Trade Craft
lab notebook
(Published in NewMedia November 3, 1997 Contents)

Effects Wizard Goes Digital
Bob Doyle

bob doyle
Digital Guru Doyle

Can a Hollywood effects genius who made a feature film in his garage move on to post-producing everything on a digital desktop?

"It's a
dream time
for visual
-- Mike Jittlov

Mike Jittlov, the creator of The Wizard of Speed and Time, a low-budget special-effects masterpiece, has been a resident intern at NewMedia Lab in recent months, learning to transfer his amazing film talents to digital media.
      The winner of the coveted Norman McLaren award for film animation and a Cine Golden Eagle, and the producer of special-effects films for Walt Disney, Epcot Center, and the Disney Channel, Jittlov has seen his hypercreative techniques emulated in countless MTV videos.
      Despite his critical success and cult following (including an Internet newsgroup,, devoted to his work), Jittlov found that the Hollywood system, with its outsized expenses and insider gamesmanship, was not the ideal environment for an independent pioneer. I invited him to NewMedia Lab to archive his latest project -- a "walkumentary" of his travels in Europe -- in DV format and to explore the latest technology for editing 120 hours of spectacular footage into his unique vision.
      In his film technique, Jittlov multiply exposes images as many as 21 times by rewinding film in his camera before developing and printing. If one exposure is misregistered, he has to start over. With DV tools, he can composite as many layers as he wants and check them to the pixel before rendering.
      For example, Mike uses Strata MediaPaint to paint on his frames over time, even painting in images from other QuickTime movies. He likes Strata StudioPro's motion blur, which emulates a film shutter, but found the application would not let him animate objects with QuickTime movies as a background, so he now does this in Adobe After Effects.
      Where he once etched title effects directly onto film with a steady hand capable of 35 lines per inch (in about 2-point type), he plans to design his own fonts with Macromedia Fontographer and fly them around using After Effects.
      He says that the key to achieving believable live/animated character synchronization, as in Roger Rabbit, is positioning the animated object precisely relative to the video and carefully matching the lighting, texture, and motion to the original shot. He's found that MetaCreations Infini-D, with its precise animation against a video background texture, lets him do this.
      Jittlov's most recent discovery is Scott Squires' Commotion from Puffin Designs. He has been using the beta version to see real-time playback of his painting on frames and to build traveling mattes from animated Bézier spline curves. Commotion lets him touch up frames, remove video glitches, and transfer actors to other scenes without a blue screen.
      "It's a dream time for visual storytellers," Jittlov says. "Everything is becoming possible and accessible."
      Now that he has seen the light, Jittlov says his future work will originate on DV. Then, if a retro network executive objects to the format, Jittlov can run the video through DigiEffects' new CineLook filters to replicate any film grain, color, contrast, or vintage, "including scratches, hairs, dirt, and drunken cameraman exposures," he grins.
      So far, Jittlov's studies have been entirely on Macintosh. I hope he'll have the time to explore the tools for NT and SGI.
      Regardless of platform, there is no question that technology has enabled him to create his new film at lower cost and with more control, but Jittlov sees further opportunity for software publishers to make life easier for independent filmmakers. "By the time I'm done with post [production], I hope they'll have introduced Adobe Agent, Desktop Distributor, and PowerAttorney."

Lab NoteBook  November 3, 1997 Contents

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