AFI probes ‘Reality’

About 50 onlookers took a “virtual” vacation to Kauai Friday, minus the airfare and hotel expenses and sunburn.

For about the cost of a phone call, those onlookers traveled down a digital highway, enjoying views of bubbling waterfalls and turquoise oceans. They also sat in on a conference about high-tech dinosaurs.

Fiber optics is the entertainment industry’s new buzz word, and on Friday the American Film Institute launched its first-ever pic-tel conference, featuring the creators of Steven Spielberg’s “Jurassic Park” special effects as guest speakers.

The panel was actually in Kauai, as part of a four-day event on high-tech filmmaking, although their voices and images were telephoned in to Los Angeles (as were the Los Angeles participants to Kauai).

These filmmakers were the first to admit that today’s entertainment technology, which uses everything from computer animation to integrated phone communication, is advancing faster than a T. rex at full gallop.

“We don’t know how much of this new technology is going to pan out,” said Dennis Muren, who created “Jurassic’s” full-motion dinosaurs. “But there doesn’t seem to be an end to it.”

Even during the two years that it took to make “Jurassic,” technology advanced so rapidly that the creators were doing things quite a bit differently by the end of the film.

“It’s only been in the last three years that we’ve been able to digitize film ,” said Sam Winston, who created “Jurassic’s” live-action dinosaurs. “This painting of digital images on film, I think, will eventually replace film entirely. Right now it’s not happening because the equipment is too bulky.”

Such advancements are affecting all facets of the industry, not just the special effects seen onscreen. For instance, with just two satellite hops, Spielberg was able to view dailies in Poland, where he was shooting “Schindler’s List.”

“It’s going to reach a point where we’ll just be sending them to the director’s house,” said Phil Tippett, “Jurassic” dinosaur supervisor. “From Poland, Steven could stop the film frame by frame and add his comments.”

The panelists agreed that the advent of digital filmmaking presents some problems in terms of creating very realistic violence onscreen.

“There will always be a moral question when you’re dealing with something that creates so much impact,” Winston said. “But you don’t stop technology just because some people will misuse it.”

As for digital images replacing actors, Winston said the technology is already in place.

“But why would you want to replace actors?” he asked. “Very soon we’re going to see totally digitized films, but that’s just another way to tell a story. I don’t see it as necessarily replacing anything. The art and the story, not the technology, will always come first.”

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