Four technologies to watch

New sites merge the web, film and TV

The following are tech tools that have hit the market recently and are causing a stir in the Internet, film and TV production communities:

MAGIC BULLET
The Orphanage
(www.theorphanage.com)
price depends on scale of the projects

When Stu Maschwitz finished his digital film “The Last Birthday Card” there was only one problem: He hated the way it looked.

“It looked like a soap opera,” he says. “I think there’s a serious psychological association with video — we think of it as reality TV or something out of my home camcorder. But with film, at 24 frames per second, we think narrative storytelling.”

To remedy the look, Maschwitz developed Magic Bullet, a post-production technique that gives video the look of being shot on celluloid. Essentially, the system uses After Effects-based plug-ins to convert video into a digital negative, which is then color-corrected and modified to reduce the intensity of video-specific images. The negative can then be outputted back onto video or scanned onto film.

The technology is used by the Orphanage, the post-production and visual effects house founded by Maschwitz, and partners Scott Stewart and Jonathan Rothbart, all former visual-effects artists at f/x giant Industrial Light & Magic.

The effect so far has been used on films like Sundance Film Festival entrants “Women in Film,” “bigLove,” and “Sweet,” and for the most part, audiences are none the wiser that the movie they are watching was originally shot digitally, Maschwitz says.

Since its bow last year, Magic Bullet has won the Orphanage team a slew of awards, including Advanced Imaging’s Solution of the Year. They next plan to license Magic Bullet to other post and f/x houses.

— Ann Donahue

***

FLIX
Wildform Inc.
(www.wildform.com)
sells for $99

Looking to devise a less expensive way to broadcast video on the Internet, the founders of Los Angeles-based Wildform have created Flix, a technology that encodes video and audio into Macromedia’s Flash.

Wildform, founded by Jonathan Blank, Colby Devitt, Arjun Nayyar and R. Blank, is best known for creating SWfx, an animation tool for Web developers but that’s about to change.

Until now, Flash has primarily been used for animation and rarely utilized for video due to technical limitations. However, with Flix, encoded video has all the interactive features and graphic possibilities of Flash, but with smaller file sizes, and can stream to virtually any Web-enabled platform, including handheld devices and any Net site without the need of a download.

Simply, as more devices support Flash, Flix makes one file for wherever Flash can be viewed. Because of the smaller file sizes that Flix creates, clips encoded using Flix have already become popular among Microsoft Pocket PC owners, with Netizens downloading Flix-encoded trailers for “Planet of the Apes,” among other clips.

But the idea is for production houses to use Flix, available as a downloadable program, to create viewable banner ads and videos with interactive links, as well as to broadcast video on the Web.

“Flix opens up a whole new way of streaming video on the Web,” says Jonathan Blank, CEO of Wildform.

Flix-encoded video and audio is limited only by the maximum allowed number of frames in Flash’s SWF format, which is 16,000 frames. A new version of the software features faster encoding times and supports several new formats including video files avi, .dv, .mov/.qt, .mpeg, .wmv; music files MP3 and wav; and jpg and tif photo files, among others.

So far, the main winner are Web site operators and content creators. With roughly 96.4% of all Internet users able to view Flash content without downloading a player, according to a 2000 NPD Research study, the potential audience reach is enormous.

— Marc Graser

***

EYEGUARD
GuardWare Inc.
(www.guardwareinc.com)
licenses for $700

A new software package is keeping an eye on pornography so others don’t have to — or can’t. Call it software that would make Gloria Steinem or even Disney proud.

While most anti-pornography software tools try to stop the dirty pictures at the firewall, Eyeguard prevents pornography on the PC using “biometrics,” or “excessive skin tone” detection rather than URL-based Net filtering. Basically, the program can tell if the photo of the person on the screen is nude or not, based on the color of the pixels that make up the image.

Once an illicit image is detected, Eyeguard flashes a warning that, once ignored, displays a highly visible black-and-yellow pattern across the screen informing the user that a violation has occurred. Depending on the adjustable settings, the user could need to contact external assistance before being able to access the computer.

Targeting businesses, schools and homes, Eyeguard, which is repped by ICM’s new-media division, blocks porn from all sources — Internet, e-mail, CD-ROM, floppy and hard drive.

“Eyeguard saves you money in unnecessary downloads or wasted time online and is designed to increase productivity,” says Rocky Share, prexy and CEO of Diversified Telecom, which controls the international intellectual property rights of Eyeguard.

He says its de facto function is to protect businesses against sexual harassment litigation.

The developers of the product hail from West Yorkshire, England, and are part of a U.S. corporation called Guardware (www.guardwareinc.com). Eyeguard sells for around $700 per license.

— Tim Swanson

***

FILMLOGIC
Focal Point Systems
(www.filmlogic.com)
sells for $999

Until recently, low-budget film producers had two choices when deciding on an editing system. They could go with the pricey Avid Film Composer,which generates a frame-accurate cut list for the negative-cutting facility when it comes time to prepare a print.

Or they could use the cheaper Avid Media Composer, which cannot generate such a list, creating longer post-production schedules and a higher potential for human error.

However, Focal Point Systems’ FilmLogic is a piece of software that gives a Macintosh computer running inexpensive editing programs the ability to imitate the capabilities of a high-end Avid at a fraction of the price.

Developed by San Francisco-based programmer Loran Kary, FilmLogic is a QuickTime-based video-logging application whose most impressive feature is chronicling a cut list for projects shot on film. At only $999, it costs about the same as renting a Film Composer for a week.

FilmLogic has already proved its worth on a number of high-profile projects, most notably “George Washington,” the award-winning indie from director David Gordon Green. Showtime and the Cartoon Network have also begun to cut several programs on Macs equipped with the application.

“We tested the software at (negative-cutting facility) Magic Film and Video Works in Burbank to see if it could compete with the Avid,” says Ramy Katrib, prexy of DV Film Tree, a Los Angeles-based post services company. “The results were the same as if we had completed the entire project on a Film Composer.”

In April, FilmLogic gained some additional clout when it was acquired by Apple, which no doubt plans on fully integrating it with the company’s own Final Cut Pro editing software.

“FilmLogic is a legitimate alternative,” says Katrib, “and you’re not spending $100,000.”

— Matthew M. Ross

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