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How ‘War For The Planet Of The Apes’ VFX Supervisor Joe Letteri Mastered Performance Capture & Creature Creation

From his earliest beginnings at ILM to his current role as Senior Visual Effects Supervisor at Peter Jackson’s pioneering Weta Digital, four-time Oscar winner Joe Letteri has had the most accomplished of careers, witnessing the stunning evolution of visual effects over the course of three decades. Working on such seminal visual effects-driven projects as Jurassic ParkThe Lord of the RingsKing Kong, and Avatar, Letteri has been driven on through the years by his boundless curiosity, becoming a master of creature and character creation along the way.

Speaking with Deadline, the War for the Planet of the Apes VFX supervisor discusses the aspects of the Apes franchise that have kept him intrigued through all three films of the reboot series, as well as the complex performance capture process, through which he translates all components of human body language to the film’s apes.

Twentieth Century Fox

What was it that initially drew you to this updated Apes franchise, and what has continued to excite you about it over the course of three films?

When we started, it was John Kilkenny at Fox, heading up visual effects there. John sent me the script for Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and I loved the story because I was a fan of the original, growing up as a kid — the whole idea of turning society on its head, with apes being the dominant species. And of course, the great surprise ending. That’s something that sticks with you.

When Fox was looking to reboot it, they had this great story and the idea that they were telling it as an origin story from modern day. It’s starting now, and you’re seeing the evolution from chimps as we know them — as animals living in the natural world — to this evolved species. That was really an interesting idea, just from a character perspective.

There’s a natural built-in arc there. Especially in that first film, where you got to see Caesar all the way from an infant, to an adult, to becoming the leader of this ape movement, and this hyper-intelligence. It had this grounding, in that we had to start by making the apes look completely real and natural, and then show them evolving this intelligence, and eventually the ability to speak. I just loved the idea of doing all of that. We just dug into it and started to figure out how we could make it happen.

Twentieth Century Fox

Rise came out shortly after Avatar, which you also worked on, and was a watershed moment for visual effects. Can you give a sense of the evolution you’ve seen in effects since you started out in the industry?

When I started doing visual effects, the very first shot I ever did was for Star Trek VI. I was at ILM at the time, and the opening shot was the Klingons’ moon blowing up.

You get into visual effects thinking you’re going to do these big explosions, and that was a really great thing to do. But the project that followed that was Jurassic Park, and we got really interested in the idea of, How do you make dinosaurs look realistic? How do you fit them into the photography? And how do you make that all be part of the world of the film?

From that point on, I got interested in doing creatures, and then characters. I was lucky enough to work with Peter Jackson on Lord of the Rings — that lead to King Kong, that lead to Avatar, and then that led to Apes. It was this ongoing progression of learning about character, both from the standpoint of making them realistic and believable on screen, but also understanding how they work dramatically with other actors, and within the context of the story.

The really interesting thing for me, that happened with Apes, is that we took this idea of performance capture that we had started doing with Gollum, and worked all the way through Avatar, and came up with a way to integrate it right into the live-action filmmaking process, which is something we hadn’t been able to do up to that point.

Twentieth Century Fox

When we did Gollum, Andy was in there performing with the other actors, but we had to bring him back to a motion capture stage to get him to recreate his performance, so we could capture it and integrate it into the photography.

When we came to do Apes, I thought, Wouldn’t it be great to not have to do that? Andy gives such great performances in the moment that I wanted to see if we could come up with a way to just capture it while we were filming. That was our big breakthrough, to reinvent the technology so that it could be used with all the cameras and lights and everything that normally happens on the film set. Because the two want to conflict. We’re bringing our own system of cameras and lights to capture all the dots, and I can’t interfere with what the photography is for the film, and vice versa.

That was really our breakthrough, to be able to do that. Then, as the films progressed, when Matt Reeves came on for Dawn, he wanted to take it out into their forest community that they had created. Then, finally on War — on this epic journey into really harsh conditions, where we were capturing in the snow, and in the rain, and really difficult location work…But it showed that you can take this technology and evolve it, and directors and actors can use it to create a scene anywhere.

