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Helping bring Grand Moff Tarkin back to Star Wars

Lending a hand… and a head… to Rogue One, A Star Wars Story. Peter Cushing lifecast helps recreate Grand Moff Tarkin.

ABC news today ran a great story about pioneering effects company ILM’s efforts to bring Peter Cushing back to Star Wars for Rogue One, A Star Wars Story.  From Tom, “Peter Cushing’s my favorite actor, and it’s fascinating to see how the wizards at ILM (and the talents of actor Guy Henry) brought a new performance as Grand Moff Tarkin to life for Rogue One.

Back in 2004, my friends at Prop Store of London were working with Stuart and Kay Freeborn to help find homes for nearly 50 years of makeup and movie history that the Freeborns had preserved in their long career.  Among the props, aliens, apes and monsters, was an incredible first generation plaster lifecast of Peter Cushing, made by Stuart during the production of the 1984 comedy, Top Secret! for a classic magnifying glass eyeball makeup.  That casting would become part of my collection of movie props, but the real treasure was getting to meet with Stuart and Kay Freeborn in England shortly after and spending hours talking makeup and monsters with the pair.

Flash forward to 2014 and another friend, Pablo Hidalgo, a creative executive at Lucasfilm in their story group, was in his office when the Chief Creative Officer for ILM and visual effects legend, John Knoll, came by asking if he knew where to find a Peter Cushing face cast.  Pablo told John, ‘I know just the guy’ remembering seeing the Top Secret! life mask at my home.”

And, of course, “Top Secret” is really appropriate! When we were first contacted about this, Knoll wasn’t able to specify what it would be used for. As the opening of Rogue One approached, and the buzz about Tarkin’s appearance in the film ramped up, it became quickly clear.  Yet still we had to keep things under wraps until now. ABC’s posted a wonderful short video taking viewers behind the scenes of the recreation of Grand Moff Tarkin and Princess Leia for the film and you can watch that below.

Within the ABC video, you’ll see ILM scanning a resin duplicate of the Peter Cushing lifecast which we created for them at our studio. While lower detail copies of Cushing’s lifecast have been on the collector’s market for some time, this copy was directly taken from the original plaster head, which came from Stuart Freeborn’s alginate casting of the actor’s face.  Every pore, wrinkle and detail came through and provided a great foundation for their team to get the scale and proportions right.  Naturally, ILM didn’t just scan the cast and go. Their talented artists still had to digitally resculpt and adjust for age (Cushing was 6 years younger during the filming of Star Wars, A New Hope than when the cast was made), and for distortions in the skin from the weight of the alginate during the original sitting, and more.  Their efforts were staggering and it’s fantastic that audiences are now getting to see the results!

We’re honored to have had even just a tiny part in helping bring this character back to the screen. We’re always thrilled to play in the Star Wars universe, whether it’s creating aliens and costumes for commercials and videos, or just providing research assistance, we’re happy to be a part of the films we love!

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