Coming Soon Interviews John Knoll and His ‘Rogue One’ Visual Effects Team

John Knoll and his VFX team, chat with ComingSoon about the hidden surprises that you might have overlooked in ‘Rogue One’ and the challenges his crew encountered while making the film. Read on for more details!


ComingSoon has a great interview out this week with the VFX trio of Hal Hickel, Neil Corbould and John Knoll. It’s an interview that touches on John’s story of pitching ‘Rogue One’ to Kathleen Kennedy, how the Grand Moff Tarkin effect came to fruition, the details behind the Imperial Tie Fighter face off with Jyn Erso in an early trailer, and a hidden surprise in the film that some may have not picked up on. Some of the bits mentioned in this article has been discussed before, but there are some new pieces as well.



ComingSoon: Did it change much from your original pitch?

John Knoll: Oh yeah, it definitely changed. In its original conception, it was a bit smaller film than this. You know, Kathy had talked about these standalone stories being smaller and scrappier and potentially lower-budgeted pictures. I had kind of geared the story with that in mind of not as many locations or as many big, epic events. As we got into more detailed story development, you know, the canvas sort of kept expanding and more epic things kept popping up and going into the movie. And you know, the discussion with Disney, it became clear that they were really open to the idea of going bigger with these movies. And they thought, hey, if it’s a good story, the budget will be there, so let’s make it the best movie we can make it.



CS: One of the things I wanted to ask you guys about was the Grand Moff Tarkin effect, which is incredible. And I’ve read that there were alternatives planned, in case it didn’t work out. I wonder if you could tell me about that?

John Knoll: Well, one of the biggest alternatives was the potential that Tarkin could have been, at least for some of the scenes, somewhere else and talking to Krennic via hologram. So that was something we talked about. But our feeling was dramatically that he should be there physically present, and we thought we could pull it off. And so, that was really plan A all along.


CS: What was the barometer for that? When did you know it was something that would actually be able to work on the big screen?

John Knoll: Well, boy, yeah. It wasn’t like we proved it before principal photography started. You know, the actual proof that we thought we could get there happened pretty late, so it was a lot of my reassuring various people that, “No, no, no, we’re going to get there. It’s going to be okay.” But yeah, that didn’t happen until fairly late in the game.



CS: What about the TIE fighter we saw in the trailer? I’ve talked to people in the past, and it sounds like a lot of the times, it’s tricky to deal with VFX because they have to be done while shooting has already happened. It seems like with the reshoots sort of offer some extra leeway. But I’m curious to know how that scene ended up looking so good in the trailer and then not existing in the final film.

John Knoll: Well, it’s a pretty common occurrence, that the people that are editing trailers are not in the editing room with the people that are cutting the movie, but a separate group, and they have access to our dailies, and they have access to a lot of things that we’ve made for the movie, you know, pre-vis and the animatics. And they’ll sort of cut together something that seems exciting and that they think is in close agreement with what we’re saying the movie is. But a lot of times, they’re using different shots or different things. And as the movie takes shape, it’s not uncommon that things that have been in the trailer have gotten cut out, or maybe were never in any version of the movie. And that shot is an example of something that was not in the movie. They used a piece of pre-vis that wasn’t where we were going with the movie, but they really liked the vibe of it in the trailer. And Kathy liked the shot. And so, we did a special version of that, that was only for the trailer, but was not for the movie.



CS: Every day, it seems like there’s more Easter eggs that are coming out and all sorts of just cool things in there. Do you have a favorite hidden surprise in Rogue One?

John Knoll: I’ll point out one that nobody has picked up on yet, and that’s, you know the shot of Krennic’s ship leaving the Death Star? And you know, we designed it to kind of help illustrate the scale of the Death Star, where you can see how big the docking bays are in there, and then the camera pulls back, in not quite a powers of 10 sort of way, to really quite illustrate how big it is. But the equatorial trench on the Death Star is almost, I think it’s a half a mile high. And it’s big enough that Russell Paul, who’s my model supervisor, got talking about, you know, that’s big enough that you can make a giant docking bay the star destroyer could fit into. And in the shot, if you look about halfway down the trench, there’s a giant docking bay, with a star destroyer docked in it. And nobody’s picked up on it, but it’s there. And it makes sense. In theory, the star destroyer could dock in the equatorial trench and refuel and refit and whatever, but it’s never something that was seen until now.



CS: I do want to ask all you guys, what is your favorite “Star Wars” collectible or prized “Star Wars” object?

John Knoll: Well, since the K-2SO character was in my original draft and became one of my favorite characters in the movie, I love 80’s diecast toys, so I love the [Elite series] K-2 toy.

Hal Hickel: I’m very excited about the Hot Toys version of the K-2’s that are coming out, but my favorite Star Wars keepsake is a B-wing. A Kenner B-wing toy that’s sitting in my office that I really like. In fact, I wanted very badly for us to have B-wings in “Rogue One,” but they don’t quite fit in the timeline. We don’t really see them until “Jedi”. But I’ve got a big Kenner B-wing in my office that I love.

Neil Corbould: I will divulge that I’ve bought all of [the “Rogue One” figures], two of each. One to open. And now I’ve got to get the other packs!



You can check out the complete interview here.


May the force be with you….



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3 thoughts on “Coming Soon Interviews John Knoll and His ‘Rogue One’ Visual Effects Team

  • January 22, 2017 at 8:16 am

    Knoll is a good guy. This film goes to show he can do great work when left unfettered, Only wish he was during the PT then we could have really gotten something amazing.

    • January 22, 2017 at 4:32 pm

      He worked on EP 1-3

      • January 23, 2017 at 2:10 am

        Snark thinks he knows everything. I’m surprised he didn’t somehow bash Episode VII in this, he typically does in everything he posts.

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