Twentieth Century Fox

Andy Serkis is a true pioneer in performance capture. Having worked with him a number of times over the years, can you speak to how he’s regarded in the visual effects community?

What makes Andy unique is two-fold. He’s a really, really good actor, but he just wasn’t well known outside of London before he did Lord of the Rings — before he did Gollum. The second side of that is when we asked him to do the performance capture, he approached it just like he would any acting role. He just dug into it, and those are the performances that came through.

It’s not like he’s doing anything special for the performance capture, but he fully embraced the fact that he was creating this character that was going to be transformed into a different visual representation. But it was going to be his performance that was the heart and soul of what you saw. I think if you had to describe Andy in a word, he’s fearless. He just goes for it, and that’s what translates so well.

Can you explain the process of translating to the screen not only the physicality actors bring to the role, but the emotion you get on set, as well?

The word that we use is ‘performance capture,’ but if you think about it, performance capture is really only describing the part of the process where you’re recording the actor’s performance. The part that you see is a whole different side of it that happens behind the scenes, and that is translating the performance to the character.

There’s always choices that you have to make when you do that. Just thinking simply about the body, apes are different characters than humans. They’re quadrupedal in nature—their arms are long, their legs are short, so when actors are walking around and they have to be quadrupedal, they use these arm extensions, and they train heavily, because it’s a very physical kind of performance. But still, we take that performance and adapt it to whatever the requirements are of the particular scene.

We do that by watching the actors and understanding the body position—like, the shoulders need to be a certain angle to the hips so that when they’re looking ahead, their eyes are at a certain direction. The ape’s body won’t be in exactly the same position as the actor’s, but we need the ape’s body language to read the same way.

Twentieth Century Fox

So we study ape performance. We work with Andy and the other actors to understand how they’re performing their characters. Then, we work to make that translation happen. Now, that becomes even more difficult when you get to the face, because even though you look at a chimp’s face and you think, Oh, I can really read these human expressions in there, if you really look at the anatomy, they’re very different. Especially, in the fact that they have these great big muscles, and great big teeth. They’re not well set up for articulation, and we knew our apes were going to have to learn how to speak.

We make a couple of subtle adjustments, just in the character design. Right off the bat, we gave Caesar a slightly smaller muzzle, because we knew he was going to have to speak in the first film, and you bring in characteristics from the actor that help get you key components of the performance. We shaped Caesar’s eyelids to be more like Andy’s eyelids, so that when we saw Andy’s expression, it translates more to Caesar.

What you do is you look at each shot. You watch what Andy is doing, and then we translate that motion that we’ve captured onto Caesar, and then we start adjusting it so that really, emotionally, you look at it, and you either feel the same way watching Caesar that you do watching Andy, or you go back and do it again until you reach that moment that you do. You’re always engaged in this translation because of the difference in the physiology between the actor and the character.

Twentieth Century Fox

As you’ve mentioned, harsh weather conditions play heavily into War. How did you render the rain and the snow, in terms of the way they sat on the apes’ skin?

There’s a number of aspects to that. When we build a character, we build them from the inside out. Caesar, for example, has a skeleton inside of him. He has a musculature. He has a layer of fat and body mass underneath the skin. That all gets simulated in the dynamic sense when the character is moving. We grow the fur off of that, and the same thing has to happen. The fur has to move dynamically. If there’s any interaction, where they’re rolling on the ground, and the furs getting mashed to the ground, we have to contact all the fur with the ground, or with the other characters, and make sure that they all match up and move properly.

In addition to that, there’s rain and there’s snow. Some of that will fall down, and accumulate, and stick to the fur in different ways. We run these physical simulations to allow us to do all that. Then, there’s a process called rendering, which is basically the analog of cinematography, where we have to mimic all the physical lighting on the set and trace rays for every light source on the set, bouncing around from millions and millions of hairs until they finally come back and reach the camera.

