Techies vow first-rate transfer for 'Star Wars' conversion

Fanboys may already be polishing their 3D glasses for the theatrical re-release of the “Star Wars” saga in stereoscopic.

But 3D pros are more excited about the prospect of seeing a 3D conversion with sufficient time and resources to deliver a quality result.

And getting that quality result won’t be easy. The “Star Wars” pics are full of challenges for even the most advanced technology.

Lucasfilm disclosed Tuesday that work is already under way on converting the “Star Wars” saga to 3D. All six pics will get theatrical re-release in stereoscopic starting with “Episode I: The Phantom Menace,” which returns to theaters in 2012. (The animated “Clone Wars” feature was not included in the announcement.)

John Knoll, who will oversee the conversion, told Daily Variety , “I have been a vocal critic of some of the previous efforts at doing 3D conversions. (But) I think the problems that have been encountered are mostly because of budget and schedule, trying to ram the work though in too short a period of time.”

Knoll said the conversion will be done by outside vendors under the close supervision of Knoll and Industrial Light and Magic.

Issues of time and budget have plagued conversion work on this summer’s much-criticized 3D tentpoles, including Warner’s “Clash of the Titans,” and Paramount’s “The Last Airbender.”

So when “Avatar” producer Jon Landau called the announcement “very exciting” he was quick to add, “George will do it right and he’ll take his time to do it right. I think the key is having the filmmaker involved in the process.”

DreamWorks Animation topper Jeffrey Katzenberg has been a vocal opponent of rushed conversions, but DWA’s global stereoscopic supervisor Phil McNally said his stand is “I’m not against conversion, I’m against poor conversion.”

Charlotte Huggins, longtime 3D filmmaker and producer of “Journey to the Center of the Earth,” said a conversion can be as good as native 3D. “It’s like saying a paintbrush doesn’t work because the painter is rushed. It’s an artistic process. If you want a good conversion, take your time and get really talented people.”

Exact release date has not been announced, but a Lucasfilm spokesperson said the pic will open wide and “as close to day and date (worldwide) as possible.”

20th Century Fox will once again distribute. Fox domestic distribution prexy Bruce Snyder called the series “perfectly suited” for 3D and said “I expect this to be as much fun for people that have not experienced ‘Star Wars’ as it was for people who were there in 1977 staring at the screen with mouth agape.”

Spacing of the re-releases has not yet been determined, as that will depend on the pace of the conversion effort.

There are no plans yet for a homevideo release.

Knoll, who oversaw ILM’s contributions to “Avatar,” said Lucasfilm is committed to ensuring that the 3D conversion delivers results as good as a movie shot and authored in 3D.

“Having seen a lot of stereo material, I have very strong opinions about what I like and don’t like about stereo. I’m going to be applying my aesthetic. It’s not going to look like (conversions) we’ve seen in the past.”

He said that 3D will be used to make the experience more immersive. “Stereo can be played realistically or stylized,” he said. “We’re going to try to find a good balance.”

He aims to avoid some of the more jarring, exaggerated uses of 3D that have marked stereoscopic pics, including a lot of 3D added to wide shots that wouldn’t naturally have it.

Lucasfilm is likely to need all of the time — up to 27 months — it has scheduled to get the work done.

McNally said some elements are challenging in any conversion: smoke, mist, transparencies and reflections. The series is replete with blaster shots, the mist of Yoda’s planet Dagobah and plexiglass windscreens on X-wing fighters. Said Knoll: “All those are present in abundance in the ‘Star Wars’ pictures. We are going to do what we can to make the path easier.”

Original elements from the Lucasfilm archives will be used where necessary, he added.

Knoll said there are no plans to add or fix visual effects on the movies. Over the years, George Lucas’s digital tweaks on the original trilogy of pics have generated pushback from fans.

Some fans are likely to be displeased, though, at getting “The Phantom Menace” as their first taste of “Star Wars” in 3D. Pic was derided for its unfunny comic relief, Jar-Jar Binks, and attacked for ethnic stereotyping. Lucas, however, prefers to reintroduce the film in order of the episodes, with the prequel trilogy first. The original “Star Wars” was renamed “Episode IV: A New Hope.”

Lucas has been teasing fans for years about a 3D “Star Wars.” He told ShoWest in 2005 that he planned to release the saga in stereoscopic 3D and was working with In-Three, the Thousand Oaks based conversion company. His comments were widely reported as an announcement, but Lucasfilm insisted it was no such thing.

McNally (a onetime ILM animator) and Huggins recall being impressed with those 2005 tests of the opening scenes of the original “Star Wars.” But Lucas casually revealed in an interview several years later that Lucasfilm was no longer working with In-Three and was exploring other options for conversion.

ILM has converted “The Nightmare Before Christmas” and is accruing expertise in S3D visual effects, but has declined to enter the 3D conversion business.

The other expected major 3D conversion is “Titanic 3D,” which is targeting the 100th anni of the sinking of the Titanic for theatrical release.

Landau said there will be more news about “Titanic 3D” “after we hear about ‘Star Wars 3D. ‘ ”

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