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Episode 3


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#1 Tenolian Bell

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Posted 16 December 2005 - 09:30 PM

Last night I went to an event at Fox Studios in Los Angeles. The event was about Star Wars Episode 3.

Nearly all heads of crew departments were at the event to explain their contribution to the film. The heads of visual effects, sound design, cinematography, make up, model making. The event was hosted by Star Wars producer Rick McCallum

Clips of the film were shown on a large screen in a theater at Fox. Clips were projected from a 2K Christie DLP. Onto a screen that was about 40 feet diagonally at a 2.4:1 aspect ratio. The theater wasn?t overly large and there was a stage under the screen. We sat pretty close so the screen felt huge for the size of the room.

The 2K projection was pristine. I basically saw no digital artifacts in the projection. When I first saw the film there was a scene where Anakin and Padme where standing in front of a sunset. I thought the shadows in that scene dropped too quickly to black. Last night I saw shots from that scene again the shadows flowed to black more elegantly with much more detail.

There was a lot of discussion about visual effects of course with Jonn Knoll. What I found more interesting however were the more trade crafts. The model maker told the story of how they built a miniature set for the lava planet in the climactic fight between Anakin and Obi-Wan. The model was 40 feet by 30 feet full of mountainous terrain, a 4 foot wide river of lava down the middle and small lava flows and tributaries.

He had to figure out what material was best to mimic the consistency, speed, and viscosity of lava. The set was lit with 250,000 watts of light from underneath to illuminate the lava river and smaller lava flows. They recalled it so hot on the stage that it felt like they were literally on a lava terrain.

For the visual effects department to recreate realistic lava. The production sent a team to record an erupting volcano in Italy. Footage from this was screened in 2K for us. It was very stunning to watch. The opening shot was looking up the mountain at a fountain of lava shooting into the sky. A crisp blue sky was in the background with a small white daylight moon in the distance.

What astonished me was the blue sky and the deep orange molten lava right next to each other. Both colors were vivid and crisp. You could see small details such as particles of rock, debris, and lava droplets in the lava fountain. It did not turn into a mass of orange. The image was completely clean and grain free.

At first I assumed this was HDcam SR because of how clean the image was. But as I watched further there were shots of lava fountains, lava flows, and explosions of fire balls. They were in slow motion. Not too slow maybe around 32 ? 48 fps. Then I was sure this was film. If the images were shot in 35mm with 200 speed film, scanned at 4K, graded and projected at 2K. It is possible to show clean grain free images.

I?ve never seen HD capture detail in balls of fire, as well as fine detail in bright molten lava. I forgot to ask anyone about it later during the Q&A.

Another interesting demonstration was of sound design and mixing. Ben Burtt discussed how he and his team came up with the sounds of Episode 3 using many imaginative techniques. Recording the sounds of chain saws, hair dryers, to sonic booms from the space shuttle. Burtt pulled out a microphone connected to Powerbook and a helium tank to demonstrate how he creates creature voices and odd sounds. That has to be more fun than work.

Make up supervisor discussed how he made the creature prosthetics. He actually said he used older materials to create the prosthetics, because they had to match creatures from earlier Star Wars films. His favorite make up job was the burned Anakin Skywalker. Sounded as though he created a more gorey prosthetic than Lucas really imagined. He says when he first saw Luke Skywalker removing Darth Vader?s helmet he hoped for a more gruesome face. So he pushed to have Anakin burned by fire look as bad as he could get away with.

She wasn?t there but there was a clip shown and discussion of how the costume designer made the Star Wars wardrobe. Her job was to clothe various different humanoid beings and make their costumes look real. As well as each alien coming from a different planet, climate and culture. She even had to design costumes for the all digital creatures. She traveled the world looking at different types of cloth, cuts, fabrics, and patterns.

Four of her costumes were on display worn by mannequins. I could see the intricate detail that went into one of Padme?s gowns. It was made of a material that would appear maroonish or bluish color depending on how light reflected from it. The gown also shown how short Natalie Portman is.

Late in the event George Lucas and Rick McCallum take the stage. Lucas actually spoke more about why he chose to create Episode 3 the way he did. I often don?t agree with his view of why everyone should use digital, but in this case he had better thought out explanation.

Lucas spoke about how Episode 3 would take place over such a large canvass. Twelve planets with different climates and topographies. Many different humanoid creatures, animals, machines, space ships. He explained it was all too big and would be too expensive to do through conventional means.

His explanation made sense for digital post. But did not really totally explain the advantage of film vs digital origination. He did say they shot 50 set ups a day. Which is incredible. I?ve heard of action movies shooting over 30 set ups. Do you need digital to shoot 50? Over all I didn't see that many advantages with digital shooting but many advnatages in digital post. As Peter Jackson shows us it can be done with film.

Lucas did take his jabs at film saying ILM had to dumb down the quality to march that of the previous Star Wars films.

