronic. She explains how Nick Nolte’s voice track for Kuiil would be previously recorded and she would then have to convey in facial expressions as well as lip-sync the physicality of the character.
Talking of characters, arguably the show’s breakout character is The Child – or Baby Yoda, if you prefer. Veteran film legend Werner Herzog plays The Client, a man devoid of morals who is seeking to acquire The Child via the Mandalorian. The actor is clearly impressed with his artificial co-worker. Gushing about The Child, Werner says: “They filmed it one-on-one. It was beautiful.”
The team from Legacy were brought onboard to develop a puppet that can perform on set. A puppet that has five or six puppeteers to bring it to life. The eyes, the mouth, ears etc – it’s way more than a one-person job. The Mandalorian himself acknowledged the puppet while filming: “The way that it activates your primal childhood dreams, we’re all gonna be second fiddle to this little guy. That’s how cool he is.”
But there is more to this show than a Boba Fett wannabe, young Yoda and wise ugnaught. There is a cool assassin droid with tendencies towards nursing. You only see him for a fleeting moment in 1980s The Empire Strikes Back, but largely due to the Kenner action figure IG-88 inspired a generation. He also inspired the wonderful IG-11.
Animation Director Hal Hickel – who previously worked on K-2SO in Rogue One – wanted this time to take advantage of not using a mo-cap actor, but to improvise quirks based on the puppet made for close up shots. Hence the fantastic rotations when walking and so much more.
The practicalities of the show include the weaponry and ships. With so much content to reference from, the crew use so many well-explored techniques – repurposing World War II guns for blasters, Battle of Britain inspired dogfights, sliding starfields to add motion to the ships. It’s all there.
The reason The Mandalorian has been so well embraced is because it borrows so much from its 40-year-old heritage, but repurposes it in such a meaningful way. Many of those practical effects from the mid 1970s have informed the Star Wars of today. This IS the way.
Balance in the Force is a theme throughout nearly all stories associated with Star Wars. In helping to introduce the “Practical” episode of Disney Gallery: The Mandalorian, director Rick Famuyiwa talks about the mix of all the tools and assets available to the directors and producers to tell the stories in The Mandalorian—another form of balance for good.
He mentions the cutting-edge technology like “The Volume” but in equal measure tauts the puppetry, animatronics, and actors who all work together to bring the story to a relatable level for so many of us.
This episode gets into the early magical roots of Star Wars with models, special effects make-up, and literally bringing back members of the Star Wars family to quicken the original DNA.
Three highlights for me were an emotional Werner Herzog, who plays “The Client,” and director Deborah Chow explaining the impact of “The Child” as a real puppet on-set; performance artist Misty Rosas getting her credit for portraying Kuiil in a truly demanding role; and the entire “Tales From The AV Club” segment to close the fifth episode.
Jon Favreau sharing tidbits of what he learned from Guillermo Del Toro, Hal Hickel’s previous side project of documenting how ships and vehicles moved in the Original Trilogy, and once again, Dave Filoni serving as a modern Guardian of the Whills—recognizing the foundation of the company and of Star Wars—and how it comes from real people with authentic experiences and stories. And it is these items somewhere between technological advances, practical applications, human emotion and magical stories that bring balance to a galaxy loved by many—and makes the Disney Gallery: The Mandalorian a must-see every week.
The fifth episode of Disney Gallery: The Mandalorian turns its attentions to the practical elements of the show, the physical things that are present on set – droids, weapons, props and of course, The Child. We know the little guy is a marvel, but to see the work that went into its creation and then its application really does highlight the incredible skill that’s been brought to the production. The cross-pollination of skills, “using all parts of the buffalo” – digital, directorial, production, the sensible use of the legacy of Star Wars – as Favreau says, skirting around the periphery of the big story (the main movies) but still being very much a Star Wars story, is increasingly fascinating to watch. Five episodes in we’ve seen a lot of stuff, and with 3 episodes to go focusing on visualisation, score and connections, the jigsaw is coming together.
We get to meet Misty Rosas, the performer behind Kuiil and learn that far more of that character is animatronic than previously thought – a lot more. Similarly with Baby Yoda, as we watch the design of the character develop and grow, the instruction that the CG shots not show the child do anything the puppet cannot do is a fantastic way of grounding it in the reality of the show. Now more than ever, the seams are blurred between practical and digital. Werner Herzog charmingly displays just how immersive these characters are, just as Carl Weathers did last week when talking about the immersive wraparound environs of StageCraft. The technology isn’t just a marvel, an advancement, it’s a genuine gift to the cast and the director who can now pivot and adjust, go rogue with the camera in a way unthinkable not that many years ago.
Our hour long special episode of Making Tracks with Hal Hickel took us on a journey from his early days at ILM in the 90’s right through the prequels, Rogue One and up to The Mandalorian and this series is taking a similar tack, displaying the innovation that makes a show like The Mandalorian possible on a TV budget. It’s what George Lucas was dreaming of when he was working on Underworld; imagine if he’d had the tech to make this kind of hi-def breakthrough a decade ago. That horizon gets nearer and nearer.
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