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Lucasfilm and Fox also offered NOVA an unprecedented opportunity: to film behind-the-scenes on the Star Wars Special Edition, set for theatrical release in 1997 to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the film. The Special Edition will feature a fully restored print with enhanced visual effects, a digitally remastered soundtrack and new footage. NOVA was given access to shoots featuring Stormtroopers patrolling the deserts of Tatooine, model sets of the planet Mos Eiseley and some well-guarded creatures, which will be seen for the first time in Special Effects. Viewers even get a glimpse of the Lucasfilm Archives, where R2D2, C3PO and a host of other beloved characters await their next star turn.

Gorilla in the Mist

kong For the action-packed opening sequence of Special Effects, Simpson and Burtt chose to pay homage to a classic that has inspired generations of special effects filmmakers: King Kong. The film opens with Kong perched atop a flame-engulfed skyscraper as chaos reigns in the streets below. But this beast differed from his predecessors—it's the first time he's been seen actual size on a movie screen.

As imposing as he is on the IMAX screen, Kong started out as a rather unassuming 18" model, composed of a jointed steel armature clothed in sculpted kong foam and fur. Using the time-honored technique of stop motion animation, animator David Allen flexed Kong's body through a range of movement, stopping to shoot each sequential pose one frame at a time. The result, projected at 24 frames per second, brings a legend to life. But the painstaking performance is demanding: one particular 10-second shot took 29 straight hours to shoot. For Kong special effects director Sean MacLeod Phillips, it was well worth it: "The sequence has a real feature-film feel to it, with quick cutting and a lot of camera movement." The crew also created a scaled-down environment for Kong's rampage.

Special Effects transposes the disgruntled gorilla to San Francisco, so the crew constructed the city's skyline in a Los Angeles studio, where 12-foot tall buildings provided the proper proportions for Kong's menace. The miniature scenes are intercut seamlessly with live action shots of panicked spectators, racing fire engines and dive-bombing biplanes. Aerial tracer bullets, flames and searchlights composited optically by IMAGICA complete the illusion.


Photo Credits: (1-2) copyright 1996 WGBH Educational Foundation .

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