Lucas had several jokes actually. He said he likes to Executive Produce because you don?t do much work. That Producing is a lot of work, and being a studio executive is even less work than being an executive producer.

He revealed that he had some frustration with Avid?s work flow (Phil isn?t alone on this one). He said when he sold Edit Droid to Avid, he told Avid it should become a software solution and not so hardware based. He shook his head and said they haven?t listened Avid is just as hardware dependent now than it was then.

When he sold SoundDroid he hoped that it would become seamless with Avid. SoundDroid became ProTools. He lamented they are now under the same company but still use two different interfaces. He urges Avid to combine them both with the same interface but they won?t. Avid won?t because that would require totally rewrite of the architecture, would change the way the system works and cause upheaval with customers who have gotten used to Avid and ProTools.

In the end he had to laugh because Avid guys have come to ILM.
ILM Avid?s have been so tweeked and modified that its beyond the Avid technicians understanding.

Lucas said an editing machine should be as simple like an old Moviola or Kem. An editor should have a script and the picture, with minimal interference from the machine.

Someone asked about Star Wars being projected in digital 3D. He said yes at some point all six films will be projected in digital 3D. He says he's sold nearly everyone on digital projection except the movie theaters. Saying some thetaer owners ask why should they switch to digital, he laughed and answered because its better quality. Seems that should be reason enough. Robert Rodriguez, James Cameron, and himself plan to use digital 3D as a gimmick to bring momentum to getting digital projection into theaters.

If nothing else I'm sold on 2K digital projection, and awaiting to see large venue 4K.
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#2 Mike Panczenko

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Posted 16 December 2005 - 10:00 PM

From what I can find on google, it appears that Ron Fricke (Baraka, Koyaanisqatsi) shot the lava segments on Mount Etna, in fact, digitally. I found this quote here: Lucas figured out it would be cheaper to film a real volcano rather than creating it digitally, and when Etna became "noisy" again a couple of weeks ago, Lucasfilm contacted the italian company Too Motion for which I work" (considered the best company for HD digital video in Italy).

So, this is even more impressive hearing your glowing review of the footage and the camera's ability to handle such a wide range of color in the same shot. With you saying that the 2K footage had a smoother contrast than you saw in theaters, it makes me wonder if HD is getting closer as a capture medium to film, and if it is mainly the presentation format that limits it.

What a lucky opportunity you had to go there!
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#3 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 16 December 2005 - 10:21 PM

Hi,

Yes, sounds like a blast - the best we tend to get in London is Mike Figgis waxing tedious about his latest depressing drama.

I'm slightly nonplussed about the fireballs comment, though. Please explain to me why there should be some magic reason HD can't see detail in fire - does fire produce special photons? Seriously, I think I know what you're trying to say, but... huh?

Phil
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#4 Gordon Highland

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Posted 16 December 2005 - 10:29 PM

That does sound like a great evening. The Ep3 DVD has an awesome documentary that traces the process from accounting and office drones to production and the video village to post and design and all that. It was unbelievable how comprehensive it was, and many of the processes you describe are detailed there.

I'm not making the argument, but the reason they like digital acquisition probably has less to do with quality, and more to do with immediacy, WYSIWYG, and project workflow. They can preview composites on-set, make visual adjustments, and be capturing and rough cutting the same day instead of waiting for the lab and transfer and all those other requisite steps with film.

I'm not an Avid fan, either (no pun intended). Once you learn the interface and keyboard, it's very fast to cut, but I've never really cared for the way they handle effects, and I despise the media management. I like being able to capture a clip and have it available on the hard drive for any other application at that point (like FCP) without having to wade through all that cryptic OMFI crap. But they do make it difficult for you to screw things up, which is nice sometimes.
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#5 Tenolian Bell

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Posted 16 December 2005 - 10:57 PM

Please explain to me why there should be some magic reason HD can't see detail in fire - does fire produce special photons?


Quite simple, a fireball would produce a light greater than 100 IRE in relation to illunimation around it. You are left with the choice to over expose the fireball or underexpose everything around it.

This problem also exists with film, where the DP tries to illuminate a scene low enough to capture detail in fire, and not have it sink into a mass of yellow.

A different issue I've seen in HD. I saw "Once Upon A Time In Mexico" and "Badass". Both shot on HD and projected with a 35mm print. Once Upon A Time had flashes and bursts from gun fire, Badass had a big car explosion. In both instances the fire burst was a yellow mass, but also took on a cartoonish fluorescent yellow tone.

Those are small in comparison to huge plumes of volcano lava and fire bursts. If what I saw was pure HD with no special treatment (rotoscoping, painting, or interpolation) then it truly was impressive.

With you saying that the 2K footage had a smoother contrast than you saw in theaters, it makes me wonder if HD is getting closer as a capture medium to film, and if it is mainly the presentation format that limits it.


