LAST CALL SPINS MORE VR TALES FROM THE GALAXY’S EDGE 1

LAST CALL SPINS MORE VR TALES FROM THE GALAXY’S EDGE

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By CHRIS McGOWAN

Images courtesy of ILMxLAB and Lucasfilm.

C-3PO and R2-D2 are Star Wars movie characters present in The Last Call, which connects familiar Star Wars lore with original characters and stories. Their VR representations were based in mocap.

Last Call, a VR experience from Lucasfilm’s immersive entertainment studio ILMxLAB, is a sequel to the innovative Star Wars: Tales from the Galaxy’s Edge and continues to meld virtual reality, interactive narrative, gaming and cinema-quality visuals. Both releases are available for the Oculus Quest platform and connect familiar Star Wars lore with original characters and stories tied to the Black Spire Outpost in the Galaxy’s Edge lands of Disneyland and Disney World. In Tales from the Galaxy’s Edge, the player takes the role of a droid repair technician who, after a pirate attack, has crash-landed on the planet Batuu, where the outpost is located; in Last Call, that role returns but with a new purpose – recovering an ancient artifact in the wilds of Batuu. In addition, there are two additional side adventures (or “tales”): “The Bounty of Boggs Triff” and “The Sacred Garden.”

The concept for Tales from the Galaxy’s Edge and Last Call evolved from an idea that director Jose Perez III had while working on Vader Immortal: A Star Wars VR Series. Perez imagined a cantina that would serve as a central hub for new Star Wars adventures in virtual reality. He pitched the idea to the rest of the team at ILMxLAB who were intrigued, as were Lucasfilm and Oculus. It was decided that Black Spire Outpost and Batuu would provide the setting. And a storyteller was created: Seezelslak (voiced by SNL veteran Bobby Moynihan), the loquacious six-eyed Azumel bartender/cantina owner, whose tales would transport players to other places and eras in the Star Wars galaxy. Seezelslak’s visual inspiration came from the Argus “Six Eyes” Panox character in Solo: A Star Wars Story. The latter was an animatronic puppet created for the film, and Lead Animator Kishore Vijay and his team studied how Panox’s eyestalks worked in order to use them in virtual reality.

“We started with a CG scan of the animatronic [Dok-Ondar] and tried to stay faithful to the spirit of that motion in VR. We tried to capture the feeling and character from the animatronic and adapt it to the CG Dok in VR. We took a good look at what is established in his animatronic figure in his antiquities shop in Galaxy’s Edge to make sure we were creating consistency for the character, everything from the timing of his blinks to the wave-like motion of his mouth movements.”

—Jennifer Cha, Lead Animator

Seezelslak debuted in Tales from the Galaxy’s Edge, as did Ady Sun’Zee (voiced by Ellie Araiza), featured in that title’s “Temple of Darkness” tale. Both return in the sequel, as do familiar Star Wars characters R2-D2 and C-3PO (Anthony Daniels). New-to-VR characters in Last Call include the aforementioned Hondo Ohnaka (Jim Cummings) and Dok-Ondar (Cory Rouse) – both of whom had audio-animatronic representations in the parks – along with Neeva (Anika Noni Rose), Lt. Gauge (Daman Mills), Boggs Triff (Darin DePaul), IG-88 (Rhys Darby), Lens Kamo (Karla Crome) and Baron Attsmun (Mark Rolston). The latter character appeared previously in Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

Jedi Knight Ady Sun’Zee’s purple hand uses the force in one of the challenges of “The Sacred Garden” tale.

Jedi Knight Ady Sun’Zee’s purple hand uses the force in one of the challenges of “The Sacred Garden” tale.

The crew of Last Call includes director Perez, Art Director Steve Henricks, Senior Producer Alyssa Finley, Lead Animators Vijay and Jennifer Cha, Design Directors Ian Bowie and John Nguyen, and Executive Producer Mark S. Miller.

