Despite the digital recreations of Grand Moff Tarkin and young Princess Leia looking a tad "creepy" in Rogue One, that technology is almost two years old now, and future representations of the digital characters in the Star Wars universe will be a lot harder to tell the difference between digital and reality.LucasFilm and Disney have confirmed that they've created digital representations of each of the characters in the Star Wars universe, young and old. As of now, these digital clones are being used sporadically and are often mixed with live-action footage of the actor to create scenes that would be impossible to shoot or too expensive to do practically. Rogue One wasn't the first to do it with Tarkin and Leia, and it certainly won't be the last.
The Last Jedi VFX supervisor, Ben Morris, has confirmed that they have a database of digital clones for use at all times when creating new Star Wars movies:
"We will always [digitally] scan all the lead actors in the film. We don't know if we're going to need them. We don't intentionally scan them as an archive process. It's for reference later."
One of the times The Last Jedi used a character in digital format was when Leia got sucked out into space and did her Mary Poppins thing to survive. The amount of detail that went into this shot is obviously apparent they had to use some sort of CGI to make it work the way it did. There are also notable digital representations of Poe Dameron in the cockpit of his X-Wing throughout The Last Jedi and even The Force Awakens, and many that would take too much to cover from the prequel trilogy that, given the timeframe are impressive, but extremely noticeable when comparing to today's technology.
"You don't just have the range of freedom that you actually get with CG. If we can shoot it in-camera, let's shoot it in-camera. If there's a certain aspect to it, let's shoot it, and then we can match to it. We had Rian [Johnson's] shot of Carrie doing the scene. That was for us to be able to add some of the idea that she's freezing over, as she's in that vacuum of space, meant that we had to do CG work and re-project her onto a CG version of the character. We kept her performance pretty much intact and were matching, where needed, with any animation stuff. It was pretty much all Carrie."
The digital clones could be a good thing for fans of the original trilogy who want to see more of the original characters if Disney decides to use any of them in future films after Episode IX. In this sense, they would be able to duplicate that character while still keeping all the human elements of the digital representation intact, allowing for a more authentic representation of the actor.
Digital animator Stephen Alpin claims that much of the technology used in 2005's final prequel trilogy film Revenge of the Sith hasn't changed much, but the speed of computers nowadays allows them to render much more detailed characters and scenes. For example, a character containing the amount of detail as Snoke did would have been nearly impossible back in 2005 vs. how much easier he was to create now.
"For something like Snoke, getting as close as we did on this film to a CG character, which wouldn't have been possible so long ago. Animation wise, you wouldn't have even thought about doing micro-expressions perhaps on a character, on a CG character... That's the key difference, with that speed, you get thrown more things in there."
The sky's the limit when it comes to using digital clones of real-life characters, and it's only going to get better as time goes on. Sure, Tarkin and Leia's characters from Rogue One were noticeably digital. Even Snoke's character, especially when next to other real-life actors. It still doesn't take away much from the story or feel of the moment when you're watching the films. It'll be exciting to see what the future holds for digitial rendering of actors. Pretty soon we won't be able to tell the difference.