The Mac Turns 20

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Moviemaker

by Roger Ebert

Macs turn up in the movies all the time -- not so much because of product placement, but because so many movie people use them and like them. A historian of the future, counting all the on-screen computers between 1983 and today, would likely conclude that Macs represented 90 percent of the computer market.

Alas, this is not so. But since any reasonable person would choose a Mac over a PC, Apple's market share does provide us with an accurate reading of the percentage of reasonable people in our society.

Yet the Mac's role in the actual making of movies is far larger than the PC's. Macs are in editing suites, sound studios, and musicians' mixing rooms. Writers use them, agencies create ads and trailers on them, Web pages are designed on them -- and movies are literally made with the Mac.

Using desktop Macs and homegrown software, a group of filmmakers in Austin, Texas, revolutionized the world of animation -- taking an art form that was once painstaking and expensive, and putting it within the reach of anyone with, say, a digital-video camera, a Mac, and a lot of imagination.

As anyone can see, a movie shot on a consumer digital camera looks like, well, exactly that. The color and detail are murky, the depth is lacking, and the movie is clearly not ready for prime time. Richard Linklater's Waking Life (2001) is one of the most influential of all modern films -- because, first, he showed how to make, in postproduction, a consumer-camera digital film look like a commercial, theatrical-quality film, and second, he demonstrated that inexpensive feature-length animation was within the reach of ordinary filmmakers.

The movie follows its hero through Austin after a traumatic event sends him on an odyssey. He seeks truth and insight through conversations with a variety of talkative thinkers. Linklater filmed these conversations and then farmed out each encounter to a different Mac animator. Using rotoscoping-inspired software devised by Bob Sabiston, Linklater's animation director, the animators applied their personal artistic styles to their segments, so the film is like a group show.

Animation no longer requires thousands of hours of hand-drawn cels, or rooms filled with microstations. There will always be a role for those approaches, and they will remain the animation mainstream. But the Mac makes high-quality animation possible for anyone with an artistic vision to express.

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