'Star Wars'-loving alumna helped bring 'Rogue One' to life

How Rebecca Forth lives her dreams at Industrial Light & Magic

February 6, 2017

Force is with ‘Star Wars’-loving grad who helped bring ‘Rogue One’ to life
Rebecca Forth, a College of Arts & Media graduate, poses with a storm trooper before the debut of "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story." Forth helped create special effects for the movie.
Rebecca Forth at "Rogue One" premiere
University of Colorado Denver graduate Rebecca Forth, center, worked on the visual effects for “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” as part of her job at Industrial Light & Magic. Here she is with friends at the “Rogue One” screening for ILM employees.

Growing up, Rebecca Forth dreamed of being in the “Star Wars” movies and having adventures on planets in a galaxy far, far away. When “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” debuted, Forth’s dreams came to life when she saw the planet she helped create on the big screen.

Forth works for Industrial Light & Magic, the renowned special effects production company that created the computer-generated imagery in “Rogue One” and the “Star Wars” series. A visual effects artist and University of Colorado Denver College of Arts & Media (CAM) graduate, Forth toiled for months to bring “Rogue One” to life. You can see her work on the planet Scarif, the tropical paradise where the rebels launch a suicide attack to steal the plans for the Death Star.

Being part of “Rogue One” thrilled Forth so much she didn’t mind when the Death Star destroyed Scarif and all she’d created. The movie’s climax enthralled her, as well as fans and critics. She takes pride in her small part creating one of the greatest scenes in “Star Wars” history.

“While it was heartbreaking to see it all blown away, it was a necessary sacrifice,” Forth said with a laugh. “It made the movie so good.”

From CU Denver to a dream career

Intense and exciting describes Forth’s career since she graduated in 2010 from CAM, where she studied 3D graphics and animation. She discovered her passion for creating visual effects at CU Denver. Professors nurtured her talent and introduced her to every part of the filmmaking process. Forth gained hands-on production experience as a member of the 11 Second Animation Club and by working on a capstone project with classmates. It enabled her to find an internship with Disney, make connections and find a job at ILM.

Scene from "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story"
A scene from “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.” CAM graduate Rebecca Forth helped design the vegetation on the planet where this battle takes place. © Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Rights Reserved.

“What I learned at CU Denver changed my life,” Forth said.

At Industrial Light & Magic, the storied special effects shop founded by “Star Wars” creator George Lucas, Forth works with some the most gifted filmmakers and special effects artists in the world. In the past six years, Forth has worked on blockbusters including “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” “Jurassic World,” “Transformers: Age of Extinction” and “Pacific Rim.”

Forth has the perfect job for a creative kid who grew up loving science fiction, she said. Already, she’s worked on two of her favorite series.

“To be able to work on ‘Rogue One’ was an amazing opportunity. I was a big fan of ‘Star Wars’ growing up, and I had the original series on old VHS cassettes,” Forth said. She admits that while her passion created extra enthusiasm, it came with heighted expectations.

“Working on a ‘Star Wars’ film, everyone brings their A-game,” Forth said. “You always want to come to work and do your best, but the pressure of it being ‘Star Wars’ makes it more exciting.”

Critics and fans have mostly praised “Rogue One,” especially the beautiful planets and the climactic battle on Scarif that features hundreds of rebels and storm troopers, imposing AT-AT walkers and many explosions.

Forth takes pride in the reviews. Her team spent weeks of work blending human actors, real props and digital images. As a junior lighting artist, Forth worked on small details, like Scarif’s vegetation.

“Whenever I see the bushes on the planet, I say, ‘I helped with those! I helped with those!’” she said.

While Forth ranks “Rogue One” as her favorite work experience so far, “Jurassic World” holds a special place in her heart, and not just because she loved dinosaurs as a kid. The filmmakers needed extras for crowd shots in the movie, and Industrial Light & Magic staff played tourists. Forth has a fleeting appearance in the park’s visitor center.

“I’m actually walking up and down the stairs in one of the scenes,” Forth said. “After seeing that, I thought ‘OK, I can die happy now.’”

Hard work pays off

Forth said savoring moments on screen or hearing the applause at the end of “Rogue One” only came after years of hard work alongside driven and talented people. Creating digital effects “is a team sport,” Forth said, and she appreciates the chance to start her career as a member of one of the best teams in the world of visual effects.

An aspiring visual effects artist like Forth spends years assisting more experienced artists. Paying dues has started to pay off for Forth. “Rogue One” is the first time she did lighting effects for a major movie. The next film she worked on, “Kong: Skull Island,” will come out on March 10.