Macs of the Apocalypse

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You can do a lot of things with a Mac -- but can you push the planet to the brink of Armageddon? After all, isn't that what Windows is for?

The mad scientists at Visual Concept Entertainment (VCE) managed to bring about nuclear annihilation -- or a reasonable facsimile of it. The Los Angeles-based visual-effects company used Macs to create a montage of atomic-bomb blasts for the opening credits of Thirteen Days , a drama about the Cuban missile crisis. VCE had already produced the documentary Trinity and Beyond , about the early days of nuclear weapons, so it had plenty of atomic-explosion footage to bring to the project.

Using Adobe After Effects 4.1.1, Pinnacle Systems' Commotion 2 and 3, and Artel Software's Boris effects packages, VCE visual-effects artist Kurt Wiley removed scratches and dirt, performed color corrections, and tidied up the old footage to make it look more like sequences filmed expressly for Thirteen Days .

Wiley, who also worked on the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie The Sixth Day , has been using Macs for film production since 1988. "The Mac is easier to set up than Windows machines, is easier to fix when something goes wrong, and has a more consistent interface," he says. "We use three to five applications on any one project, and having that constant interface is important."

For Thirteen Days , Wiley worked on a half-dozen Macintosh 9600s with XLR8 accelerators, as well as four multiprocessor Power Mac G4s. While the 9600 may be a middle-aged machine, VCE uses the old-timers because of their abundant expansion slots -- a necessity for video editing systems, which require a wide range of interface cards. Thanks to the giddy-up produced by the accelerators, the 9600s sprinted through the editing sessions with processor speeds matching those of a 400MHz machine.

The G4 didn't need any turbo boost. Although Wiley would like to see more slots on the newer machine, he says the G4 is "the best Mac I've ever used. It's very fast and I'm doing things on it that I could not do three years ago." Like wiping out Earth in a barrage of mushroom clouds, for instance.

For the film Thirteen Days , VCE used an army of Macs to make footage of a nuclear blast (left) look like new (right).
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