If viewers were asked to point to the single most popular and influential TV character to emerge last year, it would have to be the Child, more casually referred to as Baby Yoda. The adorable animatronic puppet was introduced to the world in Season 1 of Disney Plus’ “The Mandalorian” and was solidified as a “Star Wars” universe legend in the second episode when the titular Mandalorian (Pedro Pascal) was fighting with the ferocious Mudhorn in a squelchy, slippery mud pit. Mando tries every trick in his book to defeat the fearsome beast, including firing his flamethrower and using his grappling hook, but to no avail. The Mudhorn makes its final charge at the mercenary when suddenly it finds itself lifted off the ground by the Child, who is demonstrating his abilities using the Force for the first time, sending fans around the globe into fits of excitement.
“Going into it, [executive producers] Jon [Favreau], Dave [Filoni] and I talked about this scene being a pivotal narrative moment, both for Mando and the Child. Having this big reveal of the Child’s abilities and it saving him, it felt like the perfect culmination of this episode and a way to set up their relationship for the rest of the season. We wanted to make it cinematic — on the scale of a theatrical film — that was the expectation both from us and the fans. What was even more tense about that scene for me was that it was our first week of shooting.”
“We shot the scene on the lot in a big, huge mud pit under a hot sun. The stunt team did a great job of throwing Mando around in the mud, but the most important shot of the whole scene is that beautiful one of Mando’s profile with the Mudhorn floating above him. [There’s a] close-up on Mando when he’s got nothing left to give: all he can do is hold up his knife at this charging beast, he’s ready to accept as fate. Then he looks up and the beast is floating and he turns to look at the Child. It’s a fantastic moment and it was a joy to shoot.”
“The inspiration, the reference that they wanted for this scene was the bear fight from ‘The Revenant,’ but hyped-up even more. We had the stunt performer playing Mando wired up, and then another guy would come at him and chase him around with these big foam jaws, kind of like a massive pair of scissors. So our stunt guy put his arms in these jaws and we would shake him around, just like you wrestle with your buddy at a pool party. That gave us the extra power that the wire guys needed to pull Mando back and forth, to make the shakiness look more powerful and to throw him a greater distance across the mud pit.”
“We cordoned off an area to build the entrance to the cave and the mud arena based on the concept art, and dug a hole with a bulldozer. We prepared a particular bit of ground for special effects to fill up with a softer soil so that we could do a shot where Mando is punched into the ground by the Mudhorn, but that was when the rains came. In a lot of ways it helped, but when you’re driving all that heavy machinery around, you would rather wet the ground where you want to instead of turning the whole backlot into a mud bowl — that made things more complicated.”
“The [Mudhorn] was supposed to be caked in mud — some of it on his body would be dried, but the mud from down below would be wet, as it splashed up onto him as he ran. Jon and Dave needed the hair to be matted with mud, but as the camera moved down the body of the creature, the mud and hair needed to move together. Sculpting the creature itself was relatively straightforward, but then to achieve that thick, matted hair was the big hurdle to get over. It took a number of weeks.”
“We had a handful of shots of the Child where it wasn’t the puppet. Of course, the puppet does the heavy lifting in the show — the puppet is the baseline — but at that moment in time we were still figuring out what the puppet could do and how to get the best out of it. That particular shot of the baby using the Force to pick up the Mudhorn was the hardest from a CG perspective because it was such a big performance moment — its face was so concentrated. We were trying to make sure we didn’t do more than the puppet could do, and that we didn’t break what’s awesome and charming and perfect about the puppet.”