Software lets filmers cut to chase on a PC

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

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 prior to 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 the 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."

Just released in its second incarnation, Antics 2, with its patented 3-D game technology, 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, which are dragged and dropped onto their "set."

Making animated characters move within the scene utilizes 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-synching capability.

The Windows-based program, which sells for $1,000, allows for different angled shots which can be recorded in a basic timeline. Its users include David Lozano, executive producer of AltaVista Films, who saved a day 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 prior to going on location for the show "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 in 2008.

"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. "In terms of shooting, directors need to start to pre-visualize really complex sequences that cost millions to do. Antics is one of a number different ways to do that."

While 3D Antics joins a handful of other software programs like 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 in to 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 just as the technology can save time and money for big-budget films, commercials and TV, it also can make the difference for independent creators of low-budget indies who are trying to get their project funded or greenlighted.

"While it enables industry people to quickly and easily communicate creative story ideas, it also gives the power to all the individual creatives," Woolley says. "They have access to a communication tool that they can pass between them and simply play around with on just a standard PC."
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