POST COASTS ONLINE

Despite the seemingly endless hoopla about games and episodic entertainment on the Internet, the Hollywood production community hasn’t — until now — found a truly useful Web application, like special-effects production.

A little-known research unit at the Walt Disney Studios, the Multimedia Lab, has perfected a method of compressing data and sending it over the company’s internal computer network (known as an Intranet). The system is being put through its paces on “Flubber,” a remake of its 1961 Fred MacMurray comedy, “The Absent-Minded Professor.” This time, Robin Williams takes the lead role of the professor who discovers flying rubber — flubber.

Heretofore, most companies haven’t dreamed of using the Internet for something as time-sensitive as film post-production. With its aggravating torpidity and propensity for system-crashing, the online network hasn’t proven its worth as a professional production tool.

The development of Dailies Online, as Disney’s innovation is known, was headed up by Gary Kleinman, director of the Multimedia Lab. He describes Dailies Online as “a very advanced digital-imaging technology built here to help solve logistics problems of getting dailies to creatives and executives on a timely basis.”

Shuttle system

On “Flubber,” Dailies Online is being used exactly as its name implies it should. Composited visual effects shots are shuttled between Dream Quest Images, the Disney-owned effects house in Simi Valley, director John Hughes’ production office near Chicago, “Flubber’s” post-production offices in Santa Monica and the Disney Studios in Burbank.

Before inaugurating the system on “Flubber,” Disney “did quite a bit of testing inhouse,” Kleinman said. “We determined the advantages of moving high-quality video from point to point, on demand. It makes the process very efficient by reducing physical visits to the screening room, and eliminates the need for mass duplication and delivery of tapes.”

Kleinman said Disney plans to utilize Dailies Online on an increasing number of productions, a plan echoed by Art Repola, Disney’s senior VP of visual f/x and production for the Motion Picture Group.

“We’re implementing them as fast as we need them,” he said. “People we do regular business with — Jerry Bruckheimer, John Hughes, Michael Bay — we’re putting systems in their offices.”

David Nicksay, exec producer on “Flubber,” has a track record of projects that incorporate technological innovation. The 1993 pic “Addams Family Values,” which he also exec produced, made extensive use of Macintosh computers for pre-visualization of effects.

That process, which has since become accepted throughout the industry, was brand new at the time.

“Flubber” is also using Macintosh computers on the set to check whether actors’ responses to unseen characters look natural (Nicksay points out that “Flubber,” like “Casper” before it, is part of a boom in effects-laden films in which the title “character” is never actually lensed in the same scene with the human actors), or whether motion-control shots are on the money.

DAVE’s debut

The shoot is also utilizing a PC-based asset management system developed by Marc Weigert for use on “Independence Day.” Weigert has upgraded the system for “Flubber’s” approximately 500 shots, and is working with the film’s visual effects supervisor, Peter Crosman, also an “ID4” veteran.

Crosman said the software, called Digital Assisted Visual Effects Project Manager (DAVE), has been upgraded yet again for use on Sony’s “Godzilla.” Crosman adds that DAVE is in a position to supplant existing project management systems.

Despite the high-tech modifications Nicksay has spearheaded on his films, he prefers to let colleagues like Crosman, Kleinman and Weigert grab the spotlight.

“I defer to the brains here. I’m just an enthusiastic supporter of computer technology,” he said.

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