Thursday, September 26, 2013

Inside the Making of "Star Wars" Using Video Game Engines

Merging of video game production technology and filmmaking will "bring back the creative experience in digital effects."

Kim Libreri, the chief technology strategy officer of Lucasfilm, the production company behind the Star Wars films that were recently acquired by Disney (NYSE:DIS), video game production will soon "take the post out of post-production" for filmmakers.

Speaking at last week's Technology Strategy Board event at the British Academy of Film and Television Acting (BAFTA) in London, Libreri discussed how video game development technology is catching up to the tech that is used for adding digital effects to films. Many cutting-edge games now use real-time motion capture to create digital effects, meaning that actors wearing motion capture suits play out scenes that are digitally recorded in real time. This way, computer graphics are rendered in real time and don't need to be built on top of footage in post-production.

Since Lucasfilm develops games as well as films, it has begun to migrate real-time game development technology into film production, meaning that digital effects can be added to films in real time, and not in a the post-production editing studio.

To get a sense of how this process works, watch this video from The Inquirer, which shows Libreri's demonstration at BAFTA about Lucasfilms' "performance capture stage."

Before the Disney acquisition, Lucasfilm was developing a game called Star Wars 1313, which would have put this same technology into practice. The project was canceled, although the impressive video Libreri played at BAFTA was developed from the game engine that Lucasfilm and its special effects company, Industrial Light & Magic, have been working on.

As Libreri told the small audience at BAFTA, "We think that computer graphics are going to be so realistic in real time... that, over the next decade, we'll start to be able to take the post out of post-production; where you'll leave a movie set and the shot is pretty much complete." That would be a big change from the way that films with digital effects are produced now, with long post-production periods required to place computer graphics over blue screens and actors in motion capture suits.

Not only will this technology be able to cut down on post-production time, it will, as Libreri said, bring a much-needed vitality to digital effects. "Being able to animate, edit, and compose live is going to change the way we work and it's really going to bring back the creative experience in digital effects." And all this after Kathleen Kennedy, a producer of the new Star Wars film (which is due for release in 2015), came out and said that the new film will be less reliant on computer-generated effects than its predecessors, the prequel trilogy. As she said to IGN:

                Looking at all the Star Wars movies and getting a feel for what even some of the early films did, combining real locations and special effects -- that's something we're looking very seriously at.... It's using model makers; it's using real droids; it's taking advantage of artwork that you actually can touch and feel. And we want to do that in combination with CG effects. We figure that's what will make it real.

So the new Star Wars films will use more conventional effects (and they are being shot on film, not digital), and the digital effects will be more lifelike. After the clunky, unnatural, and silly-feeling CGI of the latest Star Wars films, that sounds like a win-win.

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