"Pre-visualization" drawings by computer animation artists helped George Lucas determine the look of his epic "Star Wars" scenes.

WAY behind
the scenes

A former islander is part
of the animatics team
for "Episode III"

On the first Saturday of the month, Lucasfilm booked four theaters at a San Francisco multiplex for an employee showing of "Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith."

Today, in print

E1: The End, er -- middle.

E6: Know your "Sith" characters.

Coming up

Tomorrow: Reviews of video games based on the films.

In Weekend: Test your "Star Wars" knowledge.

Get your tickets

» Advance tickets for the 12:01 a.m. Thursday (late Wednesday) premiere of "Revenge of the Sith" are available at the Consolidated Ward Stadium, Pearlridge West, Koolau Stadium, Koko Marina and Mililani Stadium multiplexes, and Signature Pearl Highlands, Windward and Dole Cannery multiplexes.

» The Dole Cannery multiplex features the only THX-certified surround sound system in Hawaii, originally developed by LucasFilm for "Return of the Jedi." Seven Dole theaters will simultaneously show the movie's premiere, with a single additional 3 a.m. screening.

» Tickets also can be purchased online at www.movietickets.com for the Consolidated theaters, and www.fandango.com for the Signature theaters, for the remainder of the movie's run as well.

Familiar faces

mugChewbacca the Wookie, furry, furiously loyal sidekick to Harrison Ford in the original "Star Wars" trilogy, is played again by Peter Mayhew as a younger Chewbacca in "Revenge of the Sith."

Where Chewbacca was the sole representative of his species in previous films, this movie journeys to the Wookie home world, which means there will be lots more of the insanely tall, long-haired warriors gaining screen time.

Mayhew -- who stands 7-foot-3 -- turns 61 on Thursday, the day the new film opens. He doesn't act much anymore, but is a fixture at "Star Wars" and sci-fi conventions.

mugEmperor Palpatine, like Anakin-Vader, turns from apparent good guy to really bad guy over the course of the prequels. He's actually worse than Vader, as the architect of all the evil and the one who turns the young Jedi to the Dark Side.

Veteran stage actor Ian McDiarmid was 38 when he appeared as Palpatine in "Return of the Jedi," creepy and disfigured. Now 60, he has been compared in appearance to Mr. Burns of "The Simpsons."

In an interview with the New York Times, McDiarmid talked about developing the distinctive, threatening voice of the emperor:

"Oh, he's like a toad. He's a terrible reptile. I thought his voice should come from the dark depths. From the bowels of the Earth or the bowels of his being. ... I don't know if Sith have bowels."

Hawaii-born Hiroshi Mori was one of those attending, although he now works for Sony Imageworks. But from 2003 to '04, he was one of a team of computer artists who worked closely with George Lucas in "pre-visualizing" the last installment of the iconic sci-fi/fantasy series.

In a phone interview Wednesday from his Culver City, Calif., home, Mori cautiously worded his reaction to the film.

"It goes out with a bang," he succinctly said, "and I know people who've also seen it, whose opinion I trust, and all of them are enthused about it.

"It's the darkest of all the 'Star Wars' films, but in a weird way it's the most fun. People will understand that when they see the movie."

The 39-year-old Mori remembers growing up as a fan of movies, comic books and '70s Japanese anime while attending Mid-Pacific Institute and the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

Influenced by the "Star Wars" movies, "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," "Alien" and "Blade Runner," Mori saw moviemaking in his future.

But living in Hawaii, he had to first settle for a degree in communications from UH, taking the department's few video-production classes.

"But I also took a lot of photography classes, and within it was an animation section. I remember my professor, Robert Rodeck, made each person do a 30-second animated piece. Those classes were good for me because it was all about training your eye, good composition, and thinking and viewing the world like an artist."

AFTER GRADUATION, Mori worked at "a wedding video place and then JN Productions at KIKU," as the industry transitioned to computers and digital technology. "But I wasn't a computer guy, and it was only after I was forced to work with them careerwise that I knew it was the only way to survive in the business."

It would be four years before Mori would take the leap, moving to Los Angeles to enroll in the animation training ground known as the California Institute of the Arts, or Cal Arts.

When he graduated from the three-year program, Mori returned to Hawaii, where he worked for Square USA studio on the CGI film "Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within." His work was as a texture artist. "I painted the sets, props, buildings -- it was really an interesting experience, to work in a company of around 200 people."

The movie was not a box-office success, however, and Square USA closed. Mori did some digital 2-D animation for the Ohana Foundation that made education DVDs, and while he liked the artistic freedom, "unfortunately it went belly up after about a year."

While he tried to stay in Hawaii, Mori had to go back to L.A. and spend another two months pounding the pavement. Fortunately for him, one of his demo reel mailings in late 2002 went to George Lucas' Skywalker Ranch production compound in Marin County.

Mori became part of the 12-person animatics team of Lucasfilm's JAK division (named for Lucas' three children, Jett, Amanda and Katie), which eventually took on the pre-visualization work (or, in shortened tech speak, previz) for "Sith," specifically to design shots and sequences for the movie, strictly using digital data-to-frame shots, no cameras involved. With direction from Lucas, each artist was responsible for the look of the shot they were working on -- the modeling, texturing, lighting, animation and rendering.

Hiroshi Mori works on "Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith."

"Every day, you did a shot, or two or three, depending on its complication, making your own little movie. I know I won't have that kind of artistic freedom again. Usually we were given a storyboard, verbal description or sequence using clips from other movies, and we would go back and forth with the concept artists and our supervisor, and work on our own until it's done."

At project's end, the previz department had made 6,500 shots, of which only 2,200 survived in the movie.

"And it's not like you'll see our work on the screen," Mori said. "What we did was make a blueprint, a template that would then go on to Industrial Light and Magic. We make the sketch, albeit a very detailed one, and ILM makes it into a painting.

"I hope some of the original animatics from our team will make it onto the movie's DVD version. It deserves to be seen because they're pretty close to video-game cinematics."

One scene in "Sith" remains close to his original animatic, Mori says, and it was (Warning! Spoiler Alert!!) "the scene when Obi-Wan and Yoda come upon the 'younglings,' who are dead." ("Younglings" are Jedi children, these cut down by Anakin's lightsaber.)

When Mori and his team gathered to see the movie in San Francisco, "it was hard to look at it as just entertainment. We've already seen every shot and how they were put together. But we had never seen the final cut."

"Our team's first reaction while watching it that day was, 'Everything's been cut out!' ... (Our previz shots) tended to be longer, and only the first, say, 10 percent of the shots were used. While we realize that we were working for the bigger thing that is the movie, we can't help but have some emotional attachment to our original work."

Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith

Lucasfilm, Ltd.

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