Exclusive: ‘Phantom Menace’ 3D Preview From ‘Star Wars’ Insider

As the “Star Wars” saga joins the 3D revolution with the coming theatrical release of “Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace” on February 10th, our good friends at Star Wars Insider magazine are marking the occasion with a special celebratory issue. And we’re marking that occasion with our very own preview of that upcoming issue, right here on MTV Movies Blog!

We have an exclusive preview from the upcoming “Phantom Menace” themed issue, featuring an interview with Industrial Light & Magic’s John Knoll. The interview gives the lowdown on the creative process behind the new 3D format that “Star Wars” fans are about to enjoy. Take a look beyond the break.

Star Wars Insider: How far back does the idea of Star Wars in 3D go?
John Knoll: Toward the end of working on Episode III, Rick McCallum, George Lucas, and I started seeing 3D samples. I remember seeing a reel where a bunch of scenes had been ripped from DVD from various films, including Star Wars. I remember feeling that a lot of the space and the dimensions weren’t quite right on it, but I thought it was pretty neat and so cool to see it in 3D. I remember George saying at the time, “Yeah, I think I want to do this.”  

So when you start a conversion, do you start from the beginning or the middle or the end?
We worked in an odd order, because with Episode I, we were also doing a restoration. One of the first questions that my Associate VFX Supervisor, Dorne Huebler, and I started asking, was that if we were going to take this movie and cut it up into 2,000 separate pieces, we had an opportunity to upgrade what those 2,000 separate pieces are. It seemed like we had a perfect opportunity to go back and create a cleaner, sharper and purer version of the movie.

In fact, the window was closing on that; these archive tapes don’t last forever and they haven’t been meticulously catalogued and archived because no one thought that was really the master of the film, so it wasn’t clear that we were going to be able to find all of them. 

Where did you find them?
They were in a variety of places. It was some work to find them and we found about 98 percent of them. So we went back to the original material, and if you look, you’re actually seeing about eight percent more movie than in the original release. In the original, there was a little bit of cropping, so you lost a little bit of information. We have slightly more of an image now.

So did George see the whole movie as it was improved?
Yes. We weren’t doing the reels in order, so he saw individual reels–but not in story order–until we had gotten an approval from him on all those reels. Then he saw a later iteration where we’d done a final polish on all of those, and then we saw it all the way through, in order, so we could see how it ran as a full two-and-a-half-hour movie.

Were there some scenes that worked really well or that you were particularly happy with?
It’s interesting that what makes good stereo opportunities is often very counter-intuitive. A lot of people think that the big stereo moments are going to be big space battle shots and, for instance, the Podrace. But much of the time you’re looking at wide shots, which are where all the spectacle happens–but with nothing particularly close to camera, there aren’t a lot of great stereo opportunities. There definitely is depth, but it’s not eye-popping depth. The best stereo comes in the more quiet character moments, because you’re in close with your characters and there are lots of depth opportunities there.

What are your hopes for the movie?
It was definitely not an objective to have an in-your-face, “Wow, look at how stereo this is” experience. The idea was to try and make it was as naturalistic as possible, as though we hadn’t really shot it with stereo cameras. So, there’s really no gimmicky stuff poking out into the camera; it’s really more of an immersive thing. 

To read more, pick up the new issue of Star Wars Insider magazine, which hits stores in the US and Canada on January 31st and in the UK and Ireland on February 9th.