I would argue that The Mandalorian is the single best thing that has happened to the Star Wars universe since The Empire Strikes Back. Both have realistic gritty story telling where it is not always obvious who is good, and who is bad. The hero doesn’t always win and, most importantly, they both introduce Boba Fett to the canon. Empire did it for the first time ever (in theatrical release order), and The Mandalorian re-introduced him as still being alive after he was eaten by a Sarlacc in Return of the Jedi and presumed dead.

To celebrate the return of the Fett, I wanted to make a couple images to recreate the scene in The Mandalorian Episode 9. It features Fett without his helmet on, staring into the sun, then turning away. The screen shots look like this:

Screenshot from The Mandalorian Episode 9. Copyright Disney
Screenshot from The Mandalorian Episode 9. Copyright Disney

I had just picked up the Hot Toys Mythos Boba Fett figure, which would be perfect for this shot. However, he comes with a helmet and doesn’t show his face. Boba Fett’s face is a) bald, and b) has a certain aged “I’ve seen a lot of life” look to it. I don’t have any figure with a bald head I could steal from that isn’t also another character in Star Wars (read: Samuel L. Jackson). I do know some humans who have the right look, tho. The solution became clear.

It was time for a collaboration.

So, who you gonna call?

Through my connections with the Photography Scavenger Hunt, I met a lot of wonderful people. One of those people is part of a wonderful couple who would be perfect for this project. They don’t live anywhere near me, but in the internet age that is hardly a limiting factor. Brian “Bear” Lihani is a retired U.S. Air Force pilot, and is still involved in NORAD as a civilian. Not only does he still protect North American airspace, Brian is the hardest rocker I know. He also helps track Santa every year (proving that Santa is indeed real—if you don’t trust the U.S. government on this, NORAD is a joint Canadian operation, and they agree, eh?).

More importantly, Brian is bald, and has the general look of Boba Fett. His wife, Christy, is also a U.S. Air Force veteran and a wonderful artist and photographer in her own right. So, they both have the ability and, being scavengers, the willingness, to make this happen. I emailed them the scenes I wanted to recreate, and some mock-ups to give them an idea of the poses I was looking for.

A few days later, they sent me some head shots of Brian. They were perfect.

Note to self: Think up a witty reference to Monty Python’s Life of Brian and insert it here. (To the readers: If Dave lets you down on the joke thing, faking a hearty pity-chortle here would be appreciated.)

Compositing the shot

Let’s talk about the order of operations for merging real life and toys for a moment. Normally I prefer to shoot the action figure first, and then get the human posed to match. The reason for this is that action figures are a lot less flexible than real humans. People can strike way more poses than a figure can, so if I shoot the human first, it is possible that the action figure will not be able to match the pose. When it comes to merging toys and people, matching the pose is very important.

However, in this case, the more difficult part was to get reshoots of the human, so I decided to get the shots of Brian first, and then match my action figure pose to it. I knew the pose I wanted was pretty risk-free, so it was the safer bet.

Once I got the shots of Brian’s head, I put my Boba Fett figure in a light box, removed his helmet, matched up the light, and shot it from the front and back.

The true test of all this work is seeing if both parts of the composite line up correctly. The next step is to do a quick fit test in Photoshop to see if this is going to work at all. So, do they fit?

Merging the two images from the collaboration is a success.

Like a glove!

Finishing the collaboration

The rest of this story is processing in Photoshop. I’ve written about my process many times, but the large beats are: finish masking out the head and body, colour match them together, add a background, create the dual sun, texturize and colour grade the whole thing.

These are the final results:

Working on a collaboration is quite fun and rewarding. I could not have done this shot without help from other artists. Getting a successful image or two out of the deal makes it all a fun and worthwhile experience.


Want more toy photography goodness? Subscribe to our weekly email round up so that you never miss a post.  You can also listen to episodes of the podcast! You can follow my work at @therealstudiodave