Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the
by Larry Blake
Other films may have bigger
budgets, bigger stars. They may even have bigger opening weekends. But no
film series has gripped the imagination of moviegoers worldwide, decade
after decade, like George Lucas’s Star Wars, which accounts for four
of the 13 most popular films of all time.
While the latest installment would have the
attention of moviegoers were it shot on Super 16mm film, this summer’s
Star Wars: Episode II Attack of the Clones will forever be known
as the film, er, movie, that brought stem-to-stern digital cinema to the
public’s mind. It’s not the first film to be shot on high-definition tape,
not the first to feature totally digital characters, and not the first to be
exhibited widely in theaters digitally. Then again, neither was Star Wars
(1977) the first film mixed in Dolby Stereo or the first to use
motion-control photography. It only feels that way in our collective
Work started on Episode II while its
predecessor (Episode I: The Phantom Menace) was still in theaters
back in 1999, and it followed a similar schedule–long pre-production,
followed by a three-month shoot, followed by a 20-month post-production
schedule, which included planned reshoots. Back again with Lucas behind the
camera were producer Rick McCallum, composer John Williams, re-recording
mixer Gary Rydstrom and sound designer/picture editor Ben Burtt.
Although the previous four Star Wars
films have used soundstages in England as their home base, this time
McCallum and Lucas assembled their forces at the new Fox Studios Australia
Comments from Lucasfilm that Episode II
would be shot on high-definition video notwithstanding, there were
Panavision 35mm film cameras in Australia as backup. However, after much
testing, it was decided before the start of principal photography in June
2000 to shoot on 24p high-definition tape utilizing Sony/Panavision CineAlta
HDW-F900 cameras. And, indeed, not a frame of film was shot.
CineAlta cameras record in the 16x9 HDCAM
format (1,920x1,080), although the image was cropped to a 2.40:1 widescreen
ratio. The area above and below the 2.40 extraction area was available for
Lucas to reframe the picture as necessary in post-production.
During shooting, they would record two tapes
for each hi-def camera (and most of the time there were two), one in the
camera and one in a deck. Clones were made during lunch and at the end of
the day, resulting in triple redundancy. A Digital Betacam downconversion,
for the picture department to load into their Avid, was made at the same
time as the clone.
The disadvantage of filming high-definition,
or at least the way that it was implemented on Episode II, was the amount of
noise-producing equipment added to the set: plasma screen monitors, HDCAM
decks, hard drives, associated video testing gear, etc. Supervising sound
editor Matthew Wood says, "There was a constant drone. I brought [dialog
re-recording mixer] Michael Semanick in early to see how much of the noise
we could get rid of. Most of it we could, but sometimes we had to loop lines
because the noise was dynamic and broadband. As the 24p technology evolves,
I am sure it will become more like a broadcast HD setup, with the equipment
in trucks parked outside the set."
PRODUCTION SOUND FOR HI-DEF
Wood decided from the start that he wanted
to do the whole show in 24-bit, including the dialog and sound effects
units. (Episode I was mixed from 16-bit sources, except for the music.) This
raised many issues, based mainly on the fact that Avids do not support
24-bit audio and that they would be shooting at the 23.98 frames per second
rate. (The 23.98 rate allows for all of production and post-production to
occur on the same "timebase": A minute during shooting would be the same
length as a minute during sound editing or mixing to NTSC picture.) In
addition, Wood investigated file formats (Broadcast .WAV, .AIFF or Sound
Designer II), the handling of file metadata and how to import the data into
After testing various 24-bit nonlinear field
recorders, Wood decided on the Zaxcom Deva II, which was used in conjunction
with a Zaxcom Cameo digital mixer.
Production sound was recorded by Paul
"Salty" Brincat, best known to Mix readers for his work on The Thin Red
Line. In order to provide a level of comfort and backup, he actually used
two complete production systems–his old faithful Audio Developments 409
mixer feeding a Fostex PD-2 timecode DAT deck, plus the Zaxcom combination.