There’s a lot of physics and math behind reconstructing the physical world inside a computer in a way that matches cinematography and lighting, and performance, and biology, and all these processes that you have to understand and flow through. To reach the final goal, which is to make it look like we had a chimp in front of the camera and were photographing it, while we photographed everything else.

Twentieth Century Fox

Having worked at both ILM and Weta, how would you compare these companies and the ethos of each?

When I left ILM, we were doing a lot of cutting-edge work at the time. They continue to do that. I think most people in this business do. That’s just the nature of the business. You rarely get asked to do the same thing twice. Even on a series like Apes, where you’re doing three in a row, there’s still something new each film that you have to crack or improve on what you did the last time around.

You’ve signed on for all three of the upcoming Avatar films. What has the experience been like on those films thus far?

Avatar was groundbreaking for us. I’d been working in visual effects for a long time before then, where we were creating a lot of new ideas as we went along. But Avatar was such a complete sense of building the entire world, and all the characters and creatures within it, that we spent about a year just reinventing the whole pipeline, really looking at our technology and thinking about what we needed, and how to modernize it. To me, that’s, at a baseline, one of the most exciting things about working on the new sequels — we’re doubling down on that.

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Snoke Isn’t a Sith Lord, So What Is He?

We’re nowhere near having all of the answers we want in regards to Snoke in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, but a whole lot of popular fan theories have just been officially taken off the table. Ever since his appearance as a gigantic and mysterious hologram in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, fans have wanted to know who Supreme Leader Snoke really is. Now, thanks to Andy Serkis, we know who he isn’t: Snoke is not a Sith.

Andy Serkis is the man in Hollywood when it comes to performance capture acting and he’s the one bringing Snoke to life in Star Was: The Last Jedi. In a recent interview, the actor discussed, in detail, some of the mystery behind Supreme Leader Snoke and conclusively stated that Snoke is not a Sith, which is really significant. Here’s what he had to say about it.

“Snoke is bloody dark; way darker than Palpatine. He’s riddled with this osteoporosis so his body’s twisted, like a corkscrew. He’s incredibly damaged, so there’s a bizarre vulnerability about him. Beneath that vulnerability, though, is this intense hatred… He’s definitely not a Sith, but he’s certainly at the darker end of the Force. Without giving too much away, that begins to unfold a little in this one.”

There’s a lot to unpack there, for those Star Wars fans who are absolutely fascinated with Snoke and who he may be, but the Sith bit is by far the most significant. There have been many theories about Snoke’s actual identity. For example, some have theorized that he could somehow be a reincarnated Palpatine. Theories like that are officially nixed. But Andy Serkis also says that he’s “on the darker end of the Force.” What in a galaxy far, far away does that mean? Is Snoke going to be something totally new to The Star Wars franchise?

While many fans have been obsessed with the idea that Snoke must be someone from the Star Wars canon, or a Legends character who will be brought back into the new canon, it’s entirely possible, and becoming more and more likely, that’s he’s just Snoke. The character is probably an entirely new character that we’ve never met before now and it sounds like Star Wars: The Last Jedi could be introducing us to an entirely new type of Force user. Director Rian Johnson may be expanding the mythology of The Force in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, via Supreme Leader Snoke.

The other thing worth noting before we head into Star Wars 8, in regards to Snoke, is that we’re actually going to see the character in the flesh for the first time. We’re not going to have to wait too much longer to get some of the answers we crave, as Star Wars: The Last Jedi arrives in theaters on December 15. You can also check out a brand new image of Supreme Leader Snoke, looking quite sinister, courtesy of Empire Magazine, for yourself below.

“Snoke is bloody dark; way darker than Palpatine…He’s incredibly damaged, so there’s a bizarre vulnerability about him…He’s definitely not a Sith, but he’s certainly at the darker end of the Force. -Andy Serkis in @empiremagazinepic.twitter.com/2h9PR0w7OP

— Star Wars Explained (@StarWarsExplain) November 29, 2017

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MPR Fires Garrison Keillor for Inappropriate Behavior

Minnesota Public Radio, a member station of NPR, has announced it is cutting ties with Garrison Keillor. The former host and creator of the popular show A Prairie Home Companion has been accused of inappropriate behavior by someone who worked with him. MPR decided to cut ties with Keillor and his companies following an investigation that was conducted by an outside law firm into the accusations. Here’s what MPR had to say about the decision in a statement.

“Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) is terminating its contracts with Garrison Keillor and his private media companies after recently learning of allegations of his inappropriate behavior with an individual who worked with him. Last month, MPR was notified of the allegations which relate to Mr. Keillor’s conduct while he was responsible for the production of A Prairie Home Companion (APHC). MPR President Jon McTaggart immediately informed the MPR Board Chair, and a special Board committee was appointed to provide oversight and ongoing counsel. In addition, MPR retained an outside law firm to conduct an independent investigation of the allegations. Based on what we currently know, there are no similar allegations involving other staff. The attorney leading the independent investigation has been conducting interviews and reviewing documents, and the investigation is still ongoing. We encourage anyone with additional information to call our confidential hotline 1-877-767-7781. MPR takes these allegations seriously and we are committed to maintaining a safe, respectful and supportive work environment for all employees and everyone associated with MPR. We want a workplace where anyone who experiences unwanted behavior feels comfortable in reporting concerns to MPR. Discrimination, harassment, retaliation or other inappropriate behaviors will not be tolerated. MPR will end its business relationships with Mr. Keillor’s media companies effective immediately. By terminating the contracts, MPR and American Public Media (APM) will: end distribution and broadcast of The Writer’s Almanac and rebroadcasts of The Best of A Prairie Home Companion hosted by Garrison Keillor; change the name of APM’s weekly music and variety program hosted by Chris Thile; and, separate from the Pretty Good Goods online catalog and the PrairieHome.org website. MPR and APM will work closely with public radio stations to help make the programming transitions as seamless as possible.”

The identity of the accuser has not been revealed at this time. Garrison Keillor doesn’t deny the accusation, but he downplays the severity of the incident in question. He also says that he’s received a lot of unwanted touching from women over the years, calling his firing “poetic irony.” Here’s what he had to say about it in an interview with the Star Tribune.

“I meant to pat her back after she told me about her unhappiness and her shirt was open and my hand went up it about six inches. She recoiled. I apologized. If I had a dollar for every woman who asked to take a selfie with me and who slipped an arm around me and let it drift down below the beltline, I’d have at least a hundred dollars. So this is poetic irony of a high order.”

The 75-year-old Garrison Keillor also said to the Associated Press that the real story is “a story that I think is more interesting and more complicated than the version MPR heard.” Keiller has also been subject to some controversy recently, prior to his firing, as he defended Sen. Al Franken, who’s been accused of sexual harassment by multiple women, in an opinion column he wrote for {The Washington Post. Here’s what Jon McTaggart, the president of MPR, said in a statement regarding the station cutting ties with Keillor.

“Garrison Keillor has been an important part of the growth and success of MPR, and all of us in the MPR community are saddened by these circumstances. While we appreciate the contributions Garrison has made to MPR and to all of public radio, we believe this decision is the right thing to do and is necessary to continue to earn the trust of our audiences, employees and supporters of our public service.”

A Prairie Home Companion and its popularity have surely helped MPR over the years and the station is happy to acknowledge that in their statement. But that’s not enough to save his job, even if Garrison Keillor feels that this accusation is overblown. David Murphy, Chair of the MPR Board of Trustees, added this in the statement released by MPR.

“Over the last several weeks, the special Board Committee has worked closely with MPR President Jon McTaggart and legal counsel to review the facts as we know them and carefully consider the implications of the various options. The Board Committee concluded that terminating the Keillor relationships was the appropriate decision and the Board and Jon are aligned in this action. Fortunately, MPR is one of the strongest public broadcasting organizations in the country. We are confident MPR will continue to innovate with programming and content that ensures MPR will remain one of the most valued sources of news, information and entertainment for decades to come.”

