digital reporter

Software gives filmers virtual look before shot

With some Hollywood film production costs ranging well above $100 million and shrinking budgets becoming the industry norm, fewer and fewer filmmakers have the luxury of a "take 2."

3D Antics is software designed to help directors, producers and cinematographers ? or any creative, from professional to amateur ? save money and time by visualizing a story and conveying its crucial visual concepts before production.

"We had the view that animation as it currently stood was a very complex, timely and expensive process," says Alastair Woolley, managing director of U.K.-based Antics. "This software enables people in the film, TV and other industries outside of entertainment to quickly and easily communicate creative story ideas using 3-D technology."

Recently released in its second incarnation with patented 3-D game technology, Antics 2 enables filmmakers to position actors and place cameras on a 3-D set, essentially creating a virtual studio in which the next stage of storyboarding can take place.

Users can create scenes by drawing rooms as 2-D plans on a grid and choosing from a vast library of environments, props, characters, colors and textures that are dragged and dropped onto their "set."

Making animated characters move within the scene uses a point-and-click interface, which requires placing a target on the set with the click of the mouse and, if needed, adjusting the scene through real-time editing. Individual props possess their own animations, and the facial animation of characters includes a lip-syncing capability.

The Windows-based program, which sells for $1,000, allows for different angled shots that can be recorded in a basic timeline. Its users include David Lozano, executive producer of Alta Vista Films, who saved a day of shooting on a recent Jack in the Box commercial by using the software, to Rodney Charters, a director of photography who used the program to block out action shots in a city environment before going on location for Fox's "24."

Rick McCallum, a producer on several of the "Star Wars" films, plans to use the software for the franchise's live-action TV series, set to debut next year. "There's a real lack of understanding in relation to visual effects people and the way they prepare their expensive shots and how a traditional filmmaker works," McCallum says. "In terms of shooting, directors need to start to previsualize really complex sequences that cost millions to do. Antics is one of a number of different ways to do that."

While 3D Antics joins a handful of other software programs, such as StoryViz and MotionBuilder, designed to create sophisticated 3-D previews ? and though it presently lacks some import and export features ? users cite its unique simplicity. 3D Antics makes specialized CG skills and laborious key-framing a thing of the past.

"What Antics is trying to do is make a user-friendly interface that plugs into those much more expensive and complex programs," McCallum says. "They're providing a very simple, efficient studio for filmmakers to work out a sequence in their head without having to learn very complex programs that they don't have the skill set or time to be able to learn."

Woolley says that it also can make the difference for independent creators of low-budget indies who are trying to get their project funded or greenlighted.

"They have access to a communication tool that they can pass between them and simply play around with on just a standard PC," he says.
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