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It's Official: The Episode II Camera

Thanks to TF.N for getting this heads up!   This makes for some interesting reading, so have fun!

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Lucasfilm to Shoot Star Wars: Episode II on Digital 24P
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 step.''

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 accessories.

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 II.

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.

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