A recent article from Variety takes a look back with the production team of The Mandalorian at the introduction of 2019’s most popular new television character, “the Child” (more commonly referred to by the masses as “Baby Yoda”).
Viewers got their first glimpse at the tiny green bundle of joy at the end of the first episode, but as the team explains, his real debut was in the second episode, “The Child”, when the miniature master of the Force (and of napping apparently as the little guy can’t seem to do one without the other) first showed off his abilities against the fearsome Mudhorn creature.
Director Rick Famuyiwa revealed that the Mudhorn fight was filmed during their first week of shooting, and he reflects on why this particular scene was such a pivotal narrative moment in the show:
“Having this big reveal of the Child’s abilities and it saving him, it felt like the perfect culmination of this episode and a way to set up their relationship for the rest of the season. We wanted to make it cinematic — on the scale of a theatrical film — that was the expectation both from us and the fans.”
Cinematographer Baz Idoine went on to emphasize the importance of the scene from his perspective as well:
“We shot the scene on the lot in a big, huge mud pit under a hot sun. The stunt team did a great job of throwing Mando around in the mud, but the most important shot of the whole scene is that beautiful one of Mando’s profile with the Mudhorn floating above him. [There’s a] close-up on Mando when he’s got nothing left to give: all he can do is hold up his knife at this charging beast, he’s ready to accept as fate. Then he looks up and the beast is floating and he turns to look at the Child. It’s a fantastic moment and it was a joy to shoot.”
Stunt coordinator Ryan Watson said that the inspiration for the Mudhorn attack was the bear fight from the film The Revenant (the one where Leonardo DiCaprio crawled and grunted his way to an Oscar). He talked about how they were able to get Mando to interact convincingly with the CGI creature:
We had the stunt performer playing Mando wired up, and then another guy would come at him and chase him around with these big foam jaws, kind of like a massive pair of scissors. So our stunt guy put his arms in these jaws and we would shake him around, just like you wrestle with your buddy at a pool party. That gave us the extra power that the wire guys needed to pull Mando back and forth, to make the shakiness look more powerful and to throw him a greater distance across the mud pit.”
Production designer Andrew Jones explained how a bulldozer was used to create the mud arena based on the concept art. They prepared a special layer of soft soil to help the team do a shot of the Mudhorn knocking Mando into the ground, but what he didn’t count on was the rain. He pointed out the difficulties of maneuvering heavy machinery around in the rain-soaked mud:
“In a lot of ways it helped, but when you’re driving all that heavy machinery around, you would rather wet the ground where you want to instead of turning the whole backlot into a mud bowl — that made things more complicated.”
VFX supervisor Richard Bluff discussed the difficulty of digitally sculpting the Mudhorn. The creature was supposed to be caked in mud, but was also covered in hair, which added a bit of complexity to the design:
“Jon and Dave needed the hair to be matted with mud, but as the camera moved down the body of the creature, the mud and hair needed to move together. Sculpting the creature itself was relatively straightforward, but then to achieve that thick, matted hair was the big hurdle to get over. It took a number of weeks.”
Animation supervisor Hal Hickel talked about using the puppet as the baseline for the Child’s digital performance. That early on, they were still figuring out what the puppet could do, so the show of the baby using the Force was a huge moment for the animation team to deliver a convincing performance and set the tone for all of the Child’s interactions moving forward:
“That particular shot of the baby using the Force to pick up the Mudhorn was the hardest from a CG perspective because it was such a big performance moment — its face was so concentrated. We were trying to make sure we didn’t do more than the puppet could do, and that we didn’t break what’s awesome and charming and perfect about the puppet.”
I really enjoyed the first episode of the series, but the second episode is when I knew that we really had something special on our hands with The Mandalorian. It’s always great to learn more about how everything came together in the end, and I can’t wait to see what the team has done for season two.