Directed by Ron Howard, Solo consisted of some 1,800 visual effects shots of nearly every variety. From seamlessly integrating CG elements with liveaction plates, to complete CG environments, to real-time visual effects implemented on set, and the use of LED screens, every effect plays in service to the greater story.
Given that quite a bit of the story takes place in the iconic Millennium Falcon, it was decided the production would construct a highly-detailed set of the ship’s cockpit. To create convincing shots from within the cockpit the crew constructed an articulated practical set piece filming. The set which was elevated was then surrounded by a massive 160-degree wraparound screen that could playback ILM StageCraft effects content in real-time at the tap of an interface. This allowed filmmakers to capture the light reflecting off the face of Solo himself (Alden Ehrenreich) but also playing off every facet of the set itself.
Another interesting sequence is the heist of the scarce fuel, coaxium, in the snow covered mountains of Vandor. Under the leadership of visual effects supervisor Rob Bredow, a small unit from the effects team, performed both ground-based and aerial photography surveys of a large swath of the Dolomites in Italy to create the mountainous environment. Some 80,000 images were captured and from those, a point cloud is generated and processed into renderable geometry that the crew would then add CG cameras in order to create the sequence. The sequence culminates in a massive explosion which literally destroys a mountain when the theft of a cargo container of coaxium goes terribly wrong. Here again the effects team took an unorthodox approach to creating the effect. Bredow and team 3D printed a section of the mountain created from the survey data at a small scale which was then submerged in a tank and rigged with miniature pyrotechnics. The pyrotechnics were triggered while a high-speed camera captured the resulting explosion at 120,000 frames a second. ILM artists then combined the resulting footage with simulations and other CG elements to create the final dramatic shot which looks unlike any other onscreen explosion we’ve seen before.
The visual effects work on Solo: A Star Wars Story was recognized with an Academy Award® nomination, and 3 Visual Effects Society Award nominations.