It should also be noted that, in a speech made in 1994, Garrison Keillor said, “A world in which there is no sexual harassment at all is a world in which there will not be any flirtation.” Given the current climate in the entertainment industry, which has been in a spiral ever since the Harvey Weinstein scandal first broke, comments like those are quite damning. Many in the industry are losing their jobs as a result of allegations and Keillor is just the latest domino to fall. Just recently, NBC also fired Matt Lauer over sexual harassment allegations.

Garrison Keillor no longer hosts A Prairie Home Companion, but her remains tied to it and also produces The Writer’s Almanac. According to NPR, Both shows are distributed across the country. American Public Media, the company that owns MPR, is no longer going to distribute The Writer’s Almanac and will stop rebroadcasting old episodes of A Prairie Home Companion. New episodes, now hosted by Chris Thile, will carry a new name, which has yet to be revealed.

“A world in which there is no sexual harassment at all is a world in which there will not be any flirtation” — radio humorist Garrison Keillor at @PressClubDC April 7, 1994… at 31:05 in this video: https://t.co/9ChxtCdZqDpic.twitter.com/nTtJXar3nK

— Howard Mortman (@HowardMortman) November 29, 2017

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How Thor Meets the Guardians of the Galaxy in Infinity War

The first trailer for Avengers: Infinity War has finally dropped and it’s even better than fans were hoping for, which is a huge feat. The trailer ends with Thor waking up and meeting the Guardians of the Galaxy on the Milano, which has led to questions about how they end up meeting in the first place. A deeper dive into the trailer as well as some notes from the footage that was shown over the summer at the D23 Expo and San Diego Comic-Con may solve the mystery of how the Guardians of the Galaxy join ranks with the Avengers in Infinity War.

In one of the post-credit scenes for Thor: Ragnarok, we see Thanos’ ship showing up over the top of the Asgardian ship. The feeling is unsettling, especially after the triumph over Hela as well as Thor and Loki getting along. But the Infinity War trailer shows what more than likely happens next. Loki was seen grabbing the Tesseract, which contains the Space Stone, from Odin’s Vault before Asgard is completely destroyed in Ragnarok and is shown in the new trailer handing the Tesseract over to what we can only assume is Thanos.

To figure out the rest, we need to look back at the now mythical footage of Infinity War that was shown over the summer. The footage showed Thor flying through space after an encounter with Thanos, wounded and unconscious. The same footage shows Thor hit the windshield of the Milano, which brings us to the new Infinity War trailer. At the very end of the new trailer, The God of Thunder wakes up on the Milano, confronted by The Guardians of the Galaxy. Star-Lord, Gamora, Drax, Rocket, Groot, and Mantis are seen examining the strange beaten up one-eyed man.

From there, the new acquaintances will head to Earth to reunite Thor with the Avengers and battle against and stop the Mad Titan, who just so happens to be Gamora and Nebula’s father, from acquiring all of the Infinity Stones. Strangely absent from the new trailer for Infinity War is Nebula, which may mean that we’re in for some surprises when she shows up. In the Infinity War comics, Nebula has a large part to play, but it is unclear how the Russo Brothers have decided to utilize her in the upcoming Avengers 3 and Avengers 4.

Whether the trailer is any indication of how much Guardians of the Galaxy are in Infinity War is anybody’s guess at this point in time since the real waiting game starts now. Marvel did a wonderful job ramping up the hype and excitement for what has been hailed the end of the MCU as we currently know it and Marvel fans can’t get enough of it. While the footage from over the summer has still yet to be released, you can check out the trailer for Infinity War below, courtesy of Marvel Entertainment’s YouTube channel and watch the Guardians of the Galaxy meet The God of Thunder.

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Disney and Fox Deal Heats Back Up, Announcement Coming Soon?

It looks like Disney purchasing Fox may be a lot more than just some grandiose industry rumor. Earlier this month, news broke that the Mouse House was looking to buy most of 21st Century Fox. Specifically, everything on the TV and film side of things, save for anything sports and/or news related. That means, they would own 20th Century Fox and Marvel would regain the rights to the X-Men and Fantastic Four. While it seemed like talks had cooled down a bit, a new report claims that Disney is “speeding toward” a purchase of Fox, behind closed doors. Here’s what Deadline has to say about the situation.

