View Full Version : Macs do Star Wars dirty work

24-10-04, 12:56
As there are some Star Wars fans here (can't understand it myself http://www.tombraiderforums.com/images/smilies/tongue.gif ), I thought you'd find this interesting.


Behind the scenes, painstaking effort and computing power has gone into cleaning up George Lucas's original Star Wars trilogy for its DVD release.

Since 1977 the Star Wars saga has been followed by hundreds of millions of viewers and grossed more than $3 billion.

Now the original trilogy is out on DVD, and the hype for this matched that of the biggest Hollywood premieres.

Far away from the hype there is a back lot in Burbank, California, where a lot of the hard work was done.

Images from some of the most famous movies ever made adorn the walls of Lowry Digital Images, showing off their impressive record of digitally restoring some of the true Hollywood classics.

Star Wars was their highest profile project yet.

It took 30 hectic days of work to restore the trilogy for DVD.

Today's large screen TVs and high quality digital playback would definitely show up the ravages of time on the original film reels.

John Lowry, CEO of Lowry Images, says the biggest single problem with the Star Wars series was dirt.

"The films have been, as everybody knows, extremely successful, and success means dirt, scratches, handling of the film.

"Film is, in fact, a very delicate medium. A New Hope, for example, which was the worst of all, had maybe a million pieces of dirt in the first couple of reels of that movie. Unbelievable."

The age and condition of old film demands a delicate scanning technique, using respectful and gentle machinery.

Mike Inchalik, president of Lowry Images, explains: "The film scanners are the eyes of the facility.

"They are the devices which convert each frame of film into a digital file which the computers can later repair.

"Each frame of film is slowly pulled past a CCD sensor. It takes approximately four seconds to take a frame of film and digitise it.

"When we're done we have a computer file of roughly 70mb for each frame of film. A movie such as Star Wars has about 180,000 frames."

Formidable power

The 70 MB per frame of film requires an enormous amount of storage, and fortunately there is an impressive 400 terabytes sitting just down the corridor.

The processing power is quite formidable too. The brains of the facility are 600 Apple G5s, each a dual processor 2GHz machine.

Mike Inchalik says: "The Apple G5s were chosen because it's an extraordinary floating point processing machine, and with 1,200 such processors there's a really immense amount of processing capability here.

"One of the beauties of using general purpose computers to do this work is they get faster and faster every year.

"Each computer works on a different shot from the movie.

"So instead of trying to identify a piece of dirt from what else is in the frame, our software compares the frames on either side of the frame it's examining.

"It asks: Can I track anything logically from one frame to the next and decide whether this is really a piece of scene content.

"It could be a fighter, it could be a bird flying across screen, or in fact a one-frame, spurious event that we need to remove."

Special effects

The small army of digital specialists examine each shot, and instruct the computers on what sort of thing needs fixing.

It soon turned out that dirt was not the only problem with the Star Wars series.

Although still more than passable today, the films' groundbreaking special effects did affect the picture quality.

Digital imaging specialist Patrick Cooper says: "There are so many film generations that go into making an optical shot, with layers and layers of different special effects composited together to make one shot.

"So you get dirt introduced from each of those layers of film that you've suddenly put together into one shot."

John Lowry adds: "One of the things that we had to work hard at was, for example, the light sabre scenes. They were grainier, they were dirtier, they were softer."

Lowry's massive computing power can bring the picture back to the original quality.

And the process can even make it even better, by adding more detail than was there in the first place.

Full article bbc.co.uk (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/click_online/3945149.stm)

24-10-04, 13:28
Thanks for the article.