Rocket Science taps H’wood talent for CD games

IT DOESN’T TAKE a rocket scientist to figure out there’s something new happening in entertainment. Look at Palo Alto’s Rocket Science Games Inc., unveiled Wednesday, which will produce CD-ROM games with a host of Hollywood talent.

Hollywood-based founders include Mike Backes, a technical director on “Jurassic Park” and co-screenwriter on “Rising Sun,” and Ron Cobb, creative designer on “Alien.”

On the Silicon Valley side, there’s Steve Blank, former head of marketing at SuperMac Technology Inc., one of the largest makers of video-compression boards for Apple Computers, and Peter Barrett, SuperMac’s former director of technology.

The company has already raised an estimated $ 4 million from venture capitalists Merrill Pickard, Anderson and Eyre, and Mohr Davidow Ventures.

“We see some historical trends,” Blank said. “Vaudeville people thought they were going to own the movies, the movie guys thought they’d own TV, and TV would own cable.” A similar pattern emerged in the computer industry. Industry leaders “were so slow that they failed to take advantage of the opportunities,” Blank said. Interactive entertainment is wide open, with no dominant player, Blank argued.

Expect to see products in 12 months, and a tool kit for developing interactive games using Apple’s QuickTime multimedia software that compresses picture, audio and text and plays it back.

That makes sense, since half of Rocket Science helped write the QuickTime software.

SPECIAL EFFECTS house Sidley Wright Associates now counts National Video Center, a New York-based design and animation company, as a key investor. As a result, the new name is Sidley Wright Motion Works.

The deal was done last month after a year of negotiations. “National has invested enough money to totally update the company in hardware and software” and is committed to investing more, said Rick Melchior, head of National’s West Coast office.

According to Melchior and co-founder Steve Sidley, the company was too underfunded to bid for bigger effects projects. Also, Sidley added, “We had proprietary products under research and development that needed money.”

Indeed, their digital ink and paint process, or DIP, is the only commercially available computer-aided animation system using Pixar hardware and software outside of Disney. It was used on all the animated sequences in MGM’s upcoming “Son of Pink Panther.” One DIP system recently was sold to a Japanese animation company for an estimated $ 750,000.

Sidley Wright just wrapped some work on Paramount’s “Coneheads.”

THE TECH SOFTWARE folks are chattering about Live Picture, a program that threatens to dramatically overhaul video and film editing and effects on the Macintosh. Discovered by Kai Krause, a computer graphics whiz associated with HSC Software Corp. in Santa Monica, the program’s U.S. publishing rights were recently acquired and it’s being demonstrated around town.

Live Picture, developed in France, can take any size computer file and put it up on the screen for manipulation at blinding speed. A typical movie frame is 43 + megabytes of data, and this program can wrestle with more than 200 megabytes. More startling is that the image has no pixels. The reason, according to Krause, is that Live Picture uses an alogorithmic representation of the image in the computer file. This means that users don’t actually mess with the original image , but a picture of it.

Krause will make a presentation of Live Picture July 27 at the American Film Institute’s Apple Computer Center.

“DEMYSTIFYING Multimedia,” published in May by San Francisco’s Vivid Publishing and ready to go into its second printing, is useful for getting up to speed on QuickTime and solving other mysteries of new entertainment.

The 284-page, oversize book was commissioned by Apple Computer for internal use and put together in six months. Now, it’s available to everyone.

CONTRARY TO A RUMOR, Bob Carberry, head of IBM’s venture capital arm, Fireworks Partners, is not being replaced. There’s a search going on for the chief executive of New Leaf Entertainment Corp., the joint venture between Fireworks and Blockbuster (Daily Variety, May 11).

DIGITAL DOMAIN has snapped up $ 4 million worth of Silicon Graphics hardware. The special-effects house is also linking via fiber-optic cable to co-founder Jim Cameron’s own production company, Lightstorm Entertainment.

NEWS EARLIER THIS WEEK about Hollywood Online — which is putting QuickTime trailers on computer networks — neglected to point out that one network, America On-Line, has some 300,000 subscribers. Also, founders Steve Katinsky and Stu Halperin note that a short movie snippet from Castle Rock’s “In the Line of Fire” was checked out by 25,000 viewers. Not bad for just a week on-line.

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