CGI Work Begins For 'Star Wars: Episode III'

Editors Roger Barton and Ben Burtt are busily piecing together the first cut of Star Wars: Episode III, says the official Star Wars website. Industrial Light & Magic artists are preparing the digital assets required for the estimated 2,000 visual effects shot to be delivered, and the teams are closely examining the previsualized sequences provided by the Animatics Department from Skywalker Ranch.

At this stage of postproduction, Director George Lucas meets weekly with Visual Effects Supervisor John Knoll and Animation Supervisor Rob Coleman, along with key members of their teams. Lucas approves or asks for changes on unpainted digital models (with an eye towards construction and proportions) and approves models that have undergone "viewpaint" and have their finished textures. In examining animatics -- the low-resolution computer-generated "templates" for the finished effects sequences -- Knoll and Coleman ask Lucas crucial questions about the composition and look of the finished shots before any of the concentrated work begins.

At this stage, the ILM team is currently a small fraction of what it will become. "Right now, we've got about 18 or 19 people," says Producer Rick McCallum."We've probably got 150 [digital] vehicles, objects, and model work done and painted," says McCallum. "George comes down to ILM every Thursday, and we spend a couple of hours going through all the models. We started our Matte Department; we've got three matte painters that are working on five set backgrounds."

These backgrounds are cykes -- digital cycloramas providing the expansive vistas that replace the bluescreen currently visible through most windows. These views include Palpatine's office, the Jedi Temple, Padmé's apartment and Padmé's verandah. New angles and changes in Coruscant's skyline necessitate new views of the returning locales. "We can get a lot of the matte paintings locked even though we haven't cut the sequence, since we know we're going to be in these places," says McCallum.

With a first cut of the film expected by January, it is only a matter of months before the ILM team swells from dozens to hundreds of artists and technicians.

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