Technology Opens Possibilities For 'Star Wars' Fans

A high-definition DVD release of the sci-fi saga might not be in a time far, far away.

Laurie Sullivan, Contributor

July 13, 2005

3 Min Read

Lucasfilm Ltd. isn't done with the Star Wars chronicle quite yet. Digital technology has made it possible for Industrial Light & Magic, George Lucas' visual effects and animation house, to master Star Wars Episode III: Revenge Of The Sith in high-definition format. It's partly in preparation for a possible high-definition DVD release, said Fred Meyers, Industrial Light & Magic's principal engineer, during Monday night's screening at the Entertainment Technology Center at the University of Southern California on Hollywood Boulevard.

Industrial Light & Magic also has done experiments in 3-D. Demos are being developed for Star Wars Episode II: Attack Of The Clones and Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. "Once we had the entire process in place for digital projection, we were keenly aware in what we could do with 3-D and have been actively looking at the possibilities with the Star Wars movies," Meyers said.

At the USC digital cinema lab on Monday night, Revenge Of The Sith was shown on a Christie digital projection unit. Meyers was on hand for questions and answers on technology and production after the screening. Lucasfilm and Industrial Light & Magic are known for producing movies in high definition digital format. Revenge Of The Sith premiered in nearly 100 theaters in its original digital format when it was released in May.

A question from the audience on whether Industrial Light & Magic is satisfied with the number of digital projection installations in theaters put Meyers on the defensive in a room full of his peers. "No," he said with a laugh. "I have to be aware of where I am and what I'm saying."

The transition from film to digital, however, is slower then many had hoped. "It's amazing how difficult change is, but where there's a will, there's a way," Meyers said. Digital cinema "will catch on once it becomes the brainchild of the people most likely to benefit from the change. And it doesn't have to be difficult to find the expertise for installations."

Christie Digital Systems Inc. would agree. Last month, Christie Digital Systems USA, a projector maker, put its support behind movie distributor Access Integrated Technologies Inc. and its newly created Christie/AIX subsidiary. The project is aimed at funding the rollout of digital cinema. The agreement includes a two-year plan for a 2,500-screen rollout, with more than 200 screens to be operational by the end of this year.

To support the rollout, Christie plans to expand its services business. Christie Managed Services, a Christie business unit formed three years ago, monitors pre-show projection units from which trailers are shown at AMC theaters across the country, says Craig Sholder, Christie's VP of business development.

The digital projection units, satellite systems, and central servers are networked and signals fed from each AMC theater across the country to Christie's command center at its Cypress, Calif., headquarters. From there, technicians and support staff keep a close eye on equipment via several flat-panel screens. "Technicians can resolve up to 40% of the issues that happen with a device from this console," Sholder says. "If we can't resolve the issue, we send a field application engineer out to the theater."

As business ramps up and more theaters install digital projection units, Christie is prepared to install more servers, larger displays to monitor network traffic, and additional technicians and support staff. Sholder declines to disclose the budget for the added equipment, but says, "We're just waiting for the opportunity."

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