Whether you love Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker or not, there’s no denying there are some great scenes. Scenes of pure thrills. Scenes of unadulterated drama. Scenes of genuine emotion. One of those scenes is the lightsaber duel between Kylo Ren and Rey. The scene is wonderfully directed. I love how JJ Abrams doesn’t infuse it with an epic John Williams score, but uses silence to convey a sense of tension and peril. You hear the roar of the waves crashing against large blocks. You feel the atmosphere. Well, what if I told you that a Malaysian had a little something to do with that scene.
The VFX for that scene was crafted at Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), Singapore, the effects and animation studio that’s a division of the Lucasfilm production company, in which a Malaysian by the name of Eng Sze Jia works as the production coordinator. While actors and directors get all the praise, little is usually spoken about the unsung heroes without which productions will wilt. Sze Jia is one of those unsung heroes.
She’s worked as a VFX production coordinator on numerous big-budgeted Hollywood extravaganzas including Avengers: Infinity War, Aquaman and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. While having a chat with me over the phone, she sounded extremely enthusiastic about all of it. When asked what her job as a VFX production coordinator entails, Sze Jia cheekily said “We’re kinda like the droids of the place. We’re the R2D2s and the C3POs.” She said they’re in the background running around a lot, liaising and coordinating with so different people.
While she’s ever so humbled about it, the reality of the job is very much challenging. There are hundreds if not thousands of names mentioned during the credits of any big-budget Hollywood films. The list of names become especially packed during the VFX part of the credits, in which you see names of different studios from different countries, each with their own host of hardworking personnel. A VFX production coordinator of a particular studio (in this case ILM) has to not only ensure the team executes everything according to specific time constraints, which was the biggest stress-inducer according to Eng, she also has to handle multiple conference calls with the VFX head based in Los Angeles.
I asked Eng about her journey and what it feels like going from a Monash University (Malaysia) graduate to a VFX Production Coordinator to some of the most successful movies ever made. Despite being in the industry for more than a few years now, Eng appeared simply enthusiastic and down to earth over the phone. She said a lot of it had to do with “luck,” and “being at the right place at the right time.” But it’s also her unwavering determination and enthusiasm that brought her this far. Now, she’s hoping that one day she could actually work in Los Angeles at the heart of it all.
Apart from the Rey and Kylo Ren duel, the VFX team based in Singapore also worked on many other cool imagery we see in Rise of Skywalker including the interior and exterior shots of the Death Star wreckage, the gorgeously rendered ice-tunnel chase sequence between the Millennium Falcon and TIE fighters, the hangar scene where Kylo reveals Rey’s lineage, and those horse-like creatures known as Orbaks.
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is currently playing in Malaysian cinemas.