“Disney is progressing speedily toward that rumored acquisition of Fox. The version I heard has the Murdoch clan keeping possession of sports and news properties, and the rest of TV and the film studio going to Disney. Radio silence right now from both studios, and given how Disney made the Marvel and Lucasfilm deals under the cone of silence, if this happens we’ll probably only know it when it’s announced. It is certainly being talked about today. Not surprisingly, the reaction around town is not enthusiasm, because of the uncertainty that comes with potentially reducing a major studio to content generators under the Disney silo system.”

Much of this lines up with the initial report regarding the Disney acquisition of Fox, but this makes it clear the deal is still being discussed and, depending on what is going on “under the cone of silence,” this deal could be much closer to actually happening than we realize. As this report also notes, that would mean some great things for Disney fans, but it could also have some negative consequences on the movie world as a whole, in terms of content.

20th Century Fox, as a movie studio, is responsible for a great many franchises and original movies. The Alien, Planet of the Apes, Predator and, most notably, X-Men franchises live there. For the most part, those don’t seem like movies that would be made under the Disney umbrella. Marvel would still make superhero movies, but would Deadpool or Logan really happen at Disney? Not to mention all of the original movies that may not get made under Disney, like The Revenant and Hidden Figures, just for a couple of recent examples. And what of franchises like Die Hard? There’s a lot to consider here.

It’s also really important to note, just to provide further context and to show just how serious this possibility is, that Sony is also reportedly, or at least has, had talks to possibly take over 21st Century Fox as well. So this isn’t just Disney. It really looks like Fox is looking to give their movie and TV business to a competing studio, consolidating the entertainment industry in a big way. At this point, it seems like a matter of when, not if, another studio buys Fox.

If Sony emerges as a dark horse and gets the deal done, that would actually be good for X-Men fans as well. Sony would be happy to make R-rated superhero movies, as they’re doing with Venom currently. Not to mention that they’re working with Marvel Studios on Spider-Man movies currently. So they’d probably be willing to work with them on future X-Men movies and crossover movies as well.

Much of this is speculative, but the talk of Disney purchasing Fox is much more than a big rumor. Deadline’s new report makes a good point that, if this deal does happen, we’ll probably find out about it in a pretty out of the blue way. We may not know when that announcement could come, but don’t be too surprised to hear that Disney has officially purchased Fox in the near future.

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The Incredible Amount Of Money Serena William’s Honeymoon Cost

Serena Williams and Alexis Ohanian took the honeymoon of our dreams–and possibly scored it in an interesting way.

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Daisy Ridley Is Done Playing Rey After Star Wars 9

We’re only one movie into the new Star Wars trilogy, but Star Wars: The Last Jedi is just around the corner. Before you know it, Star Wars 9 will be here and this new journey will be over. But that doesn’t mean characters like Rey can’t show up in future movies. However, Daisy Ridley says that she’s likely done with the character following the conclusion of Star Wars 9. Say it ain’t so, Daisy. Here’s what she had to say about it in a recent interview when asked if she wants to play Rey again after Star Wars 9.

“No…For me, I didn’t really know what I was signing on to. I hadn’t read the script, but from what I could tell, it was really nice people involved, so I was just like, ‘Awesome.’ Now I think I am even luckier than I knew then, to be part of something that feels so like coming home now.”

She reportedly “flatly” said no, meaning that there wasn’t a lot of hesitation. It’s completely understandable that she’d want to move on with her career and explore different things. Then again, Mark Hamill is coming back to play Luke Skywalker decades later, so never say never. But when pressed about it, given her positive tone towards the Star Wars franchise in general, Daisy Ridley reiterated that she truly feels done with Rey after J.J. Abrams wraps up directing Star Wars: Episode IX.

“No…No, no, no. I am really, really excited to do the third thing and round it out, because ultimately, what I was signing on to was three films. So in my head, it’s three films. I think it will feel like the right time to round it out.”

