Star Wars: Episode III: On Thursday, January 8, Director George Lucas turned over the first major action sequence of Episode III to the visual effects crew at Industrial Light & Magic. The film will open with a thrilling space battle that pits the forces of the Republic against the battleships of the Separatists.

Though ILM has already completed around 23-25 shots -- made up of small scenes of short duration -- the "turnover" of the space battle is significant as it represents one of the major action sequences in the film. It has been edited together with placeholder visual effects done by the Animatics Department, forming a sophisticated starting point for the finished shots to be delivered by ILM.

"Very soon now, you'll have the first two reels," George Lucas told Visual Effects Supervisor John Knoll. "There are two more scenes to cut." There are an estimated 2,000 visual effects shots in the film. Producer Rick McCallum has set a goal of at least 160 visual effects shots to be completed by May 2004, inspired by the benchmark set by Episode II. In May of 2001, approximately 160 visual effects shots were completed for Attack of the Clones, a year before release.

Brian B.