I originally saw Ep3 projected in 2K DLP at Arclight Cinema in LA. As I left the theater I vowed to never see that movie again, so I never saw a film projection.

What a lucky opportunity you had to go there!


The event was by invitation only. I'm not sure how widely the invitations were sent. I have a couple of friends who are making their way up the studio ranks in importance and are receiving these types of invitations more often.
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#6 PadawanOsswe

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Posted 16 December 2005 - 11:15 PM

I originally saw Ep3 projected in 2K DLP at Arclight Cinema in LA. As I left the theater I vowed to never see that movie again, so I never saw a film projection.


why would you not want to see it again? its a great film, very dramatic.
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#7 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 17 December 2005 - 12:07 AM

There is an excellent documentary on the DVD; here is a photo of the volcano crew with an HD camera:

Posted Image

As for exposing lava explosions, it's not THAT hard in HD simply because you're just there to record the lava, so that's what you expose for. In daylight, the sun is bright enough to balance with the lava, and at night, you're just exposing for the fire and letting everything else go black.

What's interesting is that the footage looks so good and it seems to have been done on an F900, not an F950 going to HDCAM-SR.

Edited by David Mullen, 17 December 2005 - 12:08 AM.

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#8 Max Jacoby

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Posted 17 December 2005 - 05:09 AM

why would you not want to see it again? its a great film, very dramatic.

Not everyone has the same taste in films. One person's drama is another person's soap-opera.

As for Lucas comment's about digital, one has to take everything he says with a grain of salt, he very obviously has his own agenda.
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#9 Tim J Durham

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Posted 17 December 2005 - 10:13 AM

What a lucky opportunity you had to go there!

Mike,
Check your e-mail.
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#10 Sam Wells

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Posted 17 December 2005 - 11:35 AM

For all that it would be very interesting to compare the immersive 70mm projection experience of the orig Star Wars films to what he's doing now. I'm not really a Star Wars fan but that's what I missed on the last three.

(btw I think SoundDroid more or less became IMS Dyaxis, not ProTools. ProTools has a complicated genealogy which predates Avid's purchase of Digidesign. So two different histories which explains the lack of total integration as he mentioned.)

-Sam
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#11 John Holland

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Posted 17 December 2005 - 01:17 PM

For all that it would be very interesting to compare the immersive 70mm projection experience of the orig Star Wars films to what he's doing now. I'm not really a Star Wars fan but that's what I missed on the last three.

(btw I think SoundDroid more or less became IMS Dyaxis, not ProTools. ProTools has a complicated genealogy which predates Avid's purchase of Digidesign. So two different histories which explains the lack of total integration as he mentioned.)

-Sam

I agree Sam , the first three looked fantastic in 70 mm blow up. i did 6 weeks on Empire , in Norway , very difficult conditions , not alot of fun . john holland .
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#12 Tenolian Bell

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Posted 17 December 2005 - 01:40 PM

As for exposing lava explosions, it's not THAT hard in HD simply because you're just there to record the lava, so that's what you expose for.


I was astonished at the amount of detail in the lava as well as the crisp blue sky. The difference between the hotest parts of the lava and the sky probably wasn't that much. Perhaps only a couple of stops difference.

I wonder why it appeared to be in slow motion. I suppose the lava fountain was being shot so high into the sky, that it took a long time to fall back down. Maybe that gave it the appearance of moving slow? The power of nature.

If they really did shoot that volcano with an F900 then its no doubt they had to sprinkle magic ILM pixel dust on that footage.

Over the past five years I've seen HDcam from the F900 under various circumstances. Projected from film print, 1K projection, 40" HD plasma monitor, 20" Sony studio monitors. I have never ever seen HDcam with that degree of detail, clarity, and vivid color. I've seen footage from the F900 projected with Sony's new 4K projector, that was actually the worst I've ever seen it look.

From HDcam they would have had to convert 1440x1080 3:1:1 Y-Cr-Cb 8 bit at 143 Mbps into 2048x1556 4:4:4 RGB 10 bit at 2Gbps. That would not be a seamless conversion and would require some clean up. I mean really it was too perfect.

What will truly impress me, is when they are able to project the image that came directly from the camera with no advanced or expensive manipulation. Some basic color timing/saturation is fine. Because you have to use the information availabe in the image for that, but nothing more. Once they are able to project the image from the camera and it looks that way, I will be thouroughly impressed.

why would you not want to see it again? its a great film, very dramatic.


Nah I didn't like it.

Being able to see the crew who devoted their talents, demonstrate the work they put into the film was great however.
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#13 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 17 December 2005 - 04:30 PM

Hi,

Have you considered the possibility that the HDCAM you were looking at was ungraded?

As with any highly compressed format, like DV, it tends to look shockingly good straight off the camera, and shockingly bad once you start futzing about with it,

Phil
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