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ILM’s Rob Bredow on ‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’ and the Future of VFX

Even before he was promoted to SVP, executive director and head of ILM in May, Rob Bredow was a very busy man. He joined Industrial Light & Magic in 2014 as a visual effects supervisor, then quickly rose up the ranks, helping to launch ILMxLAB in 2015 to develop and release immersive entertainment, moving into the chief technology officer role at Lucasfilm in 2016 and most recently serving as visual effects supervisor and co-producer of Disney’s “Solo: A Star Wars Story,” working alongside director Ron Howard.

He’s been making the rounds of top-notch tech conferences like SIGGRAPH in August and the upcoming View Conference in Turin, Italy, talking about creativity and how it applies to just about everything we do. “Whether that’s writing code, or creating a detail in a shot, those are all things that I feel are really creatively driven,” he says.

Variety caught up with Bredow ahead of his View Conference keynote, set for Oct. 23, to talk about creativity, the future of VFX, and what it was like to play in the “Star Wars” universe.

Can you give us an overview of your View Conference talk?

Working on “Solo: A Star Wars Story” was such a pleasure for me both creatively and professionally. I plan to present a detailed behind-the-scenes look at some of the creative decision-making processes used on the film and talk about how “theme” can help drive the creative decision-making for any project, enabling the best possible outcome. I learned a lot from Ron Howard on this film for how best to manage a creative team and hope to pass along some of that.

What were some of the biggest challenges you faced with the visual effects on “Solo: A Star Wars Story”?

“Solo” relied on a mix of old-school VFX techniques made fresh with the latest possible technology. One example was shooting the entire Kessel Run scene with rear-projection surrounding the cast in the cockpit. When we were shooting the film, it was almost like the actors were riding a theme park ride. Once we decided to use this technique, it meant creating 20-plus minutes of finished visual effects before the principle photography, turning the entire VFX schedule on it’s head. The artists at ILM came through with many minutes of beautiful, high-resolution final-quality imagery for us to project on set and many of the shots you see in the cockpit were final right out of what we captured in-camera. It really added to the quality of the lighting on the actors, the set, and the camera movement as well.

“Solo” was your first experience in the “Star Wars” universe, which spawned the creation of ILM. What was that experience like for you?

It was one of the most professionally satisfying experiences of my career. Not only did I get to serve as VFX supervisor on the film, but Ron Howard was kind enough to include me in his “brain trust” of sorts, welcoming me into his creative process. I was able to participate with story ideas throughout the production, particularly helping along two of the big action sequences — the train heist and the Kessel Run — both key sequences in the film. I’m really proud of the final result and I think the seamless interactions between visual effects and each of the other departments really paid off.

How have things changed for you since you took on this new role at ILM? Will you still be working on VFX projects?

Fortunately for me, in my new role I get to be involved with all the projects at ILM. I get to collaborate with a wide variety of filmmakers across projects as varied as Marvel Studio’s “Captain Marvel,” “Bumblebee” for Paramount Pictures, “The Irishman” for Netflix, and an upcoming live-action series set in the “Star Wars” universe that is being written and produced by Jon Favreau. Of course, ILM has a world-class team of visual effects supervisors and producers who don’t need me to tell them how to do their job, but I can be a support to them and contribute thoughts for their consideration throughout the production of the films. To say I’ve got a dream job is putting it mildly.

As usual, ILM has a number of high-profile projects coming up and it’s always innovating. Can you give me a hint of what surprises might be in store?

As I mentioned, in addition to the eagerly awaited “Star Wars” live-action series, we are contributing to “Captain Marvel” and “Bumblebee” as well as Warner Bros.’ “Aquaman,” and “Jungle Cruise” and “Aladdin” for Walt Disney Studios.

The VFX industry is huge and booming. Where do you see the industry headed and what are the biggest trends to look out for?

I think some of the things that drive me specifically, and I think may in fact be trends, are toward making the tools more interactive and artist-friendly so that you continue to focus on the art and the quality of the work and there can be less time spent dealing with some of the technical details that have really been a big part of computer graphics for a lot of the last 10 or 20 years.

I also think that we’re in the early days of seeing what machine learning and AI algorithms are going to bring to the table. I think it’s actually going to have a substantial impact on the industry and the way we do our work. We may be able to get computers to do things that surprise us in the next few years.

Has there ever been a time when you looked at a script for a project and said, “Oh my God, how am I going to do this?”

That’s honestly the most fun when we look at a script or sit down with a filmmaker and we talk about a scene and realize there is no way to do it. That’s our favorite kind of project. You don’t just need one breakthrough to get to the endgame; you need something like 10 breakthroughs. That’s when things are really interesting.

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