The rates on both decks were 44.1 kHz, while the Deva was recording 24-bit .BWF
files. The master clock for the film was provided by ILM, whose 29.97 fps
nondrop timecode was used to jam both recorders and the Denecke timecode
The 409 provided microphone powering and
preamplification, with post-fader direct outputs on all faders feeding the
eight inputs on Cameo. This enabled Brincat to separately bus and combine
microphones across the Deva’s four tracks. The 2-track mix from his 409 fed
the high-def video cameras and decks and the Fostex. The Deva would download
to the backup DVD-RAM during breaks, a process that Brincat says went
Brincat notes that the noises on the set,
including wind machines and mechanical devices, made it "a difficult film to
record sound on. George shooting wide and tight [simultaneously] makes it
almost impossible to use boom microphones. You can only do so much before
getting in the way of the picture."
His primary stage microphones were
Sennheiser MKH-50s and 60s, while on exteriors he used trusty Sennheiser
416s or 816s. Working with Brincat were his boom operator, Rod Conder, and
Ben Lindell, cable man.
The decision to record 44.1 kHz during
production allowed Wood to import the 24-bit Broadcast .WAV files from the
Deva’s DVD-RAM backup without any sample rate conversion. Brincat’s Cameo
mixer would encode disk name and scene/take numbers into the metadata, and
Gallery Software’s Sample Search enabled Wood to export the Broadcast .WAV
files from DVD-RAM to Sound Designer II files in Pro Tools, using the
metadata as file names.
Because picture assistants used the same
nomenclature for takes in the Avid, when Wood received EDLs from the picture
department, it was easy to link the 16-bit file digitized into the Avid from
the Digital Betacam downconversion and the 24-bit file in Pro Tools. Wood
and first assistant sound editor Coya Elliott created a Filemaker Pro
database to link the two. First they gearboxed the Avid files into Pro Tools
(from the 16/47.952 standard to 24/44.1), phased them, and then trimmed and
AudioSuite-duplicated the Deva files in Pro Tools so that they were the same
length. When the sound department would receive OMF compositions from the
picture department, Wood and Elliott used Gallery’s Session Browser to
re-link, using the Filemaker database. ADR recordings underwent the same
treatment, so that any editing by Burtt in the Avid could be traced back to
the 24-bit Pro Tools files.
Ben Burtt’s assistant picture editor Todd
Busch went back to Skywalker Ranch from Sydney in September 2000, while
production continued in Italy, Spain, England and Tunisia. Joining Busch on
the crew were Jett Sally, who had worked on Episode I, and Cheryl Nardi, who
had met Burtt on the Young Indiana Jones Chronicles. The Episode II Avid
Film Composers were in the Main House at Skywalker Ranch. They shared cuts
with the visual effects division, Industrial Light & Magic, by consolidating
media to removable drives, or via shared drives over the Ranch T3 network.
Outside of Burtt’s obvious contribution to
the Star Wars films via his sound effects, Busch notes that "it’s so
hard to imagine anyone else cutting picture. George and Ben have a unique
relationship. They’ve been at this for over 25 years. When they start
working on a scene, Ben references his huge library of movies to assemble
the various scenarios George comes up with. When I go back and look at Ben’s
first pass on the speeder chase or the platform fight or the arena battle,
it’s like getting a little lesson in film history." (Lucas first used this
technique 26 years ago when making what we now refer to as Episode IV,
cutting World War II dogfight footage for the big aerial battle over the
The first big screening of the film, with
the production track plus temp music and a few rough sound effects, was in
March 2001 and marked the turnover of picture to ILM in anticipation of
first reshoots in April. As cut reels were received, the ILM editors would
decompose the reels and then make an EDL for each track, which was then
imported into a FileMaker Pro database that produces a master list of all
necessary plates. ILM would then digitize the shots, with eight-frame
handles, from the master HDCAM tapes. (In the process, according to
Lucasfilm technical director Mike Blanchard, they were going from the 8-bit
YUV HDCAM color space to the RGB 10-bit color space preferred by ILM.) These
resulting files took up approximately 7.9 megabytes/frame on the ILM server.
