Star Wars: Attack of the Clones, arrived May 16th, 2002, and StarWars.com is running a new series looking at Clones at 20, celebrating the 20th anniversary of the film, in a special series of interviews, editorials, and more.
The official site shares how Star Wars: Attack of the Clones helped to change filmmaking.
For a century, the technology of filmmaking remained largely the same. Cameras photographed images on physical rolls of film (as did the microphones for soundtracks). Those images and sounds were edited into sequence by physically cutting and rejoining pieces together. The finished reels were then spooled into a projector and screened inside a theater. Year by year, project by project, George Lucas pushed Lucasfilm to change that process.
Lucas was motivated as much by common sense as a boldness to innovate. After years of working in the traditional method, he was convinced that every aspect of filmmaking could be easier, from pre-production and principal photography to post-production and distribution. The Star Wars films, among other Lucasfilm productions, granted opportunities to test and experiment new methods.
By the 1990s, Lucasfilm had helped introduce digital non-linear editing for both picture and sound, computer-graphics visual effects, and digital pre-visualization. As he returned to Star Wars with his new prequel trilogy, George Lucas was committed to making a feature-length film with entirely digital tools, both to free his own creative abilities and to demonstrate that it could be done at the level of an effects-heavy blockbuster. Star Wars: The Phantom Menace (1999) would inch closer to this goal before Star Wars: Attack of the Clones (2002) finally achieved it. Here are four ways that Episode II helped change filmmaking at the dawn of the 21st Century.
1. It employed the first digital cinema camera.
To create a motion-picture without photographic film, Lucasfilm needed a camera equipped with digital sensors that captured and stored imagery on high-definition tape. The resolution of this imagery needed to at least match — preferably exceed — the quality of standard 35mm film. The ability to digitally capture, transfer, and edit motion-picture footage would drastically increase the efficiency and flexibility of the filmmaker, something Lucas was eager to do.
Video-based camera systems had been commonplace in broadcast media and other fields for years, but faced skepticism among some feature film cinematographers and directors. Lucasfilm first used Sony’s “digi-beta” cameras to shoot behind-the-scenes material on The Phantom Menace. Select pick-ups from that movie were then captured using one of the company’s digital cameras, and were seamlessly integrated with the rest of the film.
For Attack of the Clones, Lucasfilm convinced Sony to develop cinema cameras that captured digital footage at 24-frames per second, the same as traditional film cameras. This intrepid effort involved engineers from multiple continents, collaborating with Lucasfilm’s staff, including high-definition supervisor Fred Meyers, post-production and technical supervisor Mike Blanchard, and cinematographer David Tattersall.
The new cinema cameras were first-of-their-kind prototypes. Lucasfilm had barely a year to finalize their design with Sony, which included custom lenses built by Panavision. The four cameras arrived (serial numbers 00001 to 00004) only days before the commencement of shooting. The crew had to relearn their jobs, and the set was buried in miles of cable, but they worked. Even in the sun-baked deserts of Tunisia, they worked.
2. Cast and crew could view instantaneous results live on set.
Using a digital camera meant that a live feed of the high-definition footage was available to view in the moment from large plasma screen televisions on the set. Whereas in the past, directors hunched over tiny video monitors with black-and-white screens, George Lucas and the crew of Attack of the Clones enjoyed a large, detailed view of their work. This allowed everyone from hair and makeup artists to set dressers to make adjustments in the moment and contribute ideas.
The benefits extended beyond the immediate set as well, as tapes of high-definition footage were copied and transferred to the editorial department where assistant editors could load, input, and begin cutting footage within hours of the cameras rolling. Within the same day, Lucas and team could review the day’s scenes and determine the success of a shot. A typical film production had to wait at least a full day for lab processing of film dailies. No more sleepless nights for the cinematographer, and no more second-guessing about whether to strike a set out of fear that the day’s footage was unusable.
As a Star Wars movie, Attack of the Clones was one of the most expensive independent movies ever made, but these advancements allowed Lucasfilm to run the production as efficiently as possible.
Read more ways Star Wars: Attack of the Clones helped to change filmmaking here.
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