A short time ago in a city not too far away…. Episode II INTERVIEW WITH LUCASFILM AND MATTHEW WOOD In an effort to find out more about the Blu-ray release, Home Theater Forum travels to the home base of Lucasfilm located in San Francisco within the California system. NOTE: This is part two of a three part story. If you haven't read part one yet it has some great pictures of the packaging that you will want to check out. Clarification on the Images from Part I There seems to be some confusion about the before and after images from my previous post: LEFT/TOP: Before, used for DVD release RIGHT/BOTTOM: After, used for Blu-ray release To confirm, these are NOT screen captures from the DVD and Blu-ray releases; I never said they were. For those of you who think I created or “photo-shopped” them-----bless you! Sadly, my artistic talent doesn’t extend beyond stick figures, so I am flattered by your unwarranted confidence in my artistic ability. These are images from Lucasfilm illustrating some of the updates and changes made from the digital files used for the DVD release to the Blu-ray release. While I am fairly sure that they originated from the digital files, they should not be used to look for DNR, crushed blacks, resolution levels, or to find Waldo, but they should be used to see that there is no longer a puppet pole showing, that light sabers have changed, that there is more picture information on Episode I, and to represent the concept that a lot of work has gone into this release to fix issues from the previous DVD release. Any other use is not recommended or implied. Hopefully that will squelch any controversies, but since this is Star Wars, I may be expecting too much. Clarification on the Christmas Episode and Easter Eggs What you read was what was said. My take away from the interview was that excerpt(s) from the Christmas Episode will probablybe somewhere on one of the discs, most likely as an Easter Egg. If this will affect your decision to buy, I would recommend waiting for some reviews to confirm. Tidbits and “But I saw it at Comic-Con…” I reported earlier that the “Humdinger Glitch” has been fixed. There have been a lot of people inquiring as it was in the footage that was seen at Comic-Con. I was told that someone from Lucasfilm overheard an attendee at Comic-Con comment after seeing the footage that “the glitch is still there”. They tracked it down and had it fixed. It was one of the last if not THE last change made prior to the discs being locked down for final release. Click to open a larger image in a new window. I also asked about any other CGI changes that fans might notice and was told to “wait and see”. This leads me to believe that there may be other changes, but I have no confirmation. Matthew Wood also made reference to some changes, but these may be the changes I covered in Part I. Is it true that Yoda is now CGI in Episode I? Yes, Yoda is now CGI in Episode I (I didn’t see it personally, but I asked). Why Isn’t My Favorite Documentary on This Release? Q from HTF: “Why was the decision made not to include some of the documentaries from earlier releases?” A: There is so much information from the past 10-30 years that you can’t call this release a definitive edition, you can’t put in everything from the Star Wars universe, so people very close to the project decided what they considered cream of the crop, the best of the best and went with that, including a lot of new stuff. Why Didn’t You Ask About the Original Series? I did, and I was politely given the answer I expected, the same one that has been given before: This is the vision that George Lucas has for his films…. The Sound of Star Wars: Matthew Wood on the Audio Mixes for the Blu-ray Release We met with Matthew Wood from Skywalker Sound to find out more about the sound mix and what was done to ready it for Blu-ray. He started working on the Blu-ray audio back in 2007. Here are excerpts from that presentation. It was very obvious that he has a lot of passion for these films. Please note that the questions came from multiple participants, including myself: Click to open a larger image in a new window. I’ve [Matthew Wood] been involved in the restoration and remastering of Episodes IV, V and VI since about 1996 when we started the special editions and all the way through the DVD releases now. I’ve actually brought all 6 movies that I got the print masters from Skywalker Sound so that we can listen to some scenes today. The cool thing about Blu-ray is the fact that when I play you these masters, it’s effectively as what’s on the disc, it’s the file copy that goes on the disc, we have an uncompressed master on the disc. One other thing I brought that I thought was interesting is part of the remastering of this film. We spent the most time on New Hope, because of all the films, that was the one that was archived with the most issues because when the film was made, it wasn’t really known that it was going to be a hit. It was mixed in Los Angeles during a night shift, and there wasn’t really separation of stems, so I had to recreate with my team the mix from scratch with all the original elements. On this last pass for Blu-ray, I was able to incorporate production sound elements using the archived original production rolls from Star Wars, our analog tape format, 7-1/2 ips tape format, so all of these were transferred into digital. It was a lot of fun looking at the production sound roll, it has all the log information from Tunisia, it has the date “March 22, 1976. We probably had 50 or 60 of these and we ended up transferring them all and I got to hear a lot of the outtakes, which was fun because I am a HUGE fan of Star Wars. As a kid, it influenced me to want to even work for this company, I got a job working here when I was 17 years old (about 21 years ago). I worked bringing digital technology to Skywalker Sound and I got to work with my mentor and the designer of the show, Ben Burtt, so it’s been a really fun ride for me. These are the only films that I probably go back and listen to and know that and making sure that all the right elements are there, because if something is just slightly off, my childhood DNA screams “wrong!”