Every sequence in the movie was given a three-character letter code (which
has been standard on all Star Wars films), and each shot in a
sequence was assigned a three-digit number. ILM added a five-digit "PTS"
(Production Tracking System) number that was unique to every shot in the
There was one area where the new technology
had little effect: picture changes. Burtt says that there were just as many
changes as in the past: "George has never limited himself to saying ‘the
picture’s locked.’ We had to lock the picture weeks earlier in order to have
the worldwide release in every language. The time it takes to finally put it
on film is a tedious process. [See "Getting the Image to Theaters," p. 88.]
The fact that it was shot digitally affected primarily the production and
exhibition process, but not editing."
The first four reels were locked by
Christmas 2001; Burtt says that recutting of them was only done for
technical considerations–"a shot might not have looked good, or a special
effect wasn’t working well." Indeed, every shot in Episode II is a special
effects shot, in that some amount of compositing or repositioning was done
to the original production footage.
Burtt started work in early 2000, and when
he finished in mid-April 2002, he had been on the film for 26 months. In
addition to picture editing and sound design, he also had his hands full
directing second-unit photography. As early as the previsualization in early
2000, shooting and putting sequences together on videotape, Burtt was
"always thinking of sound. There was a period of about a few weeks prior to
going to Sydney when I put together a library that I wanted to use. I went
there with a few CDs of sounds, and even back then there were a few scenes
that I cut back in Sydney to which I added music and sound effects. Being a
Star Wars film, it was best to evaluate it as a movie. Sound was
never out of the picture."
Eventually, Burtt turned his attention
full-time to creating the sound, though he admits that he did less sound
editing personally than on previous movies, giving more latitude to his
editors on the spotting of scenes. "In the past, I might have really
specified to the editors each laser hit and each explosion; here, I tended
to work more on giving them menus to choose what they liked from this set of
materials. They would then go through the library and make choices that they
would audition for me."
Throughout his 27-year involvement with the
Star Wars films, Burtt has been depicted to the public recording
sound effects, from striking high-tension wires in the mid-‘70s to moving an
electric razor in a bowl for Episode I on the TV show 60 Minutes. He
says that "those examples are harder to come by on this film because I
didn’t record or create as many things that were relatively simple examples
of what you can do at home in your kitchen! Much of what I made was
complicated composites on the [Symbolic Sound] Kyma and on the [SampleCell]
keyboard–techno-based rather than the old tabletop of sound effects
devices." (See "Ben Burtt on Sound Design," below.)
Having said this, Burtt does note that much
of the Zam speeders, in the reel 1 chase in nighttime Coruscant, were made
from musical instruments, including electric guitars, cellos and violas. The
infamous electric razor was also brought into play to vibrate viola, harp
and bass strings. "I was thinking that it was traveling magnetically, it was
being pulled along the streets with changing magnetic fields rather than by
Because Burtt was in the "danger zone" of
making tonal sound effects for the speeders, he had to be careful of the
interplay with John Williams’ music. "I originally did a temp version of
that mix, using nothing but musical sounds for the speeders. My thought was
that the music score would be percussion-based, along with tones for the
ships. I temped it that way, but John Williams didn’t quite do that, and his
heavy orchestral piece necessitated rethinking the tonal aspects of the
vehicles. In some cases, the musical tones that I made conflicted with the
orchestra. Which was a disappointment for me, because I wasn’t able to push
it into a new area. My reasoning was that we’ve done an awful lot of
high-energy chase scenes, and I wanted this to be offbeat and strange. But
it didn’t really happen."
During this project, Burtt went back to
original Star Wars library and redigitized some of it yet again, this
time at 24-bit resolution. Although Skywalker Sound has upgraded the
facility to a shared FibreChannel system in which sounds are pulled from a
centralized server both in edit rooms and on mix stages, Wood and Burtt
organized Episode II editorial around "sneakernet" local drives, primarily
for security purposes.
In December, re-recording mixer Semanick
took a look at the initial dialog tracks on a mix stage at Skywalker with
Matthew Wood and Lucas, in order to help them prepare for ADR recording.
