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Getting Technology Out of the Way

Getting Technology Out of the Way

Articles - Digital

The Orphanage

When you’ve spent much of your career mastering the
art of visual effects with George Lucas’ Industrial Light + Magic,
there’s only one place to go: The Orphange. Founded by three former
ILM visual effects artists (Jonathan Rothbart, Stuart Maschwitz
and Scott Stewart), The Orphanage is focused on high-end VFX services
and animation for features and broadcast, original motion picture
and television production and digital filmmaking technology development
and licensing. Additionally, the guys developed the Magic Bullet
digital moviemaking software, which gives DV a “film” look. So,
is there anything these guys don’t do? MM spoke
with Stuart Maschwitz and Scott Stewart to get the answer.

Jennifer Wood (MM): I know that several
of you came from ILM—what were your positions there, and what are
some of the films you worked on?

Stu Maschwitz (SM): Previously, as head of
Industrial Light + Magic’s infamous Rebel Unit, a boutique within
the facility focused on developing “cheaper, faster, better” technology
for visual effects, I worked with such directors as George Lucas,
Steven Spielberg and Barry Sonnenfeld, creating many of the most
stunning shots from Mission: Impossible, Twister, Men in Black, Galaxy Quest, Deep Impact, Star
Trek: First Contact
, Congo and Casper. As Rebel
Unit leader, I also supervised over 100 shots for Star Wars – Episode One: The Phantom Menace and brought my talents
to Star Wars: A New Hope (Special Edition), Star Wars:
The Empire Strikes Back
(Special Edition) and Pepsi’s Star
Wars
/Pod Racer commercial spot.

Scott Stewart was a visual effects artist at George
Lucas’ Industrial Light + Magic. There he created visual effects
for several blockbuster films, including Star Wars – Episode
One
, The Lost World: Jurassic Park 2, Mars Attacks, Contact and Mighty Joe Young.

MM: What is the mission at The Orphanage?
You engage in both production and post-production work and have
developed Magic Bullet. But what is the overall goal of the company?
What are some of the services/tasks that you perform on an everyday
basis?

SM: Composite the digital wizardry of George
Lucas with the resourcefulness of Robert Rodriguez, add in a healthy
dose of storytelling passion and you may have arrived at The Orphanage.
The firm is built on three synergistic disciplines: high-end visual
effects services for features, television and advertising; original
digital motion picture and television production; and digital filmmaking
technology development and licensing. By leveraging our unsurpassed
visual effects and technical prowess to complement, rather than
define, a diverse slate of original projects, The Orphanage tries
to become a digital studio capable of guiding original motion pictures
from concept to distribution. These are projects that have all the
production value of big-budget studio features but at significantly
lower costs.

Stu Maschwitz
Stu Maschwitz

MM: What companies are similar to The Orphanage,
not just in terms of the quality of work you do, but the array of
services you provide?

SM: There aren’t any.

MM: OK! What are some of the projects that The Orphanage
has overseen?

Scott Stewart (SS): On the digital filmmaking
front, we’ve overseen the completion of more than two dozen digital
feature films. A recent major theatrical release was Jackass
The Movie
for MTV Films and Paramount Pictures. It was a tremendous
amount of work, but it was also an outrageously fun and rewarding
experience for everyone involved. Other recent digital film projects
include Nicole Holofcener’s Lovely & Amazing for Lion’s
Gate, and the 2003 Sundance Best Documentary award winner My
Flesh and Blood
. A complete list of film projects past and current
is always available on our Website at www.theorphanage.com.

MM: So many people equate the terms "digital"
and "low-budget." Do you think this is a fair assessment?

SM: It’s true that the indies were the first
to embrace digital filmmaking, due in part to their budgetary constraints.
But films like Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones and Spy Kids 2 show digital filmmaking swinging in another
direction. George Lucas and Robert Rodriguez aren’t shooting on
tape to save a few bucks. They’re creating films digitally from
start to finish in a way that bests suits their creative process.
Digital post is as much a part of the plan from day one as a good
script and talented actors. DV may mean “accessible,” but to us,
“digital” simply means technology that gets out of the filmmaker’s
way.

MM: In what ways do you think digital technology
can be of the best service to a moviemaker on a budget, in terms
of all facets of film production?

Scott Stewart
Scott Stewart

SM: Some types of digital post-production can
save you money on the set. A simple composite may be enough to sell
a Los Angeles exterior as a New York location. Compare that with
the cost of flying the crew out there for what might be a short
sequence, and suddenly an indie film is in the position of not being
able to afford not to use visual effects.

Working with a baby or a dog—or a non-actor—might
be less terrifying if you know you can just roll and roll and roll
until you get the shot you need. The money you save in stock and
camera rentals may get absorbed into post. The money you thought
you saved on a smaller lighting package may get spent cleaning up
noisy, underexposed footage. The ratios are changing, and the process
is still a little mysterious to people. The best thing you can do
is align yourself early with your post partner, and formulate a
plan that extends all the way to distribution.

MM: How does The Orphanage hope to change
the place of digital technology in the world of film production?
What do you want the company to be known for?

SM: Our goal is simply to advance the art and
science of filmmaking. To us, that challenge lives as much inside
Final Draft as it does in Final Cut. Every technique we develop
to make our own filmmaking a better, more creatively satisfying
experience has the potential to become a post service or even a
product. As we keep making movies, the tools we create along the
way are the dividends.

MM: Which came first: The Orphanage or Magic
Bullet?

SM: They germinated simultaneously, and converged
with the first Orphanage production, my short The Last Birthday
Card.
No one could believe it was shot on video—and that was
exactly our plan!

For more information
on The Orphanage, visit http://www.theorphanage.com

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