Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith: A recent article over at has special effects wiz Brian Gernand talking about the CGI that has been fueling the production of next chapter in the Star Wars saga...
More than the previous installments of the Star Wars saga, Episode III features worlds and environments that simply could not be found by scouting the world for suitable filming locations. Exotic landscapes or perilous natural conditions make for impractical or dangerous shoots, but Director George Lucas no longer lets such mundane restrictions cage in his imagination. To create truly other-worldly experiences -- or sometimes, to squeak another set within the confines of time and budget constraints, Lucas turns to the Model Shop of Industrial Light & Magic.
To the layman, it's become increasingly easy to credit the amazing visuals of modern effects movies to the ever-present computer. If the talents of digital artists are often casually dismissed with a simple, "it's all CG," then the physical art of miniature construction is often completely ignored. In reality, the Star Wars prequels have featured more miniature work than the original trilogy -- Episode I alone had more models than the original films combined. It's the way in which miniatures are used that has changed dramatically.
For Episode III, some of the major planetary settings will be realized as miniatures -- some of enormous scale -- supervised by Brian Gernand and constructed by his team of model-makers.
As supervisor for the miniature requirements of Episode III, Gernand works closely with the Visual Effects Supervisors -- Roger Guyett and John Knoll -- to determine what needs to be built. "They look at the reels and make decisions on what they think should be miniatures or what should be digital, or what should be a combination of both," he says. "Once that concept comes into play, they'll bring me over, and we'll look at the scene. With my input on the size, scale and coverage that this particular model might provide, we move forward from there."
The next step is bidding -- assigning a monetary and time commitment to the miniature requirements so that they can be compared against the budget and schedule. "The visual effects producers determine the cost-effectiveness of this miniature versus other techniques. It's usually two-fold. It has to do with what is the best technical way to achieve a shot versus what is most cost-effective. Lately, a lot of the decisions revolve around how many shots a miniature is in. It becomes much more cost-effective if it can be in 20 shots or more."
An environment like the volcanic fields seen at the end of Episode III may require expensive miniature commitments, but the costs are amortized over 300 major shots. "Once we get into those numbers, then the miniature is definitely the way to go."
For Episode III, the miniature requirements will run the gamut from huge landscapes (like the Kashyyyk trees and beaches) to small, quaint environments (say, the Coruscant opera box). Given his current workload, Gernand is hard-pressed to pick a favorite, but he feel satisfaction over the more subtle uses of the effect. "I remember thinking that on Episode II, there were a few that weren't really exciting but worked really well as miniatures," he recalls. "Some of those are, for me, the most satisfying, because it's all about illusion. It's really just pulling off the gag, as opposed to some of these grandiose super-dynamic wild sets that are big and beautiful, but aren't trying to fool anybody into thinking we built it full size."