Digital tools like 3D animation and motion capture helped revolutionise the visual effects industry, but there’s still plenty of room for practical effects to help bring the impossible to the big screen. Solo: A Star Wars Story’s VFX supervisor Julian Foddy revealed to the BBC that one of the film’s most memorable explosions was actually inspired by a popular YouTube channel.
Through the lens of their high-speed cameras, YouTube’s the Slow Mo Guys (Gavin Free and Dan Gruchy) have proven time and time again that everything is cooler in slow motion, particularly when explosions are involved. Back in 2016 they filmed firecrackers exploding in a fish tank, which produced an underwater bubble that appeared to instead implode on itself.
That slow motion footage inspired artists at Industrial Light & Magic who needed to blow a giant mountain to bits, but worried that the use of traditional explosives on miniature models would look too fake. Given the film takes place in a far away galaxy full of unique weaponry, the visual effects team 3D-printed a miniature replica of a mountain, submerged it under water, bombarded it with small explosives, and then filmed the results at 120,000 frames per second.
In the final shot, while the miniature mountain was replaced with a more detailed 3D model, the explosion itself was the actual underwater slow-mo footage ILM had captured. The mix of digital and live-action elements helped bring a unique approach to an overused Hollywood trope, and in this instance, made it feel unique and interesting again with a gigantic explosion that appears to quickly collapse and disappear, only to unleash even more destructive power afterwards, toppling an entire mountain. [h/t Art of VFX]