Semanick wanted to be sure to get everything that they might possibly need,
just to be safe. "My philosophy is, ‘You can always throw it out,’ and
George would say, ‘If you’re going to throw it out, I don’t want to do it.’
But you don’t know that until you get into it. The dialog tracks haven’t
been built yet. Maybe the backgrounds or the music will mask the noise. In
this day and age, it’s better to be safe." Semanick estimates that about 45%
of the dialog in Episode II is from production, perhaps an all-time high for
the Star War series.
When it came time to start his dialog
predubs in early February, Semanick was able to put Rydstrom’s background
predub in the monitor as a guide to how far to go with processing.
Once a reel was premixed, Semanick made a
separate pass for dialog reverb, and he would pick and choose among Lexicon
480, TC 6000 and even worldizing courtesy of speakers and mics in the
basement of the Tech Building and outside on the grounds. Semanick took note
of the programs and settings that he used to aid his fellow mixers in the
foreign-language mixes (see "Day-Date Worldwide Release," below). Notes were
also kept for pitch changing, although that would be more
language-dependent. While acknowledging that he could be "giving away
secrets," Semanick says that in the long run, "there aren’t any. You just do
to taste what you think sounds great. People’s tastes are different, and if
George likes it, and Ben and I like it, then it’s good. If everyone hates
it, it’s bad!"
All told, he spent approximately 15 days on
the dialog, recorded as five 8-tracks: one for production dialog, one for
ADR, one for creatures, one for loop group and another (split as separate
5-channel and 3-channel [LCR] groups) for the reverb returns to allow for
flexibility during finals.
Rydstrom split his sound effects among ten
8-channel premixes, plus two Foley premixes. While the first seven channels
followed his normal layout for Dolby Surround EX mixes (L/C/R/LFE/LS/CS/RS),
the eighth channel was a recent development that Rydstrom made with
Skywalker engineer Jerry Steckling. Steckling designed a matrix to pick off
frequencies sent to the three surround channels below a certain point and
record them on a separate boom channel during premixing. Rydstrom says: "By
keeping the low frequencies from hitting the surrounds, this made for a
cleaner surround track. We could regain some of the low end [that would be
lost with small surround speakers]. The big benefit is that it keeps
surrounds from overloading, from reproducing information that they can’t
handle. For a film like Star Wars with a lot of spaceship-bys, it’s
good to have something doing that automatically for you." During final
mixing, Rydstrom folded the eighth track into the LFE track as necessary.
This surround/sub band-splitting is, of course, similar to the way DTS
splits the surround (and was indeed used as far back as 1980 for select
engagements of Altered States).
ILM composed a high-definition version of
the film off of their server to give Mix A at the Ranch the best of both
worlds: nonlinear playback but at highest resolution. The conformed picture
was output from the data files to Sony HDCAM tape, which was then
transferred at the Technical Building on the Ranch to the Avica MotionStore.
The HD image was only available for reels 1 through 5 during the mix,
because reels 6 and 7 were undergoing so many changes.
The only downside to the HD projection that
Rydstrom could come up with was that it was like mixing to a beautiful
answer print the whole time. "You never had the step in going from an ugly
picture to a beautiful picture, where you say, ‘This sounds great!’ It was
wonderful for lip sync, to see all that detail."
The final mix of Episode II started on March
4, at which point Rydstrom and Semanick were joined at the Neve DFC by
veteran L.A.-based re-recording mixer Rick Kline, who would be handling the
music. This schedule was in contrast to so many movies these days, where
final mixing and premixing overlap, and multiple stages are working
simultaneously at the last minute. "They schedule enough time so we don’t
have to do that," says Semanick. "George locked the picture early enough so
that we’re not beating our heads against the wall trying to finish it up at
the last second, which I think is pretty smart if you can plan it."
Lucas was not able to be there for the
predubs and began each reel at the final mix (after a play-through with
faders at zero) by soloing the dialog. He would then make ADR and reverb
selects, often asking for more worldizing. "Although there are great
programs available for both the 480 and the TC ,
sometimes worldizing is more noisy and raw. A little grit never hurts," says
Lucas would then have Kline solo the music
and would pick through it, commenting on transitions and places to drop or
change cues. Effects did not, as a rule, undergo this "solo microscope,"
presumably because Lucas had heard effects throughout the picture editorial
and temp dub process.
