Radical Approaches to Mini - Media
COW Library : Compression Techniques : Tim Wilson : Radical Approaches to Mini - Media
One of television's most popular commercials, ever, began its life on the web. And it's not just commercials that are making their way from the web to the "bigger" screen.
SHOOTING FILM & HD FOR THE WEB. HUH? WHAT'S UP WITH THAT?
You've probably seen it. It's a short film called "A Uniform Used to Mean Something." Directed by Barry Levinson (Diner, Homicide: Life on the Street), it follows Jerry Seinfeld and a sweet but clueless Superman on a day in New York. Seinfeld rolls his eyes at the lunch reservation under the name of "Man of Steel," and cringes as Superman uses his cape to wipe mayonnaise from his mouth.
On their way to install Jerry's new DVD player, it gets stolen, then broken when the thief throws it at Superman. Seinfeld quickly flashes his American Express Card to have the DVD player replaced... after which Superman manages to blow it up while trying to connect it - forcing, to Jerry's horror, a trip to Superman's favorite Broadway musical.
Despite only a brief cameo about three minutes into the five-minute film, the film was part of a campaign for American Express. It was so successful it led to a sequel, "Hindsight," in which Superman locks Jerry's keys in the car... and to an appearance on television after a long run on the web.
FROM THE WEB TO TELEVISION
What? One of the greatest commercials of all time started as a web-only film?
"A lot of people don't know that," laughs Evan Schechtman, CTO of Radical Media, from his office in New York. "It was designed from the beginning as a ‘webisode.' It only went to TV because it was so wildly popular online."
Evan oversees Radical's post division, Outpost Digital. "We said that we could animate Superman in Flash, and they said ‘No, you can't,' and we said ‘Watch us.' Then we wanted to shoot on DV, even though it was going to be a heavy-duty compositing job. They said, ‘You can't do that.' But we did."
The Superman animation was indeed created in Flash, done as color only. The live-action footage with Seinfeld was shot with a Canon XL-1 (okay, outfitted with a $70,000 lens but it was still DV because director Levinson wanted the look). It was edited using Final Cut Pro. Shake handled the compositing, as well as lighting and grain matching for Superman.
"It was intended for the web, and later moved to TV, which is kind of interesting," Evan says. No kidding.
No, not Windows and Mac but multiplatform as in everything from films to phones. It turns out that they're not all that different. "Shooting film and shooting for the web aren't different approaches to production for us. They're just different venues," Evan says. "There's still a good segment of Outpost's work that's traditional spot work, shot on 35 millimeter film. But even for something that's web-only, we treat it as broadcast."
Or film. Productions for films and mini-media can be similarly approached, but they can also be the very same thing.
Kirt Gunn wrote and directed "Lovely by Design" just last year. Very subtly branded by Lincoln-Mercury, it's nevertheless a "real" film, now making its way through the festival circuit. But from the beginning, its primary destination was the web.
"Even though it was specifically for the web, we shot in 35mm," says Evan. "The idea here was let's really multipurpose the content. Why not make something beautiful and engaging that can be split up and delivered in a way that hooks people in, like a serial. And at the same time make something that's complete, that can have a life of its own, that also extends the Lincoln- Mercury brand to places it wouldn't have gone."
That's right, he said "specifically for the web" and "shot in 35mm." They're also shooting in HD for the web.
Toyota sponsored a documentary on the Baja 1000, an offroad race down the length of the Mexican peninsula. The piece had a TV component, airing on the Speed Channel as "Two Roads to Baja" in January and February. But it was also delivered in pieces streaming from Toyota.com... and delivered to TiVo boxes via the nightly program guide download! Now we're talking multiplatform.
One of Radical Media's most complete multi-platform projects to date is driverTV, "Bringing the Showroom to Your Living Room:" three-minute videos of scores of cars, in the kind of minute detail that car geeks demand. Providers including Comcast and Time Warner offer it through Video on Demand to 30 million homes. driverTV is also available through the Hotel Network, and coming soon, via VOD on an airline near you.
