[ continued from page 1 ]
While many of the shots in the climactic space battle over the Death Star involved new CGX-wing, Y-wing and TIE fighters, most of the backgrounds were recreated using original elements, which were among the most difficult pieces of film to find. "Part of my job was to be an investigator and solve the mystery of where the pieces had gone," Tanaka relates. "For example, in the shot of Darth Vader's ship flanked by two TIE fighters flying through a Death Star trench, George wanted us to make the villain's vessels larger and more dominant. We found the TIE fighter elements and Darth Vader's ship, but even after I found all of the other Death Star trench backgrounds for the space battle, I couldn't find that particular trench plate. Then I realized that on certain shots they had used the same take over and over againbut in different segments, to make viewers think it was a different background. Since the backgrounds were blurred, it sometimes drove us nuts, because we'd find ourselves saying, late at night 'There's a triangle going by, there's a square. Okay, if a circle follows that, then that's the right one!' A lot of times things worked in reverse, which just made things that much harder to piece together."
As he got deeper into the process, Tanaka found himself marveling at the ingenuity of Star War's original visual effects artists, who, pressed for time, had often made do with the backgrounds they had rather than reshooting new ones. "I had to think in terms of optical compositing as it was practiced 20 years ago, and what they had done was very impressive to me: a lot of times I'd find an element and say, 'My God, that would be the right element if only it moved in reverse and was flopped!' Then I'd realize that that's what they had done! It drove me a little nuts sometimes."
Tanaka and his team were scrupulous in their efforts to find original elements if they had to recomposite a shot. "I literally had nights where I spent hours on a Moviola tracing the pattern of a moving starfield onto a cel animation sheet," Tanaka recalls. "Then I loaded the Moviola with different starfield background elements until I found the right pattern that lined up with the shot."
One of the most difficult Star Wars puzzle pieces to locate was the original Jabba the Hutt sequence, during which he confronts Han Solo at the Millennium Falcon within the Mos Eisley spaceport. Dissatisfied, Lucas had cut the scene in his final 1977 edit and the original 35mm negative had been lost after being reduced to 16mm for the documentary From Star Wars to Jedi: The Making of a Saga. "We never did find the original negative, but the interpositive was finally discovered at the Ranch," Tanaka reports. "Since the interpositive was one step away from the negative, there was more grain, which meant we had to resort to different innovative ways to try to re-create that shot. Ultimately, we found ways to extract the grain."
That trial-by-fire sharpened the skills of ILM's restoration team in ways they had not expected, which became especially valuable when restoring the sequels. "On The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, we're scanning everything from the interpositives," Tanaka says."The work we did on the Jabba sequence enabled us to refine our digital techniques for diffusing grain buildup, which set the precedent for dealing with those later films."
However, the sequels presented fewer challenges in terms of finding old footage and selecting negative, because ILM had used a computer logging system during the latter part of production on Empire and during the entire making of Jedi: the material could simply be punched up on a workstation. Nevertheless, Tanaka and his team required sharp eyes and dogged determination to find the missing pieces of the Star Wars trilogy and complete the restoration to George Lucas' exacting specifications.
"Ultimately," jokes Tanaka, "the restoration team had to become as obsessive as Lucas himself. Star Wars came out when I was in elementary school, and all of the kids I knew used to brag that they'd 'seen it 50 times.' Well, here I am 20 years later, and now I could one up all of them by saying, 'Well, I've seen each element 50 times!"