Lucasfilm to Shoot Star Wars: Episode II on
High Definition Sony HDW-F900 Camcorder and Panavision Lenses Will Be Used to Capture
the Action of the Upcoming Star Wars Movie
George Lucas has formally announced that he will
shoot the next episode of Star Wars: Episode II using digital 24 frame progressive high
definition in place of film for most of the movie's live action scenes following four
months of systematic testing by Lucasfilm Ltd. and Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), a
division of Lucas Digital Ltd.
Using a prototype digital acquisition system
consisting of a Panavision modified Sony HDW-F900 integrated camera recorder, a series of
carefully prescribed tests were initiated by teams from ILM and Lucasfilm working in
conjunction with Sony and Panavision. These tests, which include image performance and
system functionality culminated in comparative shoots with motion picture film, convinced
George Lucas and producer, Rick McCallum of the benefits of shooting in digital 24P at
1920 x 1080 HD sampling.
""The tests have convinced me that the
familiar look and feel of motion picture film are fully present in this digital 24P
system, and that the picture quality between the two is indistinguishable on the large
screen,'' said Lucas.
""It's an exciting step that we are
taking, and working with Sony and Panavision, we plan to further advance this system over
the coming years,'' continued Lucas. ""Star Wars: Episode II is our first giant
The prototype digital cinematography system consists
of a Panavision modified HDW-F900 with a new Panavision viewing system and other
modifications, one of which enables the use of Panavision's extensive range of film style
In order to meet the image quality required by
Lucasfilm, Panavision has also developed a brand new series of Primo Digital(TM) lenses.
The ultra high speed F1.5 lenses have been custom designed to maximize the performance of
the HDW-F900, enabling the image performance that helped convince Lucas and McCallum.
In November 1999, Sony delivered the Phase I
prototype camcorder to Panavision, which physically converted the camcorders to accept its
newly developed cinematography lenses and associated accessories.
Following preliminary system testing at Panavision,
the ILM/Lucasfilm tests were initiated in January 2000 and continued through February and
early March. These tests included separate optical, digital camera, and digital recording
tests ultimately leading to integrated system operational testing. The latter encompassed
subsequent computer processing of the digitally captured images.
""These tests included a series of
comparative shoots in which they shot a variety of scenes in parallel with motion picture
film, including interior and exterior scenes, close-up and wide-angle takes, and a series
of complex blue-screen composite shots,'' said Larry Thorpe, vice president of acquisition
systems for Sony Electronics' Broadcast and Professional Company.
""They made sure to compose all scenes for
a final 2.40:1 aspect ratio, which also involved extraction of this widescreen format from
the 16:9 digital capture. They used large format VistaVision film for the reference film
origination,'' continued Thorpe.
The tests also explored different technologies for
the transfer of digital to motion picture film. The proprietary ILM transfer system, the
EBR system of Sony, and the laser recorder system of E-Films of Los Angeles were used to
transfer the digital material to 35mm film. The VistaVision film originals were processed
to a 35mm-film release print. The two 35mm films were viewed on a large screen at the
Skywalker Ranch Stag Theater on March 10.
""The tests were really quite
astonishing,'' said Jim Morris, president of Lucas Digital. ""The image quality
of the new Sony camera and the Panavision lenses exceeded our expectations, and really
validate the 24P system as a great new tool for moviemaking. All of our hopes about doing
digital capture for the big screen have started to be realized, and we are extremely
jazzed by the possibilities.''
""This is the exciting dawn of a new era
in moviemaking,'' said Star Wars producer Rick McCallum. ""There is no turning
back. It is being born within an environment of super teamwork among our people at ILM and
Lucasfilm, and the folks at Panavision and Sony. We set the bar high for digital HD
imaging and they have responded magnificently. We intend to cut through all of the
industry angst and thrust 24P digital HD squarely onto the moviemaking stage. Star Wars:
Episode II will do just that,'' he added.
""We start shooting Episode II in
Australia in June, '' McCallum noted. ""All of the sets are in final stages of
construction. In August, the shooting will move to Italy and to Tunisia. We will shoot for
a total of three months and then we plan to spend about 18 months in postproduction.''
""We brought optical design to a new
height in meeting the challenges of developing cinematography lenses for the small
2/3-inch image format,'' said John Farrand, president and CEO of Panavision.
""Our mission was to provide a complete system for digital cinematography
enabling Panavision's goal of providing our clients with the very best in digital and film
acquisition systems. These tests show we are well on our way to meeting that goal.''
""Clearly, this is the realization of a
vision we have held at Sony for quite some time,'' said Ed Grebow, president of Sony
Electronics' Broadcast and Professional Company. ""The confidence and vision of
George Lucas greatly motivated our dedicated engineering team. Lucasfilm is breaking new
ground in proving that digital acquisition empowers the creative process.''
Phase two prototype HDW-F900 units have been
delivered to Panavision, and following the docking to the final lenses and accessories,
these will be used by David Tattersole, director of photography for Star Wars: Episodes I
and II, to establish camera set-up parameters for his photography of Star Wars: Episode
The final product versions of the planned six
HDW-F900 camcorders for Star Wars: Episode II will be prepared by Panavision in May and
will be ready for the onset of principal photography in June.