Star Wars - Episode III - A Computer Graphic View

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Star Wars movies are always a big event in the movies industry, not only for the visual special effects, but also for the cult that it has generated worldwide over the years. Right now we are going to discuss a little about the visuals.



When you hear the words Star Wars and VFX together you automatically think of ILM and cool visual effects. Let me tell you, this episode of Star Wars is no exception to that rule. If you are a visual special effects enthusiast, then you will find Star Wars - Episode III ó Revenge of the Sith a feast to your eyes!

The movie opens with one of the largest space battles of the whole saga. Unlike the battles you have seen on the rest of the movies this time the camera takes you directly into the action. This added to the loads of action going on in the background make you think this is the best space battle of all six Star Warsí episodes.



© Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Rights Reserved. Digital work by ILM.


Digital characters are considered the Holy Grail for computer animation because they try to reinvent the reality. Down to a technical level, a digital character succeeds if you mistake him for a real actor (this was the goal for the guys at Square Pictures and their Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within movie). However a digital character that can connect to the audience is far more successful. In this particular case Yoda is the winner. Just like when you first saw him in The Empire Strikes Back, you forget you are viewing an array of pixels, because you feel the same connection that youíve experienced for the last twenty or thirty years.


© Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Rights Reserved. Digital work by ILM.


On the other hand we also have the bad guy, General Grievous. The guy just looks so real you keep wondering if he is actually computer generated, and when you see him physically interacting with real-life actors the question gets bigger. I was having my doubts about his acting skills, but as an animator I knew that acting is more than just facial expressions. In this case the animation was so good it served him more than facial expressions.






© Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Rights Reserved. Digital work by ILM.


Not only the main characters but also the digital stunt doubles are executed flawlessly. You may remember the stunt doubles in Episode II: they usually moved too fast, and that killed the ďrealism effect.Ē It seems that ILM learned the lesson, because stunt doubles move in a more realistic manner this time. They believed that if they blurred the details on the doubles people wouldnít notice they were not real, but it turned out that they had to make them move slower to make them work. You know there are digital doubles here, but you donít realize when the CGI version enters and exits the frame.


© Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Rights Reserved. Digital work by ILM.


Episode III is also the movie to feature more planets. You are taken to beautiful landscapes, lava-covered mountains, tropical environments and rocky lands. Just like the characters, the locations are carefully created down to the last level. The environments are very rich and colorful. To create these environments Lucas used all the available tricks: computer generated images, matte paintings and miniatures, and the perfect combination of these is what makes them work so perfectly.



© Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Rights Reserved. Digital work by ILM.


One of the most expected sequences in the whole movie turns out to be worthwhile by itself, since itís just the best and most energetic light saber battle of all time. One would wonder how two actors could perform a swordfight on a volcano. Most, if not all of the sequence was shot on a green screen set. The sequence not only demonstrates a masterful use of the light sabers but also a masterful use of visual effects.



© Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Rights Reserved. Digital work by ILM.


At first they fight on suspended bridges and this reminds you of a scene from the movie Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. However things get very exciting when you see them surfing on a river of boiling lava. This lava effect was particularly good, as you can nearly feel the heat. Not only on the lava, but the lighting on the characters also helps to sell the effect.

The movie ends with the birth of Darth Vader. Anakin was seriously injured during the fight, and in this sequence you see the rebuilding process. Itís a very painful scene because they are rebuilding him alive, but itís still cool.



Star Wars ó The Revenge of the Sith is one of the most visually packed special effects movies Iíve ever seen. Fortunately, in this case, the effects help the movie move forward. Nevertheless, watching this movie leaves a bittersweet taste Ö Episode III with its extremely cool effects; followed by Episode IV, which can only be defined as a visual drag. On the other hand, these movies are more than a VFX feast, they are one of the best sagas ever made.


All images featured in the above article are © Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Rights Reserved.
All images in the above article were used by written permission from LucasFilm,
And cannot be printed, copied, or reprinted without written permission from LucasFilm.



Animation Alley
is a regular featured column
with Renderosity Staff Writer
Sergio Rosa [nemirc].

May 30, 2005

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Member Opinions:
By: LillianH on 5/31/05
Very cool stuff Sergio.

Thanks for sharing your animation insights and perspective on the movie. Guess I better get out there and see this one for myself.

Best wishes,
Lillian

By: SeanMartin on 5/31/05
I have to admit that, as stunning as the CGI work was, overall it seemed to distract from just moving the story along. Too often, there would be an establishing shot of a gorgeous landscape that says "Isnt this fab looking?" before we got to the actual scene itself. A few establishing shots would have sufficed, but it felt like every scene in the film had one.

By: SndCastie on 5/31/05
Wow great job on this nemirc really brings into play how these scene's were done. Thank you

Sandy

By: animajikgraphics on 6/1/05
Great job nemirc! While watching the movie I had one eye on the visual fx while the other was following the story.

By: kromekat on 6/1/05
Nice review - thanks!;)

By: AndyWelder on 6/1/05
Nice piece of work, thanks for sharing your insight indeed. And now I'm off to watch the movie.
Andy

By: ClintH on 6/1/05
Awesome - These articles inspire me very much! Thanks Sergio!

By: RickDemil on 6/1/05
Great Nemirc !!! I'm a fan of Starwars and you seems to be too. Very good job

By: breid on 6/1/05
My only gripe is that the overlaid Jango Fett heads on the stormtroopers looked extremely unnatural. The lighting was off and there wasn't enough movement.

Should have left the hats on.

