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HIGH-TECH HOLLYWOOD

LIVES OF A CEL: TOONS GO DIGITAL

With all the hype in Hollywood about digital production systems, the reasons behind using such gear are sometimes obscured. But for film and TV companies working feverishly to meet deadlines, the choice of a digital services company can be crucial.

Klasky Csupo, the animation house behind shows such as “Rugrats” and “Duckman,” as well as numerous com-mercials and the feature version of “Rugrats,” has frequent need for ink and paint work — the process by which animation cels are painted. Done by hand, the process can be time-consuming and costly. Digital ink and paint methods, however, can save producers time and money, or allow them increased flexibility during production.

One company that’s been aggressively pursuing the digital ink and paint market is Hollywood’s VirtualMagic USA. One of its clients is Klasky Csupo, which uses the process extensively on its commercials. Klasky Csupo has brought in a system developed by USAnimation, the company that sold its production assets to VirtualMagic last year. Use of the system will allow Klasky Csupo to do its own inking and painting on-site.

“We do digitally what 95% of companies do manually,” VirtualMagic USA vice president and general manager Don Spielvogel said.

It’s not unusual for producers to take materials to Southeast Asia or, in some cases, Mexico, for animation services. But very often, Spielvogel contends, “They don’t get the stuff back fast enough to give any input.” He said Virtu-alMagic is planning to open a facility in the Malaysian high-tech development Cyberjaya in the next few months. There, large numbers of workers can do digital scanning, and images can be sent digitally back to the producers in Los Angeles or New York.

Machi Tantillo, director of animation at MTV Animation, said that when working on projects that aren’t trans-ferred back to film, a system like VirtualMagic’s proves extremely valuable. She has taken several projects, includ-ing “Beavis and Butt-head” promos, a Red Hot Chili Peppers video and a number of commercials, to VirtualMagic. “There are a lot of things you can do with digital ink and paint: You can fake film shadows, gate weave, grain — when the conditions are right, digital is the best way to go.”

Tantillo cautions, however that digital doesn’t necessarily equate to faster. “Depending on the project, digital can take just as long or longer. It depends on colors, levels, effects, compositing. You have to be careful,” she said.

Tim Bloch, exec producer at Klasky Csupo’s commercial division, said time is a concern when choosing a produc-tion process, but the flexibility of VirtualMagic’s digital ink and paint system was the deciding factor.

“If you don’t like the tones, if the highlights are too hot or too dark, if you want to make the red a little more rose, their system is very flexible. It’s very accessible for fine tuning, and you can very easily generate camera moves like pans,” he said.

After evaluating the system for its commercials, the company decided to go with it for feature production on “Rugrats.” Said Bloch, “We looked at a number of different systems, and felt this was the best on the market for re-sponse time and compute time.”

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