Because there are no set standards for digital cinema, did the Episode II digital film file have to be tailored to each of the digital-projection systems currently in use? How do the differences among the servers affect the image quality?
Lucas: I haven't really checked out the various digital theaters yet, but I've seen the film digitally projected on several different systems and they're comparable. You'd have to run back and forth to actually see whether there's a difference, and if there is, it would be very highly technical. But whenever you have different projectors, you're going to have differences. You have that with film you go to one theater to see a film and it's fine, and you go to another theater and the footcandles are way down, [the image is] fuzzy and the left corner of the frame is completely out of focus. That just has to do with that particular projector and that particular theater, and you're going to have that with digital projection, too.
I don't know whether anyone has actually done any studies [comparing the various digital servers]. The important thing is that they're all compatible in terms of us doing our transfers and sending the files. You have to make several different kinds of transfers for different media, anyway, whether they're sending by satellite, disc or cable. I don't think we made many adjustments to the various versions of Episode II that we did for the various systems.
Is it true that you recently assembled a forum to explore the state of the digital art with a number of directors?
Lucas: Yes. Because there are so few of us working in the theatrical digital medium, about a half-dozen, we decided we should all come together to talk about our experiences and share information. It was a two-day conference, and there was a lot of discussion, mostly from the point of view of the director. This was before Attack of the Clones was released. I showed that movie, Robert Rodriguez showed part of Spy Kids 2, Francis Coppola showed part of the film that he's shooting, Jim Cameron showed his 3-D underwater movie, and Michael Mann showed a little bit of Ali because parts of it had been shot [with digital cameras]. Pixar showed some [footage] digitally and on film [to demonstrate] what happens to [images] after about three weeks of being on film; you could really tell the difference between the film version and the digital version.
We invited a bunch of directors, including Ron Howard, Bob Zemeckis, Steven Spielberg, Marty Scorsese and Oliver Stone. There were a lot of skeptics, and Marty, Steven and Oliver asked very hard questions. But when you get the answers, you say, Oh, it's not the big boogeyman that everybody says it is.'
James Cameron recently told the Hollywood Reporter that you showed him tests that led him to believe the Sony HD 900 series cameras are generating an image that's about equivalent to a 65mm original negative.' How can you acquire more information on HD tape than on 35mm film, given that no one else shooting HD is able to capture that much information?
Lucas: We don't have a bias. For the short time being, the test is really Attack of the Clones. You [watch it] digitally projected and say either, It looks like s**t' or It looks great.' If that isn't enough, then wait till Spy Kids 2 comes out. In the end, cinematography is not about technology; it's about art, it's about taste, it's about understanding your craft, it's about lighting and composition, and anyone who gets off on technological things is missing the point. I care about good lighting and good composition. I'm not interested in an engineer who knows a lot about the technology; you get into these kind of arcane discussions about black curves' and things that no audience is ever going to see.
All of us [working in digital] are using different styles of photography, different kinds of conditions and different kinds of lighting. Coppola has just shot some unbelievably gorgeous material, wide shots of cities with incredible detail at magic hour and all kinds of available-light material, whereas Rodriguez has lit his to be very bombastic color, really exuberant and wild. So it doesn't have to do with the technology, it has to do with the eyes of the filmmakers working in the medium and what they want to do with it.
What happens after Episode III?
Lucas: I'm going to do other types of projects, things that I've wanted to do for a long time, definitely a very different kind of filmmaking than what I've been engaged in for the last few years. I'm just somebody who's trying to tell stories, and in order to tell the kinds of stories I've wanted to tell I've had to push the medium. But all the directors and cameramen I know push the medium. They're always trying new things, trying to get a different look or push something a little further by using a new trick or a new technology. That's the nature of the business. Everybody does it, but I get more attention for it.