THE WEB: FOR THOSE WANTING HD
What do all those venues have in common? For now, they're all SD. Want HD? Go to driverTV.com. "Under the movie icon for each car is an HD button," Evan says. "When you press it, you get 1280x720 HD. We're finding that, even if someone's computer doesn't support real-time playback of HD video, they're still downloading the HD movies and stepping through frame-by-frame to examine the tiniest details."
Yep. Higher quality video on the web than on TV.
Wait, weren't we just talking about mini-media?
YOU MAY ASK YOURSELF, HOW DID THEY GET THERE?
Evan, Radical Media, and Outpost Digital all came to this multi-platform world the same way you get to Carnegie Hall: practice.
Yes, Radical and Outpost are big-budget enterprises, with offices in New York, Los Angeles, London, Paris, Berlin and Sydney. And yes, their projects typically have big budgets. But they proclaim on the very front page of RadicalMedia.com, "Never Established." They have big budgets, but they don't think that way. Follow the "never established" link and they talk about how the market is moving so fast that they try to never be comfortable and fall into a "positional rut." Good advice.
"I came into the TV business with no blueprint, untainted," Evan says. "When it came time to do our first TV show, we looked at each other and said, ‘We think this is how you do it.' But it's really true. We use the tools that we use intimately to make a TV show go."
For Evan, those tools obviously include Final Cut Pro and Shake. More important than the tools is what they enable. "By ‘traditional' [as opposed to multi-platform] post, Outpost meant ‘desktop' post very early on. We had committed to the desktop as other companies were buying Flames and Infernos and saying ‘Kid, you can't do it that way, it'll never work.' Well, fast forward, and all post is desktop post.
"It's a generational thing," Evan continues. "The young people coming up in our company had access to all the tools all the time. If you look at the traditional Avid generation before the Final Cut world, it was about specialists. We use Avids now, but to get us here, we had ‘Jacks and Janes' of all media, all of whom were comfortable feeding the majority of the pipeline."
That's not so unique anymore of course, Evan notes, but at the time it put Radical in the position of moving faster than its clients. "Jon Kamen, our CEO, was an early champion of Final Cut Pro and digital technology for the work we do. Even though clients come to Jon because of his vision, it can take some persuasion. So we're not just doing what the client wants," Evan says. "We sell them new ideas - and we spend a lot of time defending our choices."
Samples of work created by Radical Media
Evan describes Jon as a master of the "Show Me" defense. "We already had experience with nontraditional tools – Final Cut, Shake, Flash, and our ability to compress video so that it looks fantastic when it hits the web. We were doing those things as practice. Then along comes this great opportunity that we'd been practicing for. None of it felt like much of a leap. We had been practicing - practicing a lot.
"So when the clients came in, we were able to show them what we had been doing for our own, in-house projects. The clients liked what they could see, and they saw right away that they're not going to be our guinea pigs. We're the guinea pigs. We put our money where our mouth is."
How did they know what to practice before their clients asked for it? Simply put, they spend time thinking about what's coming. While Radical Media has its own R&D team - the domain of a well-heeled worldwide creative enterprise - Evan is happy to point you in one of the right directions: CES. NAB is "way, way too narrow," Evan says. "It's a place to look at production tools, but you'll find next-to-nothing there about the next generation of platforms where your production output will be deployed - the next generation of your opportunity."
Making DV look like highend video formats and even film. Experimenting with compression for various formats, including Flash, QuickTime and Windows Media. Integrating multimedia elements with video. Practicing these is well within the reach of every producer, regardless of the tools you use, regardless of company size or budget. So's taking the time to think about what's next.
Making money by thinking ahead? Now that's radical.
As you can imagine reading this article, my conversation with Evan was highly provocative. Here's a very short list of what I didn't have room to cover here: Other members of the Radical / Outpost team. The next generation of branded entertainment. (That's an article by itself.) The revolution in network-free TV that will be sparked by competition around the iPhone and HD movie delivery via Xbox. (So's that.) Outpost's ongoing format shoot-out between QuickTime, Flash and Windows media. The aesthetics of DV production. There's more, too. Those are just the biggies.
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