By: Chromafly on 6/1/05
Agreed breid. That was the only shot that bothered me. The rest of the movie was so seamless that the one poorly executed scene in the hangar really stands out.

By: starmage on 6/1/05
I really enjoyed the movie and this article gives a slight insight into behind the scenes. Funny but I'd never thought of Yoda as a CGI character and that is a testemant to how successful he has been.

As someone hoping to get more into the 3D graphics world I'm not sure I even want to consider the amount of time spent on some of the graphics involved in Star Wars.

By: Cyba_Storm on 6/2/05
I went and saw the original Star Wars when it came out in 1977. I was 16 years old. By the standard of today the effect are a bit second hand, but I am certain that kids today will get no greater thrill from "Sith" than I did 28 years ago on my first trip to a galaxy far far away.

By: warewullf on 6/2/05
" You know there are digital doubles here, but you donít realize when the CGI version enters and exits the frame."

For the most part this is true but there are scenes with the unnessecary CGI is really jarring. Most notably, some of the Stormtrooper scenes.


"Episode IV, which can only be defined as a visual drag"

Dude, have you seen that movie? Despite the lack of hi-tech CGI wizardy the movie is visual CLASSIC. In now way, whatsoever, could it possibly be described as a "drag!"

By: MRMH on 6/2/05
Iīm follow the saga in this last 20 years, although the story like the effects, and this is the real and touching of all.

By: pjanak on 6/2/05
Episode IV a "visual drag"? Perhaps for you. Since you appear to be too younfg to have seen it when it first came out. At the time its was the best darn effects out there. Incredibly innovative too. with 3D effects, for the most part its very easy to know you are looking at CG. A few movies have had sequences that require a second look to be sure. Episode IV also had its share of "oh, thats a model" But over all it is very stunning.

By: EricofSD on 6/3/05
Very well done. I end up watching just about every movie that has CG in it. This is certainly no exception. Heck, I remember when Empire Strikes Back came out. I went to the premier showing with a wonderful gal. It cost $20 per ticket and that was in 1980 as I recall. Sergio, thanks for showing us how it was done.

By: maarek99 on 6/3/05
Oh come on! The digital doubles are pretty easy to spot. It's ludicrous that some of those shots could've been made with regular stunts and they would've looked way better than those stupid digital doubles.

The opening battle was pretty bad. Compare it to Return of the Jedis last battle and you get my meaning. In twenty years they couldn't even top that.

By: Mudflap on 6/3/05
Great review. I was surpised to see how few polys the senate building had. Was that screenshot accurate? They sure can go along way with lighting and texturing.

I have to disagree with IVs visuals being drag. Although it would be nice if they could re-release it without any of the new CG scenes. It would be nice to see just how good the origial was.

By: deemarie on 6/3/05
Hi Mudflap,
As to the supporting images, they came straight from the Lucasfilm/ILM studios files. So I can assure you they are accurate :]

Dee-Marie

By: alexmega on 6/3/05
I really enjoyed reading this article. I saw the movie a week ago and it is fun to see how much of it is just digital magic.

By: nemirc on 6/3/05
Hello :)

Thanks for the comments and I see there's even a good discussion about this now. Just to clear things up, for me it looks weird that the first episodes are VFX packed while the last three are not. It's also to my disliking that the visual "quality" (AKA VFX) is so different. I don't think that affects the story at all but I'd preffer to either have all 6 movies with top of the line VFX or 1980-style VFX just to mantain the "visual style".

For example, when you watch Lord of the Rings the visual style subconsciously tells you that you are watching the same movie but for SW, the visual aspect doesn't help.

So when I say "drag" I am not telling it's not a classic (basically SW gave birth to bluescreen). I am just telling that, from the "visuals point of view" it's a shame that the first 3 eps looked so great while the last 3 only look great. For this specific aspect I don't pay heed to the "release date" because starwars movies have to be seen as a whole, not as two different "slices".

By: chemicalbrother on 6/3/05
Very cool review nemirc
and the film shots and pre production shots are stunning.......... (I'm surprised lucasfilm even give this kinda stuff out while the movie is still on general release)

i seen the movie the day after release and was slightly disapointed..... in the words of yoda "CGI does not a good movie make" it wasn't the story (which half of the western world knew already) or the effects but for me the choice of hayden christiensen a terrible cardboard actor to put it mildly as Anakin wasted the whole film.... perhaps it was lucas's direction of the actors that was at fault because even a great Stage actor like Ian McDairmid seemed HAM.(Mcgregor wasn't much better)... I also got the feeling while watching it that lucas was going down a checklist of things that should tie together for a new hope.......I still have to say i enjoyed the movie for all its shortcomings and yoda kisked A** (that was my fave sequence in the film.... either that or grevious) i suppose it succeded in a way because being into 3d graphics you're more aware of effects in films but i didn't think about the effects while i watched what was a very action packed movie..... empire strikes back still kicks all the other films A**es tho :o) (i think probably because lucas didn't direct it) possibly i'm getting too old for what is essentially a kids film......... I was 7 years old when i seen star wars in 1977 back then NOTHING like that had ever been seen....... good effects are ten a penny nowadays.....

By: duanemoody on 6/4/05
It'd be nice to hear actual technical details about the software. Even the Shrek2 DVD talks about Maya, subsurface scattering, stuff like that.

By: Terrielee on 6/4/05
Thank you, nemirc! Fascinating stuff! May the force be with you! :)

By: nemirc on 6/4/05
chemicalbrother and duanemoody, You'd be surprised of the kind of info and pics you can get on a Cinefex magazine :)

I can't promise anything but we'll try to get more in depth articles in the future ;)


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