Why the ‘Andor’ VFX Team Stuck to the Visual Basics Established by ‘Rogue One’

TheWrap magazine: “We’ve got to drive the story forward. ‘Andor’ is the perfect show to exercise that kind of philosophy,” supervisor Scott Pritchard says

Diego Luna in "Andor" (Credit: Disney+)

This story about director the visual effects design of “Andor” first ran in the Drama Series issue of TheWrap’s awards magazine.

For Disney+’s “Andor,” an erudite elucidation of the prequel universe first seen in the film “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” visual effects supervisor Scott Pritchard took things back to basics in real locations, despite having technology that in 1977 might have made George Lucas Vader-breathe with envy.

“I’m very much of the opinion that first and foremost, we’re storytellers,” Pritchard, who first joined ILM with 2015’s “The Force Awakens,” said. “We’ve got to drive the story forward. ‘Andor’ is the perfect show to exercise that kind of philosophy. It’s more about background and texture and setting and place and giving you something for the characters [to play off], because most of our work was environment.”

Pritchard, who has worked on movies such as “The Pale Blue Eye” and Christopher Nolan’s “Inception,” said the visual effects for the series are built largely on CGI extensions borne out of on-set cinematography. That’s genuinely surprising given the ornate surroundings enveloping rebel leader Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and his ever-growing network of allies and enemies.

“There’s an area called the Barbican in London, which has this amazing brutalist architecture with lots of walkways and pillars that we could basically punch holes through [with CGI] and create negative space,” Pritchard said. He added that aerial and VG cameras were used quite sparingly. “I think that really helped to ground the work in reality. Most of it was basically an operator with the camera on their shoulder and very much a first-person point of view.”

Showrunner Tony Gilroy’s series is marked by exciting visuals, notably an escape sequence with Cassian and Luthen (Stellan Skarsgård) skirting the Imperial forces, and the penultimate episode’s large-scale battle setting the scene for the events seen in “Rogue One.”

“Tony’s style is very stripped back, the colors are not too punchy, it’s very grounded,” Pritchard said. “We definitely leaned into the look that [‘Rogue One’] had for our space battle, because for that film, they developed a specific look to make the CG models look like the miniatures from the first four films in the ’70s and ’80s, which we all remember very fondly. We were leaning back towards that.”

Before and after shots from the VFX of Disney+’s “Andor” (Photos provided by Disney+)

The trickiest location to pull off, Pritchard said, might have been the enormous salvage site first seen in the third episode of the series. The structure utilized a combination of computer stitching and CG extensions built from footage shot in a town not far from London’s famed Pinewood Studios, along with helicopter-assisted spiral aerial photography captured from misty cliffs and various sites where oil rigs are taken apart for reference photography. It created a fully formed post-industrial world, with close attention paid to spacecrafts of the “Star Wars” universe.

“There’s always this really nice sense of something going on absolutely everywhere,” Pritchard said. “You have sparks and steam and smoke and movement in every frame.”

Read more from the Drama Series issue here.