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Sunday, November 1, 2009

ETEK L.A. Trip, 2009: Day 3

On day three, Big Machine Design was the first studio. You can actually see footage of their studio in their reel (except in real life, there are fewer flying robots cluttering the air). They've specialized in making the openings for TV shows for a while, though they've also branched out into commercial work, and game-related media. They've been more interested in commercials lately, just because there's a bit more leeway for storytelling there. While TV show intros traditionally do the work of setting the stage for what's to come, the industry has been whittling them down to 15 seconds and shorter. By comparison, the 30 seconds of an ad seem luxurious.

In the bottom pic is Watson, their current "mascot," who was a little too happy to see us.

After that, we visited Spectral Motion, which creates practical effects for films and commercials. They were up for an academy award last year, for their work on Hellboy 2. You can see, in the second pic below, the incredible attention to detail that goes into their work -- they're perfectionists down to the wrinkles, the pores, the follicles. It's great to see the effectiveness of "old school" techniques derived from puppetry, sculpture, and general sleight-of-hand applied to high-tech special effects, where the predominance of CGI can often leave the fantastical feeling disappointingly weightless.

Then we hit Zoic Studios, which specializes in effects for TV. Our guide, Brooke, explained the various specialties that the major special effects houses are known for. Rhythm & Hues is know for character animation and animated animals, Digital Domain is known for atmosphere and weather, and Zoic is known for spaceships and explosions. "You know, we've blown up so much stuff on Battlestar Galactica..."

They recently hired Syd Dutton (who we got to say "hi" to as we passed in the hallway), who's something of a legend in special effects circles. He has a long history of making matte paintings for film and TV -- the below still from the Buck Rogers TV show is an example of his work from the 80s.

The last stop of the day was 48 Windows, a sound studio run by Eric Garcia. He ran us through a breakdown of a mix he just finished for a Mucinex commercial. Eric was very open about the twisty route his career has taken, and the sorts of creative values he's kept in sight in his professional life. He got into sound first as a musician, with the 80s band "The Nobodys." When I got to the hotel, I actually dug up a couple of their videos on youtube -- and they're pretty terrific videos, especially the one for "No Guarantees." In the second video, you can get a better look at Eric in his punk/new wave days, playing guitar within the walls of the Sagrada Familia.

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