Excepting one playback of the first four
reels, the first screening that Lucas and the crew had of the whole movie
was only days before the end of the final mix on Saturday, April 13. This
and another screening that week for friends produced 12 pages of notes from
Lucas that were addressed over the last days of the mix.
Many of these notes revolved around dialog
intelligibility issues. Lucas had asked those attending the second screening
to let him know if any dialog wasn’t clear. Semanick, being the dialog
mixer, remembers with glee Lucas’ mantra during the final mix: "Everything
is subservient to dialog."
Music was recorded by Shawn Murphy at Abbey
Road Studio One in London, the site of the Episode I recordings three years
earlier. With 14 sessions from January 18-26, Murphy recorded to two 2-inch
Dolby SR-encoded 24-tracks. The mix was done simultaneously to Pro Tools via
a 2-inch 16-track, including a 5.1 main orchestra and 3-track (LCR) groups
of synth, percussion and choir. Kline says that the music was
"wall-to-wall-to-wall," absent for only a few minutes and playing "full
tilt" for most of the time.
As to the challenge of weaving all of this
music around dialog and effects for 142 minutes, Kline says that his work
was made easy not only because of the composing of John Williams, the
masterful editing of his longtime associate Ken Wannberg, and the excellent
recording by Shawn Murphy, but also because of Rydstrom’s deft handling of
sound effects. "Gary is such an incredible mixer. He has a real sense of the
music and is very tuned-in. He’s forever creating space to allow textures of
the music to come through. It was such a treat to work with his and
Michael’s talents. I think it came out to be a very good blend [of dialog,
music and sound effects]."
Williams had composed the film to the edit
as of last December, and as a result extensive editing was required to
conform the tracks for the final mix. The smallest number of fade files in
Wannberg’s Pro Tools sessions for a reel was 7,000; most reels had from
12,000 to 14,000. Kline remembers assistant music editor Steve Galloway
asking him for some heads-up to reel changes, since sessions sometimes took
20 minutes to open!
AND THEN THERE'S REEL 6
Rydstrom says that Episode II was organized
so well in post-production that, by the time they got into final mixing in
March, most reels were "almost 100 percent complete and never changed." The
one exception was reel 6, which was 1,812 feet and 6 frames full of some of
the most intense and busy action sequences ever put on the screen. Reel 6 is
traditionally the big action reel in the Star Wars series, but
Rydstrom says that this one was so big "it was as if you had taken the
previous four Star Wars movies and projected them on top of each
other. I would be crawling through the film frame-by-frame and asking,
‘Which laser did you mean this one for, Terry, the 15th on the left of this
Todd Busch remembers that reel 6 didn’t
exist in anything resembling its current form before last July. "The
original script was vague about what occurs outside the arena. In May and
June , George put the art department to work, and in July the Clone
War got fleshed out with animatics."
Although the monster fight in the arena was
originally scored, music was dropped at the final, which meant Burtt had to
rethink a three-minute sequence because they had premixed it "in context,"
against the music. "Music had been end-to-end in the reel, but we thought
that it wore the audience out too quickly," says Burtt. "So we dropped a
couple of cues, which in the end was better dramatically, although I had to
come up with a whole different approach to the cutting. Rather than a
supporting role, it was the only thing happening. It was quite satisfying
because it was a fun challenge to see how quickly I could come up with a
couple of new concepts."
In spite of the obvious opportunities to be
loud, Lucas and his sound crew have kept Episode II mercifully free of
uncomfortably loud moments. Semanick says that, even though in the old days,
70mm 6-track mag prints could be very loud, "When digital sound first came
out, when everyone first got the chance to use it, it was like going
trick-or-treating on Halloween for the first time. You ate all the candy. It
was good the first time, but you got a stomach ache. As you got older, you
saved some for later. It isn’t so good to be loud from beginning to end. You
have to build in dynamics, like a symphony. It’s been a learning process for
Kline says, "Michael and Gary were both very
sensitive to loudness. I really appreciated that they were not out to kill
the audience. They were very aware that something doesn’t necessarily have
to be loud to be effective." During the printmastering all stems were as a
rule played straight across, although during the reel 6 battle Semanick did
pull the stems a little bit.
