The Cutting Of 'Star Wars: Episode III'

The latest Star Wars newsletter talks about how Star Wars: Episode III is currently taking shape in its earliest iterations.

Though the principal photography shot this past summer in Australia has already been pieced together into a chronological "assembly" of the movie, this does not represent the first cut. An assembly is more of a blueprint for future edits, and a starting point for George Lucas to further refine the film.

"We're breaking down the first 25 minutes, which we need to have from George locked by January 5th, so that we just keep moving," describes Producer Rick McCallum.

Each day Ben Burtt and Roger Barton, the editors of Episode III, continue cutting away, finding the best takes, and piecing together continuous action and scenes to tell the story.

"What happens is that George comes in about 8 a.m, answers his mail, and works with Ben from 9 to 12:30," McCallum says, describing the typical working day. "Ben's doing all the action sequences and cutting together the animatics for those, like the opening space battle, and two other sequences that are the primary things he has to work on. Roger is doing the drama, and George works with him from 2:30 until 6."

Barton and Burtt are also identifying the missing pieces of the puzzle. With so much of the movie yet to be developed as visual effects, there is much that is missing. The editors have the tools needed to temporarily fill in the gaps. Next to Burtt's AVID workstation is a microphone. Into this, he records placeholder dialogue for digital characters or principal actor dialogue that has been changed.

The two editors also have their disposal a tool called iViz. This computer graphics package allows the creation of quick-and-dirty low-resolution digital stand-ins to previsualize the characters that ILM will eventually create to populate the scene. "You load in your models, and you have a virtual camera you can actually move around. It helps George plan out a shot in real time," says McCallum.

In between his sessions with both editors, Lucas heads upstairs to the Animatics Department. In the film industry, animatics are generally regarded as a pre-production function, but the malleable nature of digital filmmaking has blurred the lines between pre and postproduction. Previsualization Supervisor Dan Gregoire's group of artists are designing the motion of entirely synthetic shots, plugging in low-resolution versions of digital elements into plate photography, and pre-planning live action sequences to be shot in later rounds of additional photography

There are entire sequences that were not shot during principal photography in Australia, but are instead reserved for shooting planned for next year. These rounds of production are also for "re-shoots," additions, inserts or modifications of sequences that add and/or replace what was shot this past summer.

"In March, we'll most probably go to London, since it'll be easier for scheduling. I'd like to able to isolate the Wookiee shoot, and do that in Australia at a later date, so that I don't have to bring everybody from Australia over to London," says McCallum.

"It's going really well," adds McCallum. "I'm really pleased. Hopefully, by Christmas we'll really see the film for the first time."

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