Issue: Volume: 25 Issue: 7 (July 2002)

Far-Reaching Effects

As is our habit every year about this time, the staff of Computer Graphics World slipped quietly out of our offices one Friday afternoon and met friends, coworkers, families, and other computer graphics enthusiasts in the lobby of our local theater to see the summer’s visual effects extravaganza and box office blockbuster, which this year, of course, was Star Wars: Episode II—Attack of the Clones. It’s demanding work, but someone has to do it.

Because computer-generated imagery had advanced so dramatically in the three years since Episode I premiered (we also played hooky to see that one), our expectations for the effects couldn't have been higher. Would they be the most spectacular yet? Would they change movies forever?

When the film ended, we compared notes, but soon discovered they were indecipherable, having been scribbled in the dark. So we came up with a list of questions, which we posted on our internal network for a group discussion and on our Web site for readers to comment on. Here are 10 questions and a digest of responses:

  1. Do the digital visual effects in Star Wars: Episode II represent a milestone? The film represents a huge evolutionary leap forward, if not a milestone. Granted, other films have had visual effects that were technically or aesthetically superior to those in Episode II, including scenes involving digital humans, natural effects, and scientific or biological simulations. And Episode I already introduced many effects that we have come to expect in a Star Wars film. But Episode II contains an unprecedented range of visual effects-including digital characters, creatures, cityscapes, architectures, landscapes, space scenes, chase scenes, battle scenes, explosions, duels, advanced technologies, and the like-many of which represent true innovation in their own right.
  2. Which were the most innovative digital characters? Yoda, because he gains a greater range and subtlety of expression yet retains his original puppet-like appearance; the huge, spider-crab creature in the arena on the rock planet, Geonosis, because of the terrifying realism of its screaming, jabbing attack; the tall, doe-eyed Kaminoan cloners on the water planet, Kamino, because of their graceful movements and realistic clothing simulations; The clones, because of their sheer numbers and realistic human movements.
  3. Which were the most innovative action scenes? The chase scene through Coruscant where Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi, in an airspeeder, track the would-be assassin of Senator Padmé Amidala; the fight between Obi-Wan and bounty hunter Jango Fett on Kamino; the chase scene through the Geonosian asteroid belt when Jango and his clone-son, Boba, chase and fire on Obi-Wan's Jedi starfighter; the many-layered, chaotic battle between the clones and droids on Geonosis.
  4. Which were the most innovative settings or environments? The idyllic lake-country on Naboo, home planet of Padmé; the moonlit vistas of the rock planet, Geonosis; the droid factory on Geonosis; the clone center on Kamino; Dex's Diner; the Jedi library; and favorites: the Coruscant city districts and Senate Chamber.
  5. Which were the most innovative vehicles? Count Dooku's Geonosian solar sailship, Anakin's borrowed airspeeder, Obi-Wan's starfighter, the large-wheeled droids, the all-terrain tactical enforcer, the shiny royal cruiser that transports Padmé and Anakin, the huge Federation droid control ship, the Republic gunship, the gondola-like water speeder, the Airstream-trailer-like air bus.
  6. What role did digital effects play in the film? Essentially, the visual effects were the film. We still care more about the characters-the human ones, anyway. But the effects help create worlds that we can believe in and escape to. They are so stunning that they make up for shortcomings in the story and script.

  1. How will effects such as these change movie making? Visual effects artists and animators can now create virtually anything filmmakers can imagine. And for the present, the effects can play a starring role. But the novelty will soon wear off (in fact, it may already have). The challenge now is for storytellers to create plots and scripts that are imaginative enough to match this level of graphics, to show us new concepts, new technologies, new worlds and realities that we have never dreamed of before.
  2. What technology still needs to be developed or improved? More realistic lip-syncing, walking, and other body movements for digital characters; better blending of human actors into the multiple layers of digital content; better physics; higher resolution; faster frame rates.
  3. Which effects in the film were poorly executed? A digital Anakin jerkily riding and falling off the hippo-like creature on Naboo; a frail Yoda turning, almost comically, into a whirling Jedi master to fight Dooku; the artificial-looking digital ocean on Kamino; Jar Jar's overly bouncy gait; Dexter Jettster's exaggerated movements; the Kaminoans' stiff lip-sync; the unrealistic animation of the cat-like critter in the Geonosis arena; Anakin and Padmé riding the big, bull-like animal in the arena; the flat, repetitive backdrop of Coruscant out the windows of the Republic Executive building and Chancellor Palpatine's office; the brighter-than-possible reflections on the royal cruiser.
  4. What inconsistencies were there in the film? Padmé agrees to marry Anakin after he confesses to slaughtering an entire village of Tatooine sand people, including women and children; loud explosions in the silent vacuum of space; the notion that any two vehicles involved in a chase scene go exactly the same speed; Padmé falling out of the Republic gunship then getting up and running away; "Twentieth-Century" Fox; subsistence farming and slave labor as a way of life on the technologically advanced culture of the desert planet Tatooine.

Thanks to those who responded to our survey about the impact of the visual effects in Star Wars: Episode II. To read more about how the effects were created, please see "Attack of the Clones, Part 2" on pg. 20. To see other responses to the survey, visit our Web site at, then go to the Web Exclusives section and click on Opinion. We'd also like to invite you to add to the discussion by dropping us a line at