[ continued from page 3 ]

As for the Falcon's CG architecture, the model of the complex pirate vessel required a whopping 185,000 polygons. "That was the most complex model I used in my work," Knoll reveals. "It was an immense job, because all of those little angles had to be built, along with all of the model kit detail that's bashed along the sides, in geometry." The CG model was texture-mapped using detail photographs Knoll took of the original Millennium Falcon miniature. "I stood the model up on end and got as far back as I could with a 10mm lens," Knoll states. "I shot it from all angles and did close-ups, with flat bounce light coming in on all sides so it was shadowless. I also took a bunch of detail shots to help us as we were building the models."

Knoll used this same approach to shoot textures for the Imperial TIE fighters and the Rebel Alliance's X-wings and Y-wings (which he also modeled) in the climactic Battle of Yavin. (Knoll's Y-wing actually incorporated about 40 percent of the CG model built in Lucasfilm's games division.) Despite the absence of any new model photography, Knoll was relatively confident that he could fashion his CG models to be easily intercut with the original miniatures from Star Wars; after all, he had practiced such simple photographic tricks as scanning in original model textures on Star Trek: Generations.

Still, redoing Star Wars' final space battle often brought the original film's analog techniques into conflict with current CG technology. For example, the miniatures looked much different in reality than on celluloid. "It's amazing how much color distortion there was from the original optical bluescreen composite process," Knoll observes. "Everything that came out of the render closely matched the look of the actual models, but not how they appeared in the final composite. In 1977, after photographing the ships against bluescreen, ILM made black-and-white color separations of the red, green and blue information. They then used the blue record to make the matte, and more or less threw it away. After recombining the separations, they replaced the blue separation with a mixture of the green and blue separations; otherwise, a blue fringe would appear around the spaceships. I wrote a little plug-in for our compositing program that simulated that optical color distortion by replacing each spaceship's blue channel with a 70-30 mix of the green and blue channels."

Before animating any of the spaceships dueling over the Death Star, Knoll consulted with Dennis Muren and studied the original film to determine exactly how the X-wing maneuvered, and whether TIE fighters skidded as they turn corners. Although most of Knoll's 27 new space-battle shots were done almost entirely via CG, scrupulous adherence to the original length of each shot enabled them to be cut into the sequence.

One of the more extensive changes involved melding two shots that formed a prelude to the Rebels' attack on the death Star. In the original film, after several X-wings roared overhead toward the metallic planet, a reverse angle reveals the entire armada approaching the camera. "The replacement shot, at the start, is composed almost exactly like the second cut, and it ends up being composed almost exactly like the first cut," Knoll says. "Now, the shot starts on the expanded armada, and then follows an X-wing around to see where the fleet is headed. The only aspect that's actually from the original film is the fourth moon of Yavin in the background, which is Ralph McQuarrie's original matte painting."

While the marriage of those two shots into a single pan is one of the Special Edition's greatest stylistic departures from the original film, the new shot is exactly as long as the original shots combined. "We never get that close to an X-wing anywhere in the movie, and most of the shots involved much simpler pans and tilts," Knoll says. "By my reckoning, that one shot is the least successful at blending in with the rest of the footage, because it's so different. But it was worth taking that jump."

Knoll says the new effects for the Special Edition helped clarify the storytelling during a later sequence in which an X-wing picks up a TIE fighter on his tail, and then tries to outmaneuver the enemy craft. "The shots from the original film are very static," Knoll submits. "The TIE fighter is directly behind the X-wing, and they are slowly rolling in sync, which doesn't really capture what's happening in the dialogue. The X-wing pilot exclaims, "He's on me tight, I can't shake him!" So I replaced that whole series of shots—four or five of them in a row—with a lot more swerving and maneuvering and real tight turns. The new shots make it clear that the TIE fighter doesn't have a good shot yet. That's probably the best case of how the redo helps to tell the story in a better manner. The original shots didn't really make that point. Now, it's a much more exciting moment in the film."

There has been speculation that Lucas' real agenda on the Star Wars Special Edition trilogy—beyond boosting the excitement quotient—is to test new production techniques that might benefit the upcoming trilogy of prequels. As a result, the effects artists are well aware that there is a high level of expectation for the Star Wars touch-up. Notes Knoll, "Probably more than half the reason for doing this in the first place was to have a trial run for what's coming up. If you look at the kinds of things George had us working on, they were experiments involving questions such as 'What's it going to be like doing a shot with this many extras in it?', 'What does a typical space battle shot cost?' and 'What does it cost to take a live-action scene and put two big CG creatures in the background?' They've been very carefully tracking the actual production costs of doing that work, and I think it's so they can accurately budget the next series of Star Wars pictures."

Meanwhile, Lucas is banking on his legions of Star Wars devotees to gorego the 1977 original in favor of the Special Edition, which he insists is the film he always intended to make. When Lucas is asked which version he hopes audiences will be watching 20 years from now, his candid reply is a bit Orwellian: "There will only be one. And it won't be what I would call the 'rough cut,' it'll be the 'final cut.' The other one will be some sort of interesting artifact that people will look at and say, 'There was an earlier draft of this.' The same thing happens with plays and earlier drafts of books. In essence, films never get finished, they get abandoned. At some point, you're dragged off the picture kicking and screaming while somebody says, 'Okay, it's done.' That isn't really the way it should work.

"Occasionally, [you can] go back and get your cut of the video out there, which I did on both American Graffiti and THX-1135; that's the place where it will live forever. So what ends up being important in my mind is what the DVD version is going to look like, because that's what everybody is going to remember. The other versions will disappear. Even the 35 million tapes of Star Wars out there won't last more than 30 or 40 years. A hundred years from now, the only version of the movie that anyone will remember will be the DVD version [of the Special Edition], and you'll be able to project it on a 20' by 40' screen with perfect quality. I think it's the director's prerogative, not the studio's to go back and reinvent a movie."