Should Rogue One have brought back Peter Cushing? Star Wars VFX head defends digitally resurrecting dead actors

Cushing died in 1994, but he played a key role in 2016 movie Rogue One

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Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’s visual effects supervisor John Knoll has defended the decision to digitally resurrect the late Peter Cushing as the terrifying Grand Moff Tarkin.

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When Cushing appeared in 1977’s Star Wars: A New Hope, he could hardly have imagined that he would be brought back to star in another Star Wars movie – 22 years after his death. The effect is lifelike, but some critics have questioned the ethics of using the actor’s image without his knowledge or permission. 

Responding to those tricky questions, VFX expert Knoll said Cushing would have supported the decision. 

“We weren’t doing anything that I think Peter Cushing would’ve objected to. I think this work was done with a great deal of affection and care,” he told Yahoo Movies.

“We know that Peter Cushing was very proud of his involvement in Star Wars and had said as much, and that he regretted that he never got a chance to be in another Star Wars film because George [Lucas] had killed off his character.”

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The digital recreation of Peter Cushing in Rogue One

Knoll added: “This was done in consultation and cooperation with his estate. So we wouldn’t do this if the estate had objected or didn’t feel comfortable with this idea.”

The British actor Guy Henry was used as a stand-in to help recreate Cushing’s character, using motion-capture and a facial expression tracker to animate the footage. 

So what about doing the same with the late Carrie Fisher? We now know that Disney and Lucasfilm have no plans to resurrect her for films later in the franchise. But the actress was apparently delighted to see herself (huge Rogue One spoiler alert!) digitally recreated as a younger Princess Leia at the end of the movie. 

To bring her back as she’d appeared at the start of the 1977 movie, VFX experts used body doubles and digital manipulation. They also used an old audio clip of Fisher saying one word: “Hope”.

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Knoll added: “[Lucasfilm president] Kathy [Kennedy] called me right after she showed it to [Fisher] and said how fantastic she thought it was. So she was very much in favour of it.”