I’m sure most people who care have heard that 3D versions of Star Wars have been announced.
This has sparked off the usual, expected, interwebs reactions ranging from “This is the worst thing ever in the entire history of history!” to “This is the best thing ever in the entire history of history!”. Oh, and the occasional “meh”. I thought it might be interesting (for me) to try to push past the various levels of “fangenders” and discuss this decision.
Despite the fact that “3D” has been around a long time, it’s only recently that it has become the “next big thing”. The only 3D that used to be easily available for cinemas was the Red/Blue glasses, because it required no special equipment, beyond the cheap cardboard glasses. Now cinemas are being fitted out for being able to use polarised glasses, meaning a better ‘quality’ 3D without the colour problems associated with the Red/Blue style of 3D.
We’ve got two general methods for producing 3D right now. In the first, two cameras are used (one to represent each eye), recording a scene from two angles. When CGI is used, two separate images are rendered for each frame. In the second type of 3D, a 2D shot is taken and processed to get a 3D image. This can have a few issues with regard to how “good” the final 3D image is, which I’ll discuss in a moment.
I suspect Lucas is going to use both techniques. Most of his live footage will be turned into 3D by processing the 2D footage. When it comes to any CGI, he’ll probably re-render the scenes from two separate angles.
I’ve heard that Lucas has a slight advantage in that he’s kept all of the various film strips which he combined into each frame. In many cases, he can use that to determine the depth of each portion of the scene.
You’ll note I keep saying Lucas. The work will mostly be done by ILM (Industrial Light and Magic, his effects company), but from what I can tell from interviews not much happens without Lucas’ oversight. So when I say Lucas, I mean ILM, or anyone else working under Lucas.
So, why might it work? Or why might it fail?
It might work because it’s being done by the ILM crew. They’re one of the few special effects groups that I think have the experience, and tenacity, to pull it off. They’ve been in the business a long time, and Lucas has always been interested in pushing the technology.
Lucas did, for the most part, a good job with “digitally remastering” the original Star Wars films. They were able to take the degrading film, and make it look new again. They were also able to recomposit some shots (the battle on Hoth, for example), that had been a series of compromises because of the then state of technology. Since they did the original remastering of Star Wars, I have no doubt that they’ve been keeping up with, and perhaps pushing, state of the art image technology, which means that should they have to do it again, the result would be even better.
One of the huge challenges facing Lucas is the translation of 2D to 3D, even with the advantages described earlier. One problem is often that objects and characters look like cardboard cut-outs. While they appear further forward than the background, they have no depth themselves. I’m sure Lucas is aware of this issue, and hopefully has some ideas on how to either fix it, or mitigate the problems.
It may well be the technology simply isn’t there to do what Lucas wants with Star Wars 3D – and I’m assuming he wants it to be “good”. He certainly thought technology was “there” for digital remastering, and yet some issues remained. Two examples spring to mind. The first is the scene in a New Hope, after they’ve just escaped the Death Star, and are battling Tie-Fighters. In a number of those scenes there is a box around each Tie Fighter – presumably an artifact of the original compositing. It’s greatly reduced in the digital remastering, to be sure, but it’s still visible enough to ruin the immersion of the rest of the effects.
The second is the Rancour scene in “Return of the Jedi”. Compared to the original, the layering is again reduced, but I find it incredibly distracting and it looks very amateruish compared to the rest of the effects.
What I’m saying is that even with care, and attention to detail, sometimes the skill, or technology, simply hasn’t caught up.
So far I’ve been attempting to stick to technological discussions, but now I’m going to enter the (often controvertial on the interwebs) area of artistic discussions.
Here I’m thinking of matching of various scenes. Many feel that the CGI inserted into Episodes IV to VI didn’t match the feel of the original model shots, and thus ruined the immersion. I’m not sure I agree, but I see the point.
In going to 3D, I would suggest that the CGI will, without careful attention, not match the non-CGI for depth and feel. The almost fully CGI scenes in Episodes I to III have a different issue to avoid: gimickery. What do I mean by that?
When 3D first came out, it was common to include scenes where objects were “fired” at the audience, even if it didn’t match the scene it ocurred in. One thing I hope Lucas avoids is using those kinds of gimmicks. I can see similar scenes working in the Pod Racing, or in some of the space battles, but if it’s overused, then it’s likely to feel cheap. That artistic judgement is likely to be as divisive as inserting CGI into the original episodes, or changing it so “Han shot first”.
Personally I’m going to wait and see. I can see how Lucas could get it right, and make 3D an asset to the Star Wars films. On the other hand, there seem to be an awful lot of ways it can go wrong. But really, whatever my guesses (informed, educated or otherwise) only the end result will tell us if it’s really going to work.
I kinda hope it does work.