Most of us mere mortals first associated the
words "digital" and "filmmaking" when we heard Francis Coppola’s predictions
during the 1978 Oscar ceremony. We had only a vague idea of what he was
talking about, but it sure sounded good.
When he finished work on Epsiode VI in 1983,
George Lucas said that he wouldn’t be doing another Star Wars movie
until digital technology had matured. Visual effects at that point were
completely dependent on elaborate film opticals that were extraordinarily
expensive and cumbersome. Use of digital sound in film sound editing and
re-recording, except for processing and sampling, was not really on the
Ten years later, as he was helping his
friend Steven Spielberg finish Jurassic Park, he realized that
digital effects were able to blend seamlessly with humans. The time had
With Episode II, nine years later, picture
and sound exist entirely on hard drives, and the imaginations of the sound
and visual artists under Lucas’ command know very little boundaries.
Undoubtedly this will expand in the next three years as Lucas closes the
door on the world of Star Wars, as he promises he will in 2005. While
he’s been true to his word in the past, we can only hope that he’ll renege
this time, and that he’ll come back fresh, in 2015, with another decade of
innovations behind him.
BEN BURTT ON SOUND DESIGN FOR EPISODE II
"I call Matt Wood the 'digital architect,'
and he only reluctantly takes on that term privately. I rely on him to keep
me up with the technological present or future. [When we were starting work
on Episode II], we were unable to get the support from the [New England
Digital] Synclavier that we wanted, and the files did not interface
comfortably with the rest of our system. Matt wanted me to get off of it and
"update myself" to Sample Cell. I could essentially do the same things I did
with the Synclavier, but simpler. This was especially true for taking sounds
from Pro Tools into Sample Cell and then back into the Pro Tools session. We
used to have to digitize them into the NED format, and if I made a sequence
or made loops, we had to use S-Link to translate over and batch-digitize.
"The Synclavier was a performance-based
instrument–I would put samples on the keys and then play with it. Coming
from an older sound design and technical school, I don’t like to think out
ahead of time that I want a sound to have this amount of delay, in that kind
of an echo chamber. I just want to touch something, hear it, and react. A
large part of the sound design job is making the right choice of a sound,
and not really your technical knowledge. I like accidents and spontaneity,
and I pick takes out of my performances that often lead to new ideas that I
wouldn’t have been able to objectively reason out ahead of time. It’s a very
subjective process for me.
"I may have a sound I recorded that I need
to digitize from an original DAT.
I may want to make samples out of pieces of it and play with it. Try it on
the keyboard in different pitches, chop it up with the modulator on the
keyboard and listen to it. Try it with different plug-in settings that I’ve
made in Pro Tools. I don’t want to stop and think about how I’m
going to do it–I just want to be able to synthesize with it as spontaneously
as I can. To me, that’s the most direct and satisfying creative process. Out
of those experiments or performances, I can select what’s good.
"Often, I’ll start out in the morning
intending to make the sound of a certain vehicle pass-by in the film. As I
experiment, I’ll come up with different sounds that I realize will work for
something completely different–a door that I need in reel 11, say.
"From a strict library standpoint, I entered
about 600 sounds in the library for this film. At the end of the film I make
sure that everything that I’ve made, even outtakes, is given a name and
label, so on the next Star Wars film I can access a database of
everything that was done. That’s where I’ll pick up and start on the next
GETTING THE IMAGE TO THEATERS
Standard film printing procedure starts with
the edited original camera negative, from which a handful of interpositives
are made. These IPs are then used to produce multiple internegatives to make
the thousands of release prints needed to cover worldwide release. Although
it would have been much easier for Lucasfilm to film out, from data, one IP
that would be the master from which INs and release prints would be made,
Lucasfilm decided to go an extra step and film out six "original negatives"
from data for the U.S. print order.
