In Hollywood, digital-effects houses go it alone on Mac

Summary:The early adopters of the Macintosh in Hollywood were stubborn, inventive, creative people who refused to be hijacked by Silicon Graphics Inc. into mortgaging their homes so they could create digital effects and computer graphics.

The early adopters of the Macintosh in Hollywood were stubborn, inventive, creative people who refused to be hijacked by Silicon Graphics Inc. into mortgaging their homes so they could create digital effects and computer graphics.

From the start, these visionaries saw beyond the 320-by-240-pixel world of multimedia and the new media that Apple had embraced. These were filmmakers determined to use the Mac for full-resolution feature film work. And to this day, they are largely ignored by Apple.

Mac OS by example

Electric Image Inc.'s ElectricImage, Autodessys Inc.'s form*Z, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe After Effects and now Puffin Designs Inc.'s Commotion are all commonly used in feature film projects. Why don't we hear more about the prevalence of Macs in this industry? Apple's fascination with movie stars rather than movie makers doesn't help. And some SGI contracts with major effects houses restrict the mention of non-SGI systems.

For example, at Industrial Light and Magic in San Rafael, Calif., mentioning Apple is forbidden, yet the importance of the Mac at ILM is clear. Take visual-effects supervisors Scott Squires and John Knoll: Both speak in cloaked terms about their use of Macs in ILM projects, yet it is common knowledge that Knoll is an avid ElectricImage user, and Squires developed Commotion, the effects tool available only on the Mac (see 12.01.97, Page 15).

Some smaller digital-effects houses use Macs exclusively. In Van Nuys, Calif., Illusion Arts Inc. used them to create effects for "The Jackal," "Dragonheart," "Batman and Robin" and "Star Trek: First Contact."

Using Macs has advantages and disadvantages. Certainly there are limitations on the size of projects and shots that can be contracted, but the savings in equipment and software alone are substantial. Getting the images in and out of the computers is the most complicated issue.

Richard Patterson, head of Illusion Arts' digital-effects department, developed custom software to translate film scanned as 10-bit log Cineon files into eight-bit, gamma-corrected Photoshop or PICT files for use on the Mac. He uses a Management Graphics Solitaire Cine III to record the digital files back to film.

Vulnerable territory

What SGI protects, Apple ignores. Where SGI litigates its influence, there is little evidence that Apple recognizes or appreciates the quality of the work that is created on Macintosh computers in this aspect of the feature film industry.

Apple treats businesses such as Illusion Arts as consumers, not as strategic partners who develop solutions to complex creative problems. Illusion Arts, Banned From the Ranch Entertainment, Available Light Ltd. and other smaller, independent effects houses remain the unsung heroes of the Mac in Hollywood. While Apple chooses to ignore their work, Intel Corp., a company that is indeed thinking differently, is paying closer and closer attention. If Apple doesn't take the "crazies" of the effects industry seriously, you can bet Intel will.

John McIntosh is director of technology programs at the American Film Institute in Hollywood. He can be reached at jmac@afionline.org.

Topics: Apple, Hardware, Intel, Operating Systems

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Related Stories

The best of ZDNet, delivered

You have been successfully signed up. To sign up for more newsletters or to manage your account, visit the Newsletter Subscription Center.
Subscription failed.