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STAR WARS EP 2: ATTACK OF THE CLONES – A PREVIEW

THE E-FACTOR
Episode 2 in the Star Wars series is the first major movie created by using the high-definition, twenty-four frames per second, digital video camera and videotape. But it’s still Escapism with a capital E, says George Lucas, which also stands for Entertainment.


“Attack of the Clones is a big, wide-eyed adventure film in the tradition and celebration of the Saturday matinee serials of Hollywood’s golden age,” says George Lucas. “They were unpretentious and designed to thrill with lots of energy, suspense and excitement. You went to those movies to escape and enjoy yourself, and that’s what I wanted to capture with Attack of the Clones.” Enjoy the energy and entertainment . . . the e-factor.

"digital technology"

There is one big difference between Hollywood’s golden age and today, which is the use of digital technology, something that has always been a major element of George Lucas’ creative process. Twenty years ago, he pioneered SoundDroid and EditDroid – the first computerized non-linear sound and picture editing systems. These tools helped revolutionize the editing field, putting a single frame at a sound or picture editor’s fingertips, rather than buried inside of thousands of feet of celluloid.

The technology is now available to allow the digital world to become part of the shooting process itself. In 1996, Rick McCallum obtained a commitment from Sony to develop a 24 frame high definition progressive scan camera, as well as the key building blocks of a 24 frame post production system. Panavision then came aboard to develop a revolutionary new lens that could accommodate digital cinematography.

When cameras rolled in June 2000, Star Wars: Episode II Attack of the Clones became the first major motion picture created by using the high-definition, twenty-four frames per second, digital video camera and videotape rather than film. “We received the final version of the camera one week before our first day of principal photography,” McCallum remembers. “We started shooting without any film backup whatsoever. We just went for it. We shot in deserts – where the temperatures were over 125 degrees for weeks – we shot in torrential rain, and in five different countries throughout the world. All without a single problem.”

Attack of the Clones director of photography David Tattersall notes that Lucas’ interest in the potential of digital photography dates back even further than 1996 – to their early collaborations on The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles and Radioland Murders. Lucas and Tattersall shot some digital tests on their next effort, The Phantom Menace, but the technology was not quite ready to be utilised for an entire feature film.

On Attack of the Clones, Lucas and Tattersall finally had the opportunity to discover the numerous technical and practical advantages of digital cinematography. “With digital, we can time the movie as we’re shooting it,” notes Tattersall. “Also, there’s never any doubt about whether or not you see something in the background. With film, when you review your shot you’re looking at a pretty poor quality videotape, and it’s sometimes difficult to see the subtleties. But with high definition video, there’s absolutely no doubt about what the lens has captured. The playback on the HD monitor is crystal clear. You can see everything you want to see – or shouldn’t be seeing.”

The use of digital cameras was a time-saver on numerous aspects of production. No longer hampered with the delays of film processing, scenes could be immediately modified and edited as soon as Lucas yelled, “Cut!” further blurring the lines between production and post-production. The digital format allowed unprecedented flexibility in the construction of shots, with editor Ben Burtt and Lucas having the freedom to change or move sets, people, and lighting within the image itself. In addition, visual effects shots no longer had to be scanned into a computer, manipulated, and then scanned back to film. 

"an evolutionary rather than revolutionary process"

With this new high-definition camera, Lucas is mapping out an exciting digital future for the cinema. But he sees this as an evolutionary rather than revolutionary process. “The advance of cinema into the digital world is a normal transition,” Lucas states. “Just as we went from silent films to sound pictures, from black and white to color films, digital cameras are an addition to the tools we use to create movies.”

The camera’s impact is felt even in the movie theater, as the digital format allows the film’s images to retain their integrity, not just opening night, but throughout the entire run of the picture. There will be no scratch marks, dust or wear and tear on Attack of the Clones digital prints through their life in the cinemas. 

VISUAL EFFECTS
The original Star Wars trilogy had a major impact in the way visual effects were created. In order to realize his visual effects ideas for Star Wars, Lucas created the effects house Industrial Light & Magic, which introduced computer technology to the film industry and revolutionized special effects. Since then, ILM has been honored with sixteen Academy Awards® for Best Visual Effects and Scientific and Technical Achievement Awards for its breakthrough work. 

That tradition of breakthrough effects work continued with EPISODE I’s “digital backlot,” which realized worlds of fantasy while maintaining a realistic look and accommodating live-action footage of the actors. Not only backgrounds, but also many of the sets, vehicles and even characters were computer generated. Ninety-five percent of the frames in The Phantom Menace, encompassing nearly two thousand shots, employed digital work. 

Having “re-invented the wheel” with the digital backlot in EPISODE I, Lucas and ILM were not ready to rest on their laurels for the new film. “We’re still learning,” says Lucas, “moving along step by step, improving the way we do things, and learning to think differently about how to create the saga’s worlds and creatures.”

The visual effects tasks on Attack of the Clones were so immense that four of ILM’s sixteen supervisors were called upon to share the load, each taking primary responsibility for one or more action sequences, as well as specific effects shots occurring throughout the film. The digital world also plays a key role in the creation of Attack of the Clones’ exotic and disparate worlds, including the ocean planet Kamino, the rock world Geonosis, and two environments already established in the Star Wars universe: the city-planet Coruscant, and Naboo, a peaceful, idyllic paradise. 

John Knoll, who oversaw EPISODE I’s Podrace and spaceship sequences, took charge of a high-powered chase that sees Anakin and Obi-Wan, traveling hundreds of miles per hour in a speeder, pursuing a deadly bounty hunter high above the streets of Coruscant. The scene, which hurtles its characters – and audiences – through dense streams of traffic and around mile-high buildings, uses over three hundred effects shots. 

Knoll also supervised another high-speed pursuit, this one through an asteroid field. Knoll calls the sequence a “rhyming scene” to The Empire Strikes Back’s famed asteroid sequence. Another Knoll-supervised sequence is set inside a massive Geonosian arena, where our heroes battle three monsters new to Star Wars: the bull-like reek, the lion-esque nexu, and the acklay, a crustacean-like creature.

Outside this arena, an epic battle is underway, which provides the first taste of the immensity of the “Clone Wars” first referenced briefly in A New Hope. Two hundred Jedi and hundreds of thousands of newly-manufactured clonetroopers battle a similar number of battle droids; enormous, six-legged and fearsome looking AT-TE walkers (which provide a visual link to The Empire Strikes Back’s AT-AT walkers); and giant missile droids. 

"the largest scaled in any Star Wars film"

This scene, the largest scaled in any Star Wars film, was supervised by Ben Snow. Snow and Dennis Muren, the latter a veteran of the original pioneering Star Wars effects work, and who oversaw EPISODE I’s huge ground battle effects and underwater sequences, also supervised a large-scale scene set in an enormous droid manufacturing facility. They created the entire factory environment: a vast series of interconnected chambers made up of machines, robotic arms, and endless rows of conveyer belts. 

ILM’s Pablo Helman oversaw the more peaceful environments of Naboo, which in Attack of the Clones provides the setting for Anakin and Padmé’s first stirrings of a love that is forbidden to a Jedi. Helman and his team created heretofore unseen sweeping vistas, waterfalls, and a country house where romance blossoms.

Published April 18, 2002

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Attack of the Clones
Australian release: May 16, 2002
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