In the main adventure, once Dok-Ondar hires you (the player) to locate the artifact, you must navigate mysterious locations like the Sardeevem Chasm and the Cavern of the Moons while watching out for pirates, solving puzzles and using droid repair tech tools to get out of tricky situations. One of the latter comes when the player attempts to infiltrate a First Order operation in a hidden facility far from the Black Spire Outpost and tangle with an evil that menaces all of Batuu.

Mubo’s Workshop is where he fixes and builds droids. One of the current puzzles of VR is how to draw the attention of players naturally towards key narrative moments.

Mubo’s Workshop is where he fixes and builds droids. One of the current puzzles of VR is how to draw the attention of players naturally towards key narrative moments.

“I feel like this level of immersion is special to VR. We can relate to these grounded, true 3D characters who are living and breathing next to you. I am excited to see how people react to Dok-Ondar’s presence.”

—Kishore Vijay, Lead Animator

Lead Designer Bowie, who oversaw the Dok-Ondar adventure, says that the team more than doubled journal entries and challenges in Last Call. There is more to do, from individual weapon challenges to defeating certain enemies, collecting, and more bespoke tasks from freeing porgs (cute birds) to salvaging sporks (spoon-forks), according to Bowie.

As in the first part of Tales from the Galaxy’s Edge, Last Call matches its visual style and feel with that of Star Wars and the Galaxy’s Edge areas in Disneyland and Disney World. Vijay comments, “We wanted the characters to be consistent through the experience and the Star Wars universe in general. We made sure to reference previous appearances of our characters and adapt them to our medium.”

Dok-Ondar confronts two Troopers. The antiquities dealer is based on a Disney park animatronic character of which the ILM team took a CG scan.

Dok-Ondar confronts two Troopers. The antiquities dealer is based on a Disney park animatronic character of which the ILM team took a CG scan.

“In Last Call, we had many new characters introduced in a short period of time,” recalls Cha. ILM Animation Supervisor, Delio Tramontozzi, a veteran of many Star Wars movies, helped guide the team in defining the characters and bringing them to life, according to Cha. One of them is Dok-Ondar, who was very popular in the parks. The owner of the Den of Antiquities is “a big, characteristically slow-moving animatronic in the parks,” notes Vijay. “We started with a CG scan of the animatronic and tried to stay faithful to the spirit of that motion in VR. We tried to capture the feeling and character from the animatronic and adapt it to the CG Dok in VR.” Cha adds, “We took a good look at what is established in his animatronic figure in his antiquities shop in Galaxy’s Edge to make sure we were creating consistency for the character, everything from the timing of his blinks to the wave-like motion of his mouth movements.”

When Dok-Ondar stands next to the player and then walks past, Perez describes it as a “magical moment.” There is an almost palpable sense of being there. Vijay comments, “I feel like this level of immersion is special to VR. We can relate to these grounded, true 3D characters who are living and breathing next to you. I am excited to see how people react to Dok-Ondar’s presence.”

“Almost all our main characters besides R2-D2 were based on mocap. Even with mocap as a base, our animators spent a ton of time working on all the mocap data and compiling it to create the animation you see in game. Porgs, Kowalkian monkeys, some non-humanoid bots and miscellaneous small creatures were either heavily hand-keyed or effects driven. The player’s character animations [like IG88] were also not based in mocap.”

—Kishore Vijay, Lead Animator

Cha adds, “The immersiveness of VR is definitely helpful in creating a sense of presence, and we also focus on staging and composition of an environment and character acting to draw attention to the characters. He is a cool-looking character as well, so he easily gets the attention of players.”

There is a puzzle to be unlocked in order to move further ahead in the adventure.

There is a puzzle to be unlocked in order to move further ahead in the adventure.