. It was a challenge to make sure that we retained the “feel” of what people probably saw back in the 70’s, it was mono --- there was a stereo mix made and also a 4-track LCRS master, but we never had separation, so anything we did, like in 1997 when we released it again, was just laid on top of that, we really couldn’t have any separation. And the original production was really brittle, a lot more brittle than what you are hearing, just based on the limitations of the technology of the time. But I wanted to make sure that getting it into the computer it was at least the highest quality version of whatever that limitation was. Our task from George (Lucas) and Ben Burtt was to make sure that all 6 films played together really well, they are all in the same format---that’s why we chose 6.1 because that was our prequel format that we did all 3 prequels in. We had the chance to open this up a little wider, but then balance how people remember effects versus music and dialog. Some of the original tapes from March 22nd, 1976 Click to open a larger image in a new window. Q: If you had the chance to do it all again, why not add the extra channel and go to 7.1? A: We had the chance to go back and do it, we chose 6.1 as the format because 5.1 EX was what we used on the prequels and it had that back-center surround and I think that has a nice 360 feel, and we wanted everything to match that. This is personal for me, but 7.1 has the separation in the back and sides kind of diffuses the back for me and I kind of like a discreet feel in the back with 6.1. We definitely went back and got the discreet masters so it’s not encoded in the back, it’s a discreet whole channel that was set in surround. I’d like to play something from the prequels, from Episode I, one of my favorite scenes which I think is really showcased on Blu-ray is the pod race. That was when I started working on the prequels with Ben Burtt that was my first task, recording a lot of this material. It integrates everything we did in the DVD release back in 2000 and we’ve also added some little tweaks for the Blu-ray. We always build upon what we’ve created before, so we used the base of the 2000 DVD for that. I had full participation with Ben Burtt on this project, which was great, and George Lucas, especially on New Hope, was actively involved in sitting down and watching every reel and making sure that we had everything that people remember for the mix, all the right takes and effects since we had to build it all from scratch. We went through the film in 15 second increments, listening to that against what we’d done before and making sure it was all in there. Q: Can you share any feedback that George might have given you on Episode 4? A: Yes --- always the question of music and effects, the balance there and how to make it most effective. If someone has a dramatic memory of hearing the film originally, and it had the star destroyer going overhead at the beginning with the blockade runner and the lasers going on----if I played the mono mix of what was there, it was pretty harsh. Most people never even heard any kind of surround information. We had to build that and think about what somebody maybe emotionally remembers from that…it was a hard job. When doing that it was always George just making sure we could hear the music, obviously he wants to make sure the dialog can be heard so you can hear the story go forward, and then build the music and effects around that. We played the reels many times with him and it was fun to hear his anecdotes about making the films. I actually found a few things when going through New Hope that we added, just little comments here and there that were production lines that might not have been used or were changed, but all very subtle little things including some lines of dialog you’ll find them when you watch the Blu-ray. Q: Would you say that now in discreet 6.1 that it really lends itself to the star destroyer flying over at the beginning? A: Yes. I would say that. There are a few moments, we’re still calling them “EX Moments” but I guess they are true, un-matrixed CS moments that are in the films for IV-VI. I can play you another scene, one of my favorites from when I first started with this company as a teenager, I used to come to the archives before it was even digitized and I put up the quarter-inch reels of the carbon freezing chamber ambiance and listen, that’s always been a favorite of mine. For New Hope, I had to go all the way back to the original production rolls and the original music rolls, but luckily for Episodes V & VI, the archives were a lot more robust, because those movies were already known to have a life beyond the original release. They were archived in a way that had separation of effects, music and dialog, so when I built the 6.1 mixes, it was a lot easier. The other thing that happened is that over time tape can degrade, you get a lot of wow and flutter so anytime that happened I’d have to go back one generation to something and hopefully balance it back into the mix, so there are limitations on the analog source, but now it’s all been digitized in a way that it’s saved. As I said earlier, I think these films for me were the only ones that I could do this on, because I can just feel it when something is wrong, if it’s the wrong take or…. Like on New Hope when Leia is putting the code into R2 on the blockade runner, the background lasers had to be cut against the print master of the previous version because it was all loops on a reel, and it would always be running. So when they had background lasers they would just pull that fader up and