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Gadgets galore

The digital promise of faster, bette and cheaper is becoming a reality

EDITING

Filmmaking’s digital transformation began with editing systems, originally costing more than many indie films’ budgets. But there are more affordable options, led by Apples Final Cut Pro.

Final Cut’s newest version (4.0) packs more goodies under its $999 hood than ever, and Apple throws in Cinema Tools, previously a separate $999 program.

The newest Final Cut has added, among other things, titling, color correction and soundtrack creation. Add a Powerbook or one of Apple’s G5 desktop computers to harness a major editing power for a few thousand dollars. It’s not a $70,000 Avid suite, but Walter Murch, Steven Soderbergh and many indie filmmakers are fans. Avid, which created nonlinear editing, has responded with its own low-end powerhouse — Xpress DV — soon to be followed with Xpress DV Pro ($1,695).

Avid also has created the Mojo hardware accelerator ($1,695), which adds plenty of processing power to an editing machine. The higher combined price of Xpress DV Pro and Mojo brings benefits: faster rendering and good integration with higher-end Avid systems.

Pinnacle, which offers hardware and software for broadcast and film uses, has its own new combo, Studio MovieBox DV.

DIGITAL INTERMEDIATE

Linking together cameras, editing systems, visual effects, color correction and other parts of the filmmaking process is the hot new area of digital intermediates.

Essentially, DI involves scanning negatives of daily rushes into a digital format, then using that material throughout the rest of the production — from viewing dailies to outputting the final project to film, DVD or video. Technology allows filmmakers to manipulate as little as individual pixels in a single frame of a shot.

Technicolor’s Technique unit, the Panavision/Deluxe joint venture EFilm, Kodak’s Cinesite division, Post Logic Digital Cinema and other companies have jumped into DI.

But you don’t need to be making “The Lord of the Rings” to take advantage of the technology. It is more expensive, but cuts out some inefficiencies, offsetting some costs and speeding production. And DI companies say they cut their rates for smaller projects, and have even used the process on just portions of films, for such tasks as tweaking the look of a crucial flashback scene.

And in something of an irony, DI has revived a format nearing extinction, super-16 mm film. Combined with digital intermediates, it provides an affordable, beautiful way to use film, several fans say.

CAMERAS

Indie filmmakers gravitated early to digital videocameras from Sony (PD-150, TRV-1000) and Canon (XL-1, GL-1), but now other camera makers are offering hot new products.

One of the biggest trends is cameras that can shoot 24 frames per second, same as film. Sony’s Cine Alta cameras were the first, attracting fans such as George Lucas, James Cameron and Robert Rodriguez.

Rodriguez, who used high-def cameras for “Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over” and “Once Upon a Time in Mexico,” says the low cost and long run times of HD tapes allow the camera to keep rolling between takes.

Not every moviemaker has even the modest budgets Rodriguez had on his last two films, but now they have HD camera alternatives.

Panasonic has created several variable-frame-rate cameras, such as the AJ-HDC27 Varicam, which can shoot anywhere from four to 60 frames per second. Translation: It can be used for projects that are intended for TV or theaters, and it can create slow motion and other over- and undercranking effects.

JVC made a splash with its JY-HD10U, billed as the first affordable camera capable of recording HD. At around $3,500, it’s far less expensive than previous HD cameras, which have cost upward of $50,000.

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