Science fiction and high fantasy films are always hard for me to get into. While the story might be tightly constructed and every emotional beat is hit, the world around the characters can feel odd and disconnected from what I am familiar with. Even if I haven’t been to the hidden forest on another planet far away, the details needed to ground me in the world are often missing.

TheStar Wars franchise has recently been notorious for feeling stale in its world-building. Yet, Andorfeels different. 

If you haven’t watched Andor, then I would recommend checking out the opening scene of the first episode to see what I mean when I say that this series feels grounded. With an immediate focus on real elements on a real location before establishing the VFX in the scene and the limited perspective of Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), Andor accomplishes its goal of creating a lived-in world that feels like a distant memory to the viewers. 

How does Andor accomplish this? Thomas Flight breaks down the three techniques the series uses to make the story feel grounded and deeply human. After you check out the video below, let’s break down what those three techniques are.

Priority for Real Elements in Scenes 

Andor establishes each scene in the series by giving priority to the real elements. While other Star Wars shows start with a wide establishing shot of a CGI location, Andor will focus on the tangible elements of the scene that ground the viewers in the world immediately. Whether it's characters talking to each other over a drink, a character walking in the rain, or the fine details of a real location, the stage is set to feel like we are somewhere tangible. 

Once the real elements of a scene are established, the camera will step back to show off the VFX that is added in post to the real location. Unlike the uses of the StageCraft video wall to create the locations, which have a purpose for specific stories, the use of real locations blended with VFX gives weight to the location that doesn’t exist elsewhere. 

The human brain is a strange thing. When we see something that is knowingly not real, we have trouble distinguishing what is and what isn’t real in a scene. When we see something real and then see the VFX in a scene, a bridge is created and we don’t have to spend time focusing on how unreal the location looks. Practical locations will always help the actors, set designers, cinematographers, directors, and the audience ground a scene in some sense of reality. 

3 techniques 'Andor' uses to feel real'Andor'Credit: Disney Platform Distribution

Focus on Sensory Details

Focusing on the real elements of a scene can easily establish a sense of realism in a scene visually, but how do you do this through sound design? 

Grounding the world and the characters can be done easily through sound. When a character touches something in Andor or pours someone a drink, we can hear it as if we are in the room with them. The sound isn’t dissolved or muted because it serves a purpose in the larger story. 

Sensory details can make viewers feel like they are in the scene and can feel the warmth of sunlight or the smell of a mining site. These little details can go a long way, grounding the world in a strangely beautiful way. Life is full of sounds, so why would we ever get rid of them in film and TV?

Other little details that can do a lot of work for the story come from being on location for the shoot. The crackling of fire or seeing a character’s breath in a cold climate can do some heavy lifting by establishing a location, mood, or tone. These are the details that would be incredibly difficult to accomplish in a studio but are a natural phenomenon that comes with shooting on location.  

3 techniques 'Andor' uses to feel real'Andor'Credit: Disney Platform Distribution

Using Third Person Limited Perspective 

Films and TV shows love to give viewers the God’s eye perspective, which means we get to see everything and anything before the other characters know about it. The problem with the God’s eye perspective, or third-person omniscience, is that the viewer is hovering above the story, removing them from the reality of the characters’ lives. 

Andor chooses to tell its story from a limited perspective, only allowing the audience to sit with a specific character that the scene is paying attention to. This helps the audience experience what the characters are experiencing—what they see and how they feel at that moment. We are flies on the wall that can see the details of the world from an insider's perspective. 

Watching the story from perspectives rather than a third party removes an overview of the story, and allows the audience to watch with the same limited knowledge that the characters have. The judgments made towards those characters are based on what they know, allowing audiences to build an understanding and level of empathy toward these characters who are trying to navigate life in an oppressive system that doesn’t care about them no matter their position. 

Wide shots to close up eliminate that portion of the scene that grounds the audience. While medium shots can be a little dull at times, they have a purpose that is effective and can be deeply meaningful when we cut to the next image. 

3 techniques 'Andor' uses to feel real'Andor'Credit: Disney Platform Distribution

The themes of Andor shift away from the regular themes that have plagued the Star Wars franchise since its Disney days. Fate, destiny, and the “chosen one” mythos no longer hold weight in the franchise, and Andor acknowledges this by exploring new themes on a smaller scale. Its focus is on the complex morals and ethical dilemmas of characters as they feel cornered to fight for what they believe in. 

It’s a deeply human and relatable story that is heightened by the story’s commitment to grounding the world in reality. There is a focus on the small moments that have a profound effect on characters, which is something big-budget productions often overlook. Stories are made up of small details and moments. 

When creating your next project, think about the nuances of the world and how the little details can say so much about a place, character, or moment. Don’t be afraid to try something new or experiment with coverage once you have the shots you need. Not everything will work, but you might find little gems in your footage that you never expect to find that heighten the moment to a level you never expected to reach. 

What is your favorite moment from Andor? Let us know why it is your favorite scene or shot in the comments!

Source: Thomas Flight