Iwerks talking virtual reality

VIRTUAL DEAL: Military contractor and pioneering virtual reality developers Evans & Sutherland, and Simgraphics, a leader in three-dimensional graphic software, are talking with Iwerks Entertainment, the Burbank-based company that is launching a new venue for stand-alone theme parks. Iwerks CEO Stan Kinsey says only that they are, indeed, in discussions, but promises more soon.

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AVID FAN: Martha Coolidge’s latest, “Lost in Yonkers” for Columbia, is setting a precedent: it’s being edited entirely on an Avid system at 24 frames per second.

Editor Steven Cohen is cutting nine hours of material first on the system, which is running on an Apple Quandra. Using Avid, all the dailies are printed, then transferred to videotape and scanned into the computer for editing.

Typically, though, Avid’s software runs at 30 FPS, which means an editing chore since there are six so-called “cheat frames” to throw out when the video is run on a monitor.

Now, Cohen is working with software that converts the 30 FPS of the tape to the standard 24 FPS within the Avid. This way, he’s playing back at the rate he will actually be cutting. The system even does skip-printing, where it will print every other frame.

The only sacrifice that filmmakers are grappling with is the lousy video image in exchange for storage space on the hard drives. Avid has five settings for compressing images, with the highest level giving the worst picture when it’s played back. At the mid-level, where Cohen is, he can put one hour of footage on a 2-gigabyte drive, though he’s using a 3.5-gigabyte hard drive.

“I can run a quarter of dailies at one time,” says Cohen. “We could have screenings of the entire show with two brief intermissions.”

According to Avid, this 24-FPS-software called, elegantly enough, the Film Option, is shipping in December at $ 10,000. It also spits out a negative cut and change list.

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HOT BOARD: A new hot item for computer users doing multimedia is New Video’s EyeQ board, which raises the stakes in Hollywood’s effort to put a film on CD.

With homevideo divisions spending $ 4 for a videotape, they’d prefer to drop $ 1 for a CD. Imagine putting films on a hard drive. EyeQ captures video in real time–as it happens–onto a computer hard drive. It then plays the images back at 30 frames per second, at full screen. The astounding feature is the compression ratio, however, which is as high as 160-to-1.

An entire feature film can be put on a hard drive and played back with little problem. The trick is that each frame is compressed for better clarity. The more common technique is squeezing into the hard drive only those images that are different from frame to frame. EyeQ is supported by Apple’s Quicktime video format. Studios can call up film trailers from a main computer, or server, just like Procter & Gamble will be doing soon when executives call up commercials over their network using Eye Q.

The card for playback is only $ 2,500, while the card that both captures and plays back is $ 4,500.

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FRESH REELS: A project that won Joerg Agin high marks before he left Kodak was one he started with Fox. According to Andy Setos, head of engineering there, Fox is preserving a sampling from 10,000 hours, or 60 million feet, of its Movietone News reels from 1903-63. “It’s unaffordable and unimaginable to copy onto film,” says Setos.

The footage is being recorded onto a magnetic instrumentation tape, called ID One, recording at 400 megabits per second. (ID One is made by Beta Tape in Pasadena, which is owned by Kodak.) It works at variable speed since many of the early reels were hand-cranked.

To make the transfer possible, however, Kodak’s video camera, the M2, has computer chips in it that are recently declassified from military use–read: satellites.

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LARGE SCREEN: Sony Corp. and Imax Corp. are going in on a big-screen complex at Manhattan’s new Lincoln Square. Imax confirmed the pair will build a state-of-the-art theater in the new building near Lincoln Center, which will house Sony’s Loews Theater Management group. As to the fare that will play on an 85-by-125-foot screen, Imax says it has no joint effort with Sony to produce a film for the venue, but the owner of Columbia Studios doubtless has its own ideas for 70mm.

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WHAT MULTIMEDIA?: One wag quipped recently that the biggest business in multimedia to date has been trade shows.

But that’s changing. One sign of the industry’s maturity is the inevitable attraction of investors. Several venture capitalists, investors willing to put up cash in a company in exchange for large pieces of equity, are now scouting industry gatherings. One firm, for instance, L.A.-based Kane & Co., is raising $ 40 million to underwrite the development of titles.

So far, two investments that have caught the industry’s attention were made by the blue-chip venture capitalist Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers. Both are in companies developing boxes to manage interactive media: 3DO Inc., with Time Warner Inc. and EO Corp., both with Matsushita Electric Industrial Inc., parent of Universal.

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