The Technology Circle

by Bruce Manning

View an enlarged image of Richard Taylor's The Visitors. Courtesy of Richard Taylor.

I first started in the visual effects business at a prominent Hollywood effects company by the name of Robert Abel's. Shooting visual effects as a cameraman, I never dreamt I would see the changes in technology that have taken place in the industry. Back then Robert Abel's was the top of the line. He got his name by doing high-end commercials, spending every last dime of the budget to make it just right. He worked with a lot of innovative people, who are now very successful. Among some of the equipment we used were optical printers, Oxberry down shooters, computer-controlled tracking cameras and Evans and Sutherland's, one of the first digital composite computer systems. My favorite camera was known as "camera two." It was a dark place. There you could shoot 35 mm rear screen projections, you could flop cel animation, and it was a computer-controlled tracking camera all in one. Little did I know, like every camera in the building, this camera would become a giant boat anchor when digital technology came along.

During the past five years the changes in special effects technology for film and television have been monumental. What used to require days of work and heavy equipment can now be accomplished with the click of a mouse or push of a button. However, as simple as this sounds, the proliferation of special effects software has brought with it a host of new issues.

As things continue to change quickly, there is a great deal of speculation about the future of software and hardware companies. The marketplace is flooded with software designed to produce special effects and the companies developing this software just keep publishing new versions. Some special effects professionals are of the opinion that all these new versions aren't really necessary and are being produced just to keep an acceptable profit margin for the stockholder. But how long will this mode of business work for the software/hardware companies? Do we really need all of these new versions? Not every release is as dramatic an upgrade as we are seeing right now with the latest release of 3D Studio Max. Is the demand becoming less? Large studios frequently have proprietary software at their disposal and when do the small boutique effects companies upgrade? How do they contend with re-training while on tight budgets and even tighter deadlines?

Screenshot of the color correction module included in Discreet Logic's flame* package. © Discreet.

Push and Shove
Of course to stay in business, software companies have to stay competitive. Let's say a software company comes out with a software package like Shake by Nothing Real for $600 and it rivals Discreet Logic's flame*, which is a software package that costs about $10,000. What's flame* going to do? They have to make their software very special to justify the $10,000 price ticket. So, they will continue to add features. When it comes to flame*, and inferno*, some feel it's too much software for TV production. flame* now has particle generators and other such fancy features. A lesser software package might work just fine for a number of jobs.

It seems obvious that new versions are being produced solely to make more money and to have a new release to publicize. However, some of the features that software writers produce aren't the ones that the effects artists really need. Developers come up with features that aren't necessarily useful, but are announced with trumpeting importance. Therefore, while new versions are being released the necessity of owning these new versions is being diminished.


1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5