Much of upcoming science fiction film done on Macs
By Dennis Sellers
Radius,’ a science-fiction film made especially for the Internet is due this summer. And the Mac helped make it possible.
The film will play online for free, but you can follow its progress at the film’s Web site, where the director, Helmut Kobler, posts journal entries, production photos, and video clips showing Radius’ progress, step-by-step.
“Radius is unique in that it’s very high quality as far as net films go (35mm, epic locations, 148 visual FX shots, etc.), but it also breaks ground in that our Web site lets fans track the making of the movie day in and day out,” Kobler told MacCentral. “We really wanted to show people what it’s like to make an indie film — not a sugarcoated version of filmmaking, but a realistic ‘in the trenches’ perspective — and so we post lots of candid journal entries, production pics, sound and visual effects trials, and tons of unscripted ‘you are there’ video clips. This has never been done before, especially with this sort of detail.”
Most of the film — from the editing to the visual effects to the sound/music — is all done on the Mac. Kobler’s PowerBook G3 500 has become the “digital hub” (as Apple would say) of it all.
“I keep the whole film on my ‘Book, and am constantly plugging in new effects or sounds or music into the film, and also manage to run the whole Radius Web site, including capturing/editing/encoding all our video clips, from the PowerBook as well … usually at Starbucks.”
Radius tells the story of a military ship shot down behind enemy lines. A massive “CraterMaker” warhead has gone active on the downed ship, giving the pilot and her crew 30 minutes to escape the blast. Kobler shot Radius on 35mm film during a 125-degree heat wave in Death Valley, CA. The film stars actor Matt McCoy (“LA Confidential,” “The Hand That Rocks the Cradle,” “Seinfeld”).
“The Internet lets us reach a wide audience, but people don’t have high expectations for online films,” Kobler said. “I wanted to give Radius the feel and scope of a mainstream action picture. The locations, effects, and action sequences are going to surprise people.”
Working with Kobler to make Radius are Cinematographer Philip Timme, who served as visual effects cinematographer on “Dante’s Peak,” “Armageddon,” and “Independence Day”; Visual Effects Supervisor Adam Howard (“Star Trek: Voyager,” “Armageddon,” “Volcano”); and Danetracks, a sound design and editorial firm (“The Matrix,” “Red Planet,” “Swordfish”).
The Radius Web site brings the story behind the story to life with interviews, storyboards, candid journal entries, and unscripted video clips shot behind the scenes. It also offers a peek at casting, location scouting, set design, editing, sound, music, and visual effects.
“The making of a film can be as entertaining as the film itself, so we take the audience with us through all the setbacks and lucky breaks that define indie filmmaking,” Producer Andy Trapani said.
Kobler’s PowerBook is a “Pismo” G3 500 with 384MB of RAM and 30GB hard drive. He also has a 30GB VST portable FireWire drive, giving him a total of 60GB of storage for taking on the road. What’s more, he uses three larger FireWire drives daisy chained together for an additional 220GB of storage. He uses this massive storage capacity for the 45-hours plus of “Making of…” footage. Kobler’s camera of choice is a Sony PC-5 DV.
“This is cool; it’s Sony’s smallest camera, and it fits in my shoulder back with the ‘Book and VST drive, so I can take ‘Making of’ footage anytime, or use it as a capture/edit deck on the road,” he said.
They cut the film itself on AVID, but Kobler uses Final Cut for everything else: editing footage roughly to show our editor something he had in mind, editing all the “Making of’ footage on the Web, slipping new effects shots into the film to see how they look, preparing visual effects reference tapes for the sound folks, cutting the trailer, etc. For the Web site, Macromedia Dreamweaver UltraDev is used to create all the database features such as the daily production logs, the e-mail newsletter, all the news item sections that archive pictures, and more.
“And I use it day to day for simply adding new articles to the site,” Kobler said. “Plus there’s Fireworks 3 for making JPEGs for the site and such tasks. All our ‘Making of’ video is captured in Final Cut, compressed with Sorenson’s Developer Edition codec in Cleaner 5, all on the ‘Book.'”
The special effects people use Adobe After Effects 4.1 and 5. Danetracks, the sound designers, use DigiDesign’s ProTools 5.1 for editing and SoundHack (freeware from Tom Herb) for design work. Music is handled with LogicAudio by Emagic, Csound by Vercoe, and SuperCollider by James McCartney.
Why use Mac and Mac compatible products? In some ways it was a deliberate choice, in others it happened to be what people were already using, Kobler said. For instance, the editor, like just about every other editor, cut her teeth on the AVID, which is still the realm of the Macintosh. While AVID is now available on the PC, most editors learned it on the Mac and still use it on the Mac, Kobler said. The story’s the same with visual effects: the Mac has a long history with After Effects, so you find that most people using AE are doing it with Macs, he added. Ditto on the music/sound side.
But where it was a very deliberate choice was the director’s use of the PowerBook. When they were going into production a year ago, he was using an old Dell laptop. But Kobler quickly realized he needed something that could handle lots of video work as they went into postproduction (editing, FX, sound design, music, etc.). The FireWire-equipped PowerBooks look like they filled the bill. Kobler ordered one and hasn’t looked back.
“I realize that there are Windows laptops from Dell and Sony that also have FireWire, and bill themselves for video editing,” he said. “But nothing integrates everything so well — the laptop and great software like QuickTime and Final Cut.”
“I truly think the film could not have been done if not for the PowerBook,” Kobler said. “It lets a single indie filmmaker manage an entire film wherever he/she is, and that’s key when you don’t have a big studio budget behind you.”
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