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ILM plans more light & magic tricks

ILM’S EXPANSION: While most companies might be content to rest on their laurels after pulling off some of the most innovative and imaginative special effects to ever hit a movie screen, that hasn’t been the case with George Lucas and his Industrial Light & Magic.

ILM, which contributed mightily to the on-screen antics of those creatures in Steven Spielberg’s “Jurassic Park,” is not only not taking a breather, but the company’s computer graphics department is expanding at a whirlwind pace to keep up with ILM’s ever-increasing slate of projects, including another Spielberg-related production, “Casper.”

With “Casper” and several other projects, including Universal/Amblin’s “The Flintstones” and New Line’s “The Mask,” leading the way, ILM has already doubled the size of its computer department from 40 to 80. According to ILM VP and general manager, Jim Morris, the company will have 120 designers, engineers and other key creative people working at computers by next February.

And of course, with more designers, the company is also adding the hardware to go along with them, including a number of Silicon Graphics workstations.

“Our business has become very capital intensive,” Morris said, referring to the company’s heavy outlay of cash for the SGI Indigo systems. “It’s the same as we’ve seen with the videogame business.”

The company has also been working on a real-time digital effects compositing suite, that Morris says will be on-line by early January. Similar to a DOMINO, with its own proprietary software, the company plans on using it on Lucas’ “The Radioland Murders.”

Among some of the people who have joined ILM in the latest hiring wave are Kevin Rafferty, who most recently worked at Pacific Data; Don Butler, one of the founders of Post Perfect and Henry LaBounta, from Design EFX.

Of the 40 people who were recently brought into the computer graphics department, Morris notes that 25 have been from the outside, while 15 were promoted from within the company.

Although there is a wealth of movie projects on ILM’s plate right now — including “Forrest Gump,””Baby’s Day Out,””In the Mouth of Madness,””Wolf, “”Maverick” and “The Bee”– Morris did point out that the special effects business is still cyclical.

“Our business falls into two cycles,” Morris said. “The big effects pictures tend to get released in the summer or the winter and those are the two big movie-going cycles. But we do try to smooth out the peaks and valleys.”

Morris also noted that about 25 of ILM’s work is from commercials, adding, “That fits in during the valleys of the feature work. We try to keep a core group of people working, although there are times when we have to expand or contract on a short notice. But when you’ve got all this equipment, you don’t want it sitting around not being used.”

CALLING 2ND A.D.’S: While most everyone in the film industry seems to be benefiting from computers today, from screenwriters toeditors to script supervisors, it’s not surprising that a program has finally been developed for the workhorse of the movie set — the second assistant director.

“Film Works 2nd A.D.” developed by Film Works Software, is a production reporting program to create and produce call sheet and production reports with the help of a computer.

The program, which runs on a pen-based Fujitsu 386, 25 mhz computer weighing only 2.5 pounds, has been used on such features as “Heart and Souls” and “The War” and will be used on “Casper,” in addition to numerous TV shows. It’s currently in use by CBS, NBC, Carolco, Warner Bros. TV, Universal Pictures, Fox and TNT.

For those who haven’t spent much time on a movie set, the second assistant director takes care of much of the grunt work, such as preparing information needed for daily production reports and call sheets.

A movie’s daily call sheet and production report is the central point of information flow from the set to the production office, and it is usually the second assistant director who works hours preparing the documents.

Now, with the help of “Film Works 2nd A.D.,” the information necessary for the production report and call sheet can be compiled on the set as work progresses during the day, which means the report can now be ready minutes after each day’s wrap of production.

Another handy feature is that the computer has a built-in fax modem that hooks up to a cellular phone, allowing the call sheet information to be faxed from a set on a distant location to the production office.

And with so much free time, the second assistant director can now join the rest of the film crew for a round of drinks immediately after the day’s shooting.

DIGITAL REWARDS: Ediflex Systems, the developers of the Digital Ediflex non-linear editing system, has come up with a novel approach for rewarding the 20 editors and assistants who have been “test flying” the new machines: The company is sending them for a two-night stay in San Francisco.

“We wanted to show our appreciation to these people, whose feedback has helped us design what we feel is the most exciting innovation in non-linear editing,” Ediflex VP, Herb Dow said.

The Digital Ediflex is the only editing system available that puts the shooting script on the edit screen for use in organizing and accessing material, a feature patented by Ediflex more than eight years ago.

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