The experience of playing Star Wars: Tales from the Galaxy’s Edge is as simple as slipping on an Oculus Quest headset, and opening your eyes to discover you’ve been transported into your own story on the remote planet Batuu. But creating that kind of seamless, immersive world is anything but simple, requiring the collaborative efforts of dozens of ILMxLAB animators, creative directors, engineers, story specialists, performers, and virtual reality experts.
In the final installment of this three-part series, we’ll take a look at the creation of ILMxLAB’s latest project. Featuring interviews with numerous members of the creative and production team, these are the tales behind Tales.
Audiences around the globe know all too well what the world of Star Wars looks, sounds and feels like. And in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, the epic immersive lands at Walt Disney World Resort and Disneyland Resort, they’ve had the opportunity to actually walk through Black Spire Outpost themselves. Ensuring Tales from the Galaxy’s Edge felt just as authentic was paramount, so the team worked to make every corner of the world feel real and lived-in, from the Droid Depot workshop to the vast expanse of the Batuu Wilds.
“Star Wars: Tales from the Galaxy’s Edge is ambitious,” says production manager Sarah Barrick. “It’s a balance between storytelling and interactivity. We used Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge as a reference, rather than the other way around. We built our experience based off of the Parks’ lore and visual style, which is a new approach for us.”
To ensure consistency, Walt Disney Imagineering provided scans of the buildings in Black Spire Outpost. Collaborating with WDI was nothing new for ILMxLAB nor the visual effects teams at Industrial Light & Magic, with the teams having worked together in the creation of the Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run attraction. As assets for that attraction were optimized to be used in virtual reality, the ILMxLAB team looked to the entirely new and unexplored areas beyond Black Spire Outpost.
“I want people to get the sense that they are exploring unique biomes of Batuu,” says art director Steve Henricks. “We want people to get immersed in the natural settings among the wildlife, flora, and fauna.”
It’s an essential part of the experience, as players have the opportunity to gaze upon the vast vistas of Batuu, explore mysterious ruins, and even take in the plant and wildlife — truly immersing players in the world.
“In the wilds, you’ll arrive first at Three Suns Overlook, which offers the first sweeping view of the landscape,” says Henricks. “I want people to understand how vast these wilds really are.”
When Lucasfilm creative executive Matt Martin went in-headset, and stood in the wilds of Batuu while looking down at Black Spire Outpost, set and overlooked Black Spire Outpost from the Batuu Wilds in virtual reality for the first time, he was amazed.
“Looking down on the land I’ve visited myself in the Parks was a really moving experience,” says Martin. “It just really makes the whole planet of Batuu feel like a real place, and a place that I can now visit from home.”
Never Tell Them The Odds
Production was already well underway on Star Wars: Tales from the Galaxy’s Edge when global events intervened. Suddenly, the ILMxLAB found themselves with an unforeseen challenge: Moving forward with development while the entire cast and crew needed to work from home. “We had to get creative,” says Barrick, as the production team began working from computer rigs at their homes while recording kits were sent out to the various actors.
For characters like Tara Rashin, it truly was a matter of people from all over the globe collaborating together, says animation lead Jennifer Cha. Debra Wilson (Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order) recorded her vocal performance, with director Jose Perez III guiding her via Zoom call. Tara’s physical performance was captured by associate experience designer Karessa Bowens, while yet another member of the team lip-synced Wilson’s performance — recording it on their own phone — so there would be a reference to work from when crafting the character’s facial animation. All the pieces were then put together and mapped to the digital model of Tara Rashin, where it was brought to life by yet another animator.
“It was really cool to see everyone being so resourceful, doing their parts to build pieces of Tara on their own, and have her come together as a whole performance,” says Cha.
Barrick agrees that the remote collaboration was not only inspiring, but essential to the project’s success. “All of the actors were so flexible and willing to work with us, testing out our equipment and creating their own soundproof recording booths over video conference,” she says. “We are so lucky to have worked with a very talented group of actors as we collaborated on new workflows.”
In addition to navigating remote recordings and capture, the team’s day-to-day operations changed completely. “We had to learn and improve processes along the way,” says animation lead Kishore Vijay. “But the way the entire team came together and supported each other through this period was inspiring.”
Something for Everyone
Star Wars: Tales from the Galaxy’s Edge is a multi-layered experience with elements that will appeal to everyone. For some, it’s the blaster combat, and for others, it’s meeting their favorite Star Wars characters face-to-face. For yet others it’s simply getting a new high score in Repulsor Darts, or exploring Batuu at their own pace.
“You have agency over how you approach things,” says producer Alyssa Finley. “If you don’t love blaster combat, you can use your resources as a droid repair technician to approach combat. You can call on training remotes to engage with the Guavian Death Gang, if you want to focus on exploration and finding things in the Batuu Wilds.”
Tales from the Galaxy’s Edge is also about simply spending time inside Star Wars, and enjoying everything that comes with it. “Just looking around at the awesome environments the artists have created is jaw-dropping,” says writer Ross Beeley.
“The experience is so fantasy-fulfilling that, whether you’re familiar with Star Wars or not, you’re still going to get a rich and exhilarating experience that’ll make you want to come back for more,” says junior creative executive Emily Shkoukani. And perhaps most importantly, the team made sure it felt authentically Star Wars.
“We give the same amount of care to every aspect of Star Wars storytelling regardless of the medium, and Tales from the Galaxy’s Edge is no exception,” says Martin. “From the overall tone, to broad story points, to the minute details, we put a lot of thought into every detail in the experience to ensure it fits right in with other Star Wars storytelling.”
Your adventure awaits
The planet of Batuu offers boundless new opportunities for storytelling, and sure enough, the team at ILMxLAB are already hard at work on Part II of Tales from the Galaxy’s Edge.
“Seezelslak’s Tales lay the groundwork for future storytelling as the experience will continue in Part II next year,” teases Henricks. “We have the opportunity to explore a lot of mechanics, familiar places, and a lot of new and unique places in the galaxy that no one has explored or experienced before.”
“At its heart, Star Wars: Tales from the Galaxy’s Edge is an inspiring story of a regular person making a difference in the struggle of good versus evil,” says Beeley. “Just like our first experience with Star Wars and Luke, you’re on this remote planet and you’re drawn into this larger conflict. It’s sometimes dramatic, sometimes funny, but always adventurous.”
It’s even more so in virtual reality, which players get to experience and explore the world firsthand, creating a deeper connection with the characters and story as they make their own memories while exploring Batuu. Which ultimately is the goal that drives the entire cast, crew, and ILMxLAB team: Creating stories that players can live out themselves, even in a galaxy far, far away….