Star Wars fans may feel a little mixed on The Force Awakens in some ways, but pretty much everyone loves Rey as a character. So it’s a little bit of a bummer to think she’ll be no more after this trilogy. But we don’t know what J.J. Abrams has up his sleeve just yet for Star Wars 9. In the same interview, Abrams was asked if he sees this trilogy as the end to the Skywalker saga and his answer is telling, in terms of his plans and what that could mean for Rey. Here’s what he had to say.

“I do see it that way. But the future is in flux.”

Rey isn’t a Skywalker, at least not as far as we know. Yet. But she’s tied to the Skywalker saga at this point. So if Star Wars 9 really does end the Skywalker saga in some way, maybe it would make sense for Daisy Ridley to be done with Star Wars after this new trilogy? In any case, this interview with Rolling Stone indicates she wants to be done either way. As for as that “in flux” future goes? We know that Rian Johnson is working on new Star Wars trilogy that won’t tie in with the Skywalker saga. So we’ve got that to look forward to.

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Disney’s Mulan Remake Casts Chinese Actress Liu Yifei in Lead Role

Disney has finally found their leading lady for the live-action adaptation of the 1998 animated classic Mulan, with Chinese actress Liu Yifei coming aboard as the title character. The actress, who has also been known as Crystal Liu, has been selected after a year-long, worldwide casting search was conducted by the studio, which came after Disney promised an all-Asian cast back in October 2016. It seems that the studio is living up to that promise, but this new report reveals that it was quite an exhaustive search to find the right actress to play Mulan.

This report reveals that Disney enlisted five different casting directors who scoured the globe, who visited five different continents and saw over 1,000 actresses for the role. Among the primary requirements for the role were demonstrable martial arts skills, proficiency in the English language along with that intangible “star quality” that the studio has found in Liu Yifei. In order to be culturally accurate, the studio wanted to focus on an “ethnically Chinese young woman” to play Hua Mulan, and it seems they have found the perfect package in Liu Yifei, since she was born in China but has spent a considerable amount of time in America as well.

Liu Yifei, 30, was born in Wuhan, in the Hubei province of China, and she started out modeling at the young age of 8 while also being trained in singing, dancing and playing the piano. She moved to Queens, New York with her mother at the age of 10, spending four years in the Big Apple, before returning to China in 2002, when she was accepted into the prestigious Performance Institute of Beijing Film Academy, but before even graduating from the Academy, her career was off and running, making her feature film debut in 2004 with Love of May and starring in the TV series Chinese Paladin, based on The Legend of Sword and Fairy video games. She has also starred in English-language movies like 2008′s Forbidden Kingdom alongside Jackie Chan, Outcast alongside Nicolas Cage and Hayden Christensen and Ip Man 3 alongside Donnie Yen. Since the Mulan remake starts shooting in January 2018, we could be seeing many more casting announcements soon.

After director Ang Lee passed on Mulan last October, the studio re-focused its efforts and landed director Niki Caro this past February, who is best known for directing Whale Rider. While no details on this adaptation were given, it will be based on the original 1998 animated hit Mulan, with Ming Na-Wen voicing the title character and a supporting voice cast that also included Eddie Murphy, June Foray, Miguel Ferrer, Harvey Fierstein and B.D. Wong. The original movie was a global hit, earning $120.6 million domestic and $304.3 million worldwide.

Disney announced at the D23 Expo this summer that the release date will be shifted. While the studio had originally planned on releasing the movie next year, Mulan was pushed to 2019, with the studio pushing Mulan out of its planned November 2, 2018 to an unspecified release in 2019. The studio has already set two unspecified movies for release on November 8, 2019 and December 20, 2019, so it could likely be one of those projects. Known in China as “Fairy Sister,” Liu Yifei is one of the most popular actresses of her generation, who most recently starred in the fantasy adventure Once Upon a Time, which earned $82.3 million in the Middle Kingdom. The Hollywood Reporter was the first to break the news on Lui Yifei’s casting in Disney’s Mulan, which will hopefully be the first of several casting reports from this highly-anticipated movie.

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