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Peter Pan Flies on MediaNet

Far-flung post production houses share editing duties via fiber

HOLLYWOOD

One of most extraordinary aspects of the latest film version of "Peter Pan" is how J. M. Barrie's perpetual youth has been criss-crossing the West Coast for the last few years-not by plane, nor the unfettered will to fly, but via fiber optics.

On Christmas day, Universal Pictures, Columbia Pictures and Revolution Studios will release a brand new version of J. M. Barrie's classic, "Peter Pan." For the first time since Herbert Brenon's 1924 version, this new production will be live action and Peter will be played by a real boy, 13-year-old Jeremy Sumpter.

(click thumbnail)Jeremy Sumptel as Peter Pan
In production for almost five years, the film was shot in Sydney, Australia, and posted at Revolution Studios in west Los Angeles by editor Garth Craven. But since the visual effects work was completed nearly 390 miles north at George Lucas' Industrial Light and Magic in San Rafael, Calif., director P. J. Hogan and producers Lucy Fisher and Douglas Wick would have needed a ton of pixie dust to be physically present for all aspects of the production. So they contracted with MediaNet Communications to move their images on a secure high-speed fiber-optic network.

MediaNet owns and manages a dual OC-48 (2.4 Gbps) backbone in Los Angeles for high-speed delivery of pre-digitized files for video collaboration and review of digital dailies and edit system dailies. But for "Peter Pan," MediaNet put in a specific DS-3 (45 Mbps) connection to ILM's facilities in San Rafael from their main trunk line running from Los Angeles to Vancouver, B.C., so no matter where Hogan was, he could interact with the visual effects team at Industrial Light and Magic through MediaNet's special Live Video Collaboration and Conferencing service.

"We've been doing what we call 'transmissions' ever since 'Jurassic Park' in 1993, often using a switched DS-3 service," said Gary Meyer, chief engineer of video engineering at ILM. "But this required setting up specific connections for each work area on every lot. Now the video feed from MediaNet can be accessed by several users at various locations simultaneously."

MediaNet transmits what Meyer calls "mastering quality" standard-definition video utilizing proprietary encryption that takes significantly less time to process than other security systems intended to deliver over open Internet protocol. In these days of video piracy, Meyer says MediaNet's closed system gives people a "warm, cozy feeling" about the security of the images being seen in screening rooms or viewing stations anywhere in the world.

"Once we have installed a calibrated monitor in one of these rooms, the director can interact with the video using a Wacom [graphics] tablet overlay," Meyer explains. "That lets him collaborate with the effects artists as if they were in the same facility."

This real-time interaction had a dramatic effect on the final look of the visual wizardry in the new "Peter Pan."

"We'd have transmission conferences with director Hogan at lease twice a week," said Steve Braggs ("Minority Report") the computer graphics supervisor at ILM, "and the availability of this interaction helped the team headed by visual effects supervisor Scott Farrar and animation supervisor Jenn Emberly mold the special effects to suit his vision."

Braggs' computer artists can access the full spectrum of special effects technologies, including Alias' Maya, Pixar's RenderMan, Softimage 3-D and ILM's own proprietary compositing software called Comptime. Even though this is the first modern live-action portrayal of the Peter Pan story, key parts of the adventure depend on advanced digital effects for realism.

For example, in the opening act when Tinker Bell (Ludivine Sagnier) flies into the Darling family's nursery to help Peter find his lost shadow, Hogan in Los Angeles and Braggs in San Rafael were able to view the same footage simultaneously despite their physical separation.

SIMULTANEOUS EDITS

"Hogan wanted her to fly into one of the open drawers and we discussed whether her flight path should include a loop or not," Braggs said. "He wanted her to be more whimsical and it was only because we could bounce ideas off each other interactively in real time that Tinker Bell's performance became more believable."

Later, during the climactic battle between Peter and Captain Hook (Jason Isaacs, who also plays Mr. Darling) flying through the clouds over Hook's pirate ship, the director was able to give specific direction to the effects creation.

"Because we were looking at the same footage in different screening rooms over MediaNet, Hogan would ask us to bring Peter closer to camera or make Hook's flight more dynamic," Braggs tells us. "We simply could not have done that through a telephone conversation."

Ever since Gloria Borders, head of post production at Revolution Studios, first contacted MediaNet in August 2002, the company has rapidly expanded the services available to ILM.

"At first they wanted digital dailies," said Herb Dow, vice president of sales and marketing for Media-

Net Communications, "and then they added review capabilities for the effects work. Now that we have become ILM's pipeline of choice, Media-Net has been involved with six other high-end effects projects including last summer's 'Pirates of the Caribbean,' next year's mammoth monster fest, 'Van Helsing,' currently being shot in Europe by Universal, and the upcoming third installment of the Harry Potter saga. By combining wireless, free space optics, RF and dedicated fiber connections, we feel MediaNet can tailor itself to any client's needs."

Upon completion of "Peter Pan," ILM's Meyer said that "Industrial Light and Magic is a