Because of the long time it takes to film
out a 2,000-foot reel (60 hours on ILM’s ArriLaser Recorders), work started
on this as soon as reels were locked in mid-February. A seventh negative was
used as a source for interpositives, from which the international
internegatives would be made, putting in subtitles as necessary. ILM also
made 22 versions of the signature Star Wars title scroll.
Lucasfilm technical director Mike Blanchard
says, "Almost all of the resolution that’s lost is through the printing
process. It’s really funny about technology and the film business right now.
People get caught up in these numbers games that are flat-out ridiculous.
They say, ‘Film is 4k,’ but it’s not 4k. It’s 4k on the camera negative, but
no one has ever seen a camera negative projected. Countless studies have
shown that what is shown in U.S. theaters [via the interpositive/internegative
photochemical printing process] is between 700 and 800 lines of resolution
when you get to the release print. We get that easily.
"And with digital picture [on a server], we
have random access, we can go slow or frame-by-frame–the picture looks so
much better than film. It’s made it hard for us to [color] time the film
portion because you never get neutral prints, it’s either a point green or a
point dark, and is totally up to the alchemy of the photochemical process.
"For George, it’s always been about what
people would see. You can shoot with a film camera or a digital
camera–that’s just another choice that is out there for people–but you can’t
argue about the digital projection part. People would be getting a better
experience at the end of the day. We didn’t have to film out each reel as a
negative–it wreaks havoc on our schedule, and we have to work a little bit
harder–but since we can’t get digital projection in every theater, this is
something that we can do to make our prints just a little bit better."
Blanchard notes how smoothly the digital
timing of the film was at ILM, which took place in Theater C, with Natasha
Leonnet at the controls of the Pandora Pogle. "George would say, ‘That face
is a little red.’ Natasha would pull up the matte, take a bit of the red out
and say, ‘Do you like this better?’ and we’d move onto the next shot. You
could time the film in the course of five days, easily. But doing the film
side has been a really nasty process for all of us. We see how George wants
the movie to look, and it would look that way in every theater if we were
Busch says that assistant editor Jett Sally
would go through a downconversion (to an Avid 14:1 Meridian file) of every
frame after final color timing, as a final check; ILM did the same on the
full-resolution DPX files. This check was invaluable, and some small
mistakes were caught. "You no longer have a negative cutter to rely on,"
Busch says. "The final version of the movie is coming out of the cutting
room I don’t know how these new procedures will shake out in the end."
DAY-DATE WORLDWIDE RELEASE
Publicity, piracy and cash flow have all
factored into the recent trend of releasing films overseas on the same date
as the U.S./Canada premiere. Lucasfilm planned to release Episode II
simultaneously in 15 dubbing territories on May 16, with another three to
follow soon after. In addition to the standard FIGS (French, Italian, German
and Castillian Spanish), Episode II was dubbed in French Canadian, Latin
Spanish, Catalan Spanish, Thai, Cantonese, Hindi, Hungarian, Russian, Czech,
Slovak, Polish, Turkish, Japanese and Portuguese (for Brazil; Portugal is
subtitled). Worldwide release will entail going into another 30 countries
with either a combination of English-track-only or subtitled prints.
This "day-date" worldwide release requires a
great degree of coordination during post-production to get foreign-language
dubbed versions translated, adapted, cast, recorded and mixed. Having locked
reels starting in January, Episode II post-production supervisor Jamie
Forester was able to have Masterwords in Santa Monica create the dialog
list, which is the transcription of the original dialog, with definitions to
clarify idiomatic expressions–many unique to the world of Star Wars.
These were then passed on to the individual territories for the translations
and adaptation process, where words are tweaked to fit mouth movements more
Dubbing (this term is used overseas for
voice recording only, and not as a synonym for mixing) began in March.
