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Witness Lupita Nyong’o’s Force Awakens Transformation

If you’re a Lupita Nyong’o fan who had trouble recognizing her contribution to The Force Awakens, a new video from Wired should go a long way toward fixing that. As you probably know by now, the 2014 Oscar winner plays Maz Kanata, the CGI creation that some fans have embraced as the new Yoda. After offering a brief overview of the film’s other special effects, Wired’s video explains how a convergence of Nyong’o and performance capture technology made this character possible.

Performance capture isn’t a new innovation—Robert Zemeckis used this technology to create all the characters in The Polar Express, Beowulf, and A Christmas Carol—but an actor’s contribution to a character like Maz is still somewhat mysterious. Wired’s Mike Seymour breaks it down. “Lupita is scanned using the Medusa Capture System from Disney Research Zurich,” he explains. “This captures not just her fixed facial expressions, but it’s also used for animated lines of dialogue. This creates a library of faces before principal photography. We sometimes call this the expression space. On set, the actress has tracking dots and these are used to solve her expressions into that ILM shaped library or space.”


At this point in the process, Nyong’o’s contribution is complete. However, much like an animated character, Maz continued to evolve as a team of talented technicians took over. Seymour explains: “ILM uses a proprietary facial capture system called Snapsolver to capture her performance and then convert it through Medusa to something that they can hand on to the highly skilled ILM character animation team, who of course refines the final performance.”

For a more thorough explanation, accompanied by some eye-popping visual aids, watch the video below—and don’t be surprised when The Force Awakens wins the Oscar for Best Visual Effects.