down. I had to find that loop and find the exact moment where they went in and out on and I’d have to rhythmically hear the lasers (Matthew makes laser sounds here) and think, ok, that must go here. I was doing it against the print master, it was very forensic. Once I had it all put together I would bring it to the mix stage to Ben and George. I’d approximate it as close as I could and they would give me their final comments. Q: Was there anything else that you had to make up or add in? A: Occasionally in New Hope, there were things that could not be completely found, a few very subtle things like a footstep here and there or some background noise that we would just re-perform or get an approximate sound. And of course, every time we watched the movies, George would find something that he wanted to change, so there were changes to the films visually as well as audio-wise, so there are some changes in the Blu-ray version that you guys will find! It was funny, because we’d meticulously put it all together, “here’s what it was!” and then he’ll update it. Q: On the DVD, the orchestra for the surround channels was swapped, was that fixed? A: It’s funny, because it never really was an error --- what happened back then was that the music master we had at the time didn’t have any surround information. One of the techniques that has been used previously from mixers is to give it a bigger soundstage---they would have flipped the back channel to give it a different kind of reverb. And that was done on the THX 1138 remaster, which I didn’t work on. For this go-round (6.1) we decided not to do that, so the surround information is direct to the back, no longer flipped on the music track. Q: Did all 6 films get new mixes? A: New Hope was a re-editorial of everything; in the areas that have new material those were new mixes done there, but it was really just a forensics to make sure that I have everything. Every time the films get released, there is always a new version, for Episode II there was a D cinema version that was done for digital cinema, then the DVD version, so we want to incorporate those to make sure that we have them at the right levels and such. The most amount of work was done on New Hope, even though we spent a lot of time on the other films as well, making sure that they all sound right and the fidelity was going to be good. Q: Was there any thought given to archiving previous tracks like the 6-track master from the 70mm prints or the 78 mono remix? Any thought given to putting them on the Blu-ray? A: Yes, we have those and they’ve all been digitized. I don’t know if they considered putting those on the Blu-ray. That might be more of a question for Marketing, it may be an issue of space. It’s funny because I play those other audio tracks, like the scene when R2 and C3PO have been left on Tatooine and they walk through the canyon. I just love that on the current mix, you can actually hear the quiet, when R2 is lonely, going through the canyon. I played the original mix and it’s FULL of hiss and totally brittle, so it’s fun now to hear it like George wanted it to really be, what was intended. Q: Did you do a remix for the German language release? A: We absolutely did. In fact our dubbing supervisor was German, and that was very helpful. Part III? There will be a third installment coming, hopefully with a few final questions answered and excerpts from a roundtable with Dennis Muren of ILM. Dennis didn’t really go into a lot of detail on the Blu-ray release, but shared a lot of great info about the effects used in the six films. It will be a few days before that is ready. UPDATE: Here is a link to part III. My Overall Thoughts on This Release (or Pardon Me While I Slip Into Something Flame-Retardant) Prior to seeing the discs and hearing more about the release last week, I was trepidatious about the final product and had the same concerns as many of you: Where they just recycling what we saw on the DVDs, what was the audio going to be like, was this a rush job without a lot put into it, were the deleted scenes just going to be a long montage clip like we saw at Comic-Con, who cares about prop 360 turnarounds, etc. But now it’s evident to me that a lot of time, effort, money and care went into this release. Is it a definitive release? Absolutely not, but I don’t think there ever really can be for a set of six films of this complexity that have spawned multiple spin-offs. I also honestly don’t think there will ever be a release that will please everyone. There are some people who will refuse to purchase it since the original theatrical cuts of the trilogy aren’t part of the set, or due to other changes. If that is you, feel free to vote with your wallet. Personally, I would have loved for them to have been included as well, but they weren’t. Here at HTF the bottom line of just about every review is this: At the end of the day, is it worth your hard-earned money? To answer that question I need to judge this release on what it is, not for what it isn’t. I was fortunate enough to see some of the final product, look at the special features and hear from the people who have spent the last three to four years making it what it is: A very solid release. Thanks for letting me share the experience with you --- based on what I have seen so far, I recommended adding it to your collection. Please look for Matt Hough’s full review right around the September 16th street date. Links Part I: Hands On and Kayleen Walters Part III: Dennis Muren Bill Hunt was there as well and has posted his thoughts over on The Digital Bits. (c) 2011 Home Theater Forum. No part may be reproduced without permission. I neglected to thank my wife Annette who has been transcribing things for me. If I was doing the work with my two-finger typing technique this would maybe be ready for publication by September 16th when the discs street, so a big THANK YOU to her!