Initial tweaking of sync was done by sound editors in each territory, to
take advantage of their "native tongue" ears. Consultants followed their
version from voice recording to the mix at Skywalker Ranch, because "you
might get into a case where you want to edit for lip sync, but you don’t
know where you can cut into a word because it might change the meaning,"
The M&E mix was done during the last days of
the final mix, April 11-13, as reels were being finished. Gary Rizzo of
Skywalker worked closely with Dennis Ricotta of Twentieth Century Fox in
creating the M&E and the crucial optional track that allows for selective
material, such as vocal grunts, to be used (or not), depending on the
On Monday, April 15, mixing began at
Skywalker Ranch on the four principal–Parisian French, Castillian Spanish,
German, and Italian–foreign-language versions of Episode II. In order to
finish all 18 dubbed versions by May 2, five stages at the Ranch were
running simultaneously. The schedule allowed for three days of a dialog
premix, plus one day of printmastering. On the fourth night, the Dolby MO
discs were played back and verified before being sent to L.A. for optical
transfer. Optical negatives for the foreign-language versions were made at
NT Audio in Santa Monica, while all the English-language negatives were shot
at Walt Disney Studios in Burbank.
Digital cinema dubbed versions were expected
to be shown in FIGS and Japan. There are six subtitled digital versions in
addition to FIGS.
In addition to re-recording mixer Michael
Semanick’s extensive notes on processing of voices, the foreign mixes were
also aided by standardization in the track layout. Character track placement
in the Pro Tools sessions was redone at the Ranch to ensure that Anakin
would always appear on track 1, Padmé on 2, etc. This would allow the
mixers, who would be doing up to three versions each, to re-use console
automation such as sends levels. The five mixers of the foreign-language
versions were Tom Myers, Gary Rizzo, Lora Hirschberg, Jurgen Scharpf and
DIGITAL CINEMA RELEASE
About a month after its U.S. premiere in May
1999, Episode I was exhibited digitally in a handful of theaters in Los
Angeles and New York. It had been shot on film, scanned in as digital 2k
files, and then filmed out on a shot-by-shot basis, with the negative cut in
the standard fashion. This procedure required a telecine of a timed
interpositive (as is standard for home video release) to high-definition
videotape prior to compressing the image onto the hard drives in the
theaters. The digital path from camera to theater was more direct, of
course, on Episode II, with much of the work handled in-house at ILM.
Mike Blanchard, Lucasfilm technical
director, says, "Because we were in this other domain, and there was no HD
editing up here, if we wanted to conform the picture, we had to find a way
to do it. ILM’s video engineering group, under the direction of Fred Meyers,
built a conform system that would use the Avid EDLs as a guide to take the
files off the server in editorial order." This would be necessary to create
all masters, be they 35mm anamorphic negatives for release printing, or
source elements for digital cinema compression. (The reduction for the
142-minute Episode II is from approximately 1.6 terabytes of digital files
on ILM’s server to 60 gigs on the digital cinema server.)
As of press time, Lucasfilm hopes to get as
many as 115 digital theaters worldwide for the release of Episode II, with
70 theaters in North America, 26 in Europe and 12 in Asia (mostly Japan).
All of the major digital cinema servers are represented: EVS (used
exclusively in Europe), Q-Bit, Qualcomm (via Technicolor Digital Cinema),
and Boeing Digital Cinema, which primarily uses Avica servers. This was
Avica’s third "appearance" in Episode II, the first two being on the set, as
still-store frame reference, and at Skywalker Sound for HD playback.
Many of the Boeing installations are
delivered via an encrypted satellite link to theaters, where an Avica server
stores and embeds the audio as part of the MPEG-2 standard, as opposed to
the two separate sets of files used by other servers. (The MPEG encoding is
similar to HDTV, but at a much higher bit rate.) Because of this, many of
the Boeing installations will have Dolby AC-3 encoded 5.1 Surround EX mixes
(at the DVD rate of 448 kbits/sec), as opposed to the 24-bit/48 kHz linear
digital audio that has been standard. Blanchard notes that this will
undoubtedly change in the future, "as soon as the remaining coding issues
In all instances, worldwide, the projectors are the Texas Instruments DLP
format, manufactured either by Barco, Christie or Digital Projection.
MIX Magazine. June 2002.
Larry Blake is a sound
editor/re-recording mixer who lives in New Orleans. He is currently working
on Solaris, which will be his first opportunity to put sound where
there is none–in space.