- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 4, 2005

INDIANAPOLIS - The four-day Star Wars Celebration III last month made a Force-ful statement on the power of George Lucas’ space opera as more than 30,000 visitors packed the Indiana Convention Center to bask in the glow of a galaxy far, far away.

Along with the popular-culture entertainment value provided by the films over the past 28 years, many technological and scientific inspirations have evolved, too, and they were demonstrated at the show:

• Within the area of special effects, even the casual “Star Wars” fan knows George Lucas raised the bar on incorporating computer animation and graphics into film.

The celebration included question-and-answer sessions with some of the top designers at Mr. Lucas’ special-effects company, Industrial Light and Magic. Visual-effects supervisors John Knoll and Roger Guyett and concept-design supervisor Ryan Church revealed the magic behind the movies.

Additionally, California computer-processor maker AMD Inc. (Advanced Micro Devices) was on hand to demonstrate the chip set that helped fuel the digital effects seen in the new film “Episode III: Revenge of the Sith,” which opens May 19.

AMD’s Athlon 64 chip sets were used extensively by the digital-effects creators at Skywalker Ranch in presenting the ultimate digital studio for the director.

Of course, these same processors have become part of the standard for serious gaming, and AMD has teamed up with computer maker Alienware Corp. to promote a new line of computers with a “Star Wars” motif.

About a dozen stations were set up at the show for gamers to play Lucas Arts’ popular PC challenges Star Wars: Battlefront Republic Commando and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II.

• “Star Wars” has touted the use of robots in its alternate universe with one little garbage-can-shaped fellow — often called the hero of the entire series of movies — leading the way as he always manages to pull his masters out of various pickles.

Naturally, fans have become obsessed by the robotics potential. About 3,000 of them formed the R2 Builders Club in 2002 with a mission to assist in the appreciation and construction of multiple types of “Star Wars” droids.

The entire organization was in full force at the show, displaying and often demonstrating creations that cost $500 to $8,000 to build. Simple wood models stood next to droids projecting film clips of a distressed Princess Leia next to moving models using RF-based remote controllers.

The makers of an R2-D2 and an ion-blast-resisting R7-S1 unit explained their entrance into the unique hobby.

“My son wanted to build a Battlebot, and I thought it was a lot of money to invest in something that was just going to get torn up,” said Andrew Schwartz of Alexandria.

“So after looking on the Internet, I found a group of people who build R2-D2s. So I decided that if we are going to build a robot, let’s build an R2-D2.”

The quality-assurance manager has no background in engineering or electronics, and it took him about a year to build the bot.

Those wondering what artistic and technological skills are required to create a droid should check out the group’s Web site (www.astromech.net) to see in great detail how some paint and aluminum, a cardboard Sonotube, a squirrel guard, a reconfigured automobile windshield-wiper motor, and fiber-optic lamps can become a pop-culture pal.

• Peter Garland from Boston’s Museum of Science was on hand to tell attendees of a new exhibit debuting in late October. “Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination” will highlight parallels between technologies shown in the famed films and real-life developments in science. It combines artwork, props, models, film clips and documentary footage with hands-on science and technology activities. The event also will feature a full-scale version of a Naboo Royal N-1 Starfighter as well as the voice of actor Anthony Daniels and his robotic persona, C-3P0.

Unfortunately, it is not scheduled for the D.C. area, but it will make a stop in Philadelphia after its Boston run.

Write to Joseph Szadkowski, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002; or send e-mail (jszadkowski@washington times.com).

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