Maz Kanata was brought to life as an animatronic (rather than a CGI character) in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. Partway through The Force Awakens, Han, Chewbacca, Rey, and Finn make their way to Maz’s tavern on Takodana, seeking help from the former smuggler and pirate. The character was brought to life via motion-capture by Lupita Nyong’o and proved to be an invaluable source to the movie’s heroes, providing them with much-needed guidance and an important tool in the form of Luke’s old lightsaber. She also introduced the biggest plot hole in the sequel trilogy by doing so but, well, nobody’s perfect.

After only making a brief appearance in The Last Jedi as a hologram (offering key information to Poe, Finn, and Rose), Maz returned in the flesh for The Rise of Skywalker. There, she helped the Resistance - explaining Leia’s actions to the other rebels and mourning her after her death - and, following their defeat of Emperor Palpatine and the First and Final Order, gave Chewbacca Han’s old medal (which he received in the original Star Wars). As it turns out, Maz was a little different when she came back for the concluding entry in the Skywalker saga - namely, she was no longer a digital effect.

While interviewing the effects artists behind The Rise of Skywalker, Cinema Blend learned Maz was brought to life in the film with an animatronic, rather than CGI. The puppet was designed by Creature And Special Make-Up Effects Creative Supervisor Neal Scanlan, who described it as “the most advanced animatronic that I believe, certainly, that we’ve ever made”. He went on to explain why director J.J. Abrams wanted to bring Maz to life through practical means in the movie, rather than digitally like in The Force Awakens and Last Jedi.

People were quick to notice the incredible detail on Maz in The Rise of Skywalker when the first image of her was released for the film. What they didn’t know, of course, is that (save for a few digital touch-ups) it’s because she’s not actually CGI at all. If anything, it’s a testament to how far computer animation has come that people can’t always tell the difference between a digital and practical creation anymore. Old-school puppetry has only continued to improve and evolve along the way, allowing storytellers to blend the best of both worlds when creating aliens and other non-humans. The Rise of Skywalker’s Maz joins characters like Baby Yoda from The Mandalorian and the Gelflings from The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance in showing just how sophisticated modern animatronics (with a touch of CGI) truly can be.

She represented more to us than just an animatronic. She represented bringing the animatronic very much more intimately into the scene. And obviously because it was involved with the Leia sequences, that was something that J.J. had pushed us to try and do as well. He wanted those that were involved in those sequences to be intimately involved, and that included the animatronics.

That said, there are still benefits to using practical effects like animatronics over CGI and even motion-capture creations. It does allow for a certain intimacy that digital characters don’t offer, making it easier for flesh-and-blood cast members to interact with them during key emotional moments. This would’ve been all the more important during Maz’s big scenes with Leia in The Rise of Skywalker, considering Leia herself was brought to life using prerecorded footage of the late Carrie Fisher. That few people (if anyone) noticed Maz was actually “real” during those sequences is still impressive on its own.

Source: Cinema Blend