While Dok-Ondar began with a scan of an animatronic, some characters were based on motion capture or CG. Vijay notes, “Almost all our main characters besides R2-D2 were based on mocap. Even with mocap as a base, our animators spent a ton of time working on all the mocap data and compiling it to create the animation you see in game. Porgs, Kowakian monkeys, some non-humanoid bots and miscellaneous small creatures were either heavily hand-keyed or effects driven. The player’s character animations [like IG-88] were also not based in mocap.”

For Hondo Ohnaka, “We looked at the animatronic, the Disney park’s actors and the [Star Wars: The Clone Wars] TV show for reference on Hondo and his character,” says Vijay. “The environment and lighting teams did some amazing work bringing the look and feel of the world from the parks over to VR.”

There were various technical challenges that had to do with mixing interactive VR and high-quality visuals. Vijay explains, Interactive VR requires a huge volume of animation that can branch and loop. There are no locked cameras or cuts in our scenes. These result in massive animation scene sizes, too. So, for a small team like ours to deliver cinema-quality visuals within these short time frames was a challenge. We realized we had to prioritize and learn to work within these parameters and push the experience as far as possible to deliver on the quality. We do a lot of ‘in-headset’ testing to figure out the areas to pay most attention to.”

“The environment and lighting teams did some amazing work bringing the look and feel of the world from the parks over to VR.”

—Kishore Vijay, Lead Animator

One of the current puzzles of VR is how to draw the attention of players naturally towards key narrative moments. “One of the things we had to do was make sure characters in the scene were always acting and reacting to each other so they could direct the players’ attention. Besides that, the environment, lighting, effects and audio are all key ingredients to direct the player. This was one of those things that was especially critical in VR where the player has that much more agency coupled with a narrower field of view,” says Vijay.

Regarding Last Call’s two contrasting tales, Vijay notes, “One is fast-paced and you get to play as a droid bounty hunter. The other is more reflective and involves light saber and force puzzles. I think they work well together and as an addition to the existing slate of content.”

Concept art of Jedi Knight Ady Sun’Zee (Ellie Araiza) and her Padawan Nooa (Meredith Bull), who star in “The Sacred Garden” tale.

Concept art of Jedi Knight Ady Sun’Zee (Ellie Araiza) and her Padawan Nooa (Meredith Bull), who star in “The Sacred Garden” tale.

In “The Bounty of Boggs Triff,” players get to be an IG-88, a class four assassin droid and one of the top bounty hunters in all known space. You take a peculiar bounty on the moon of Nar Shaddaa and traverse an impregnable fortress to reach Boggs Triff and complete IG-88’s mission. The other tale, “The Sacred Garden,” features Ady Sun’Zee and is set in The High Republic era many years after her first tale. The apprentice Ady has now become a Jedi Knight and must teach the ways of the Force to Nooa, her own Padawan (Jedi apprentice), voiced by Meredith Bull.

“[F]or a small team like ours to deliver cinema-quality visuals within these short time frames was a challenge. We realized we had to prioritize and learn to work within these parameters and push the experience as far as possible to deliver on the quality. We do a lot of ‘in-headset’ testing to figure out the areas to pay most attention to.”

—Kishore Vijay, Lead Animator

Last Call also has additions to Seezelslak’s Cantina, including a new musical instrument called the Chromarimba, which you can play. There are more scannable items where you learn about the interesting objects in the cantina and additional songs for the jukebox, plus new purchasable to-go drinks to temporarily boost one’s health.

In Last Call, additions to Mubo’s workshop allow more player customization. There is a new hoverpack module to add a little more dynamic motion to the hover ability and comfort options like smooth turn and shift-teleport to move smoothly through the world. There are also shoulder holsters and charging holsters so people can store more weapons on their person and use their favorite energy weapons for a long period of time, as compared to Tales from the Galaxy’s Edge. In terms of lessons learned from working on that experience that could be applied to Last Call, Vijay comments, “We improved our workflow and processes for this iteration. Especially with our new pandemic remote work situation.” Cha felt proudest of “the way the team pulled together to craft this amazing experience in the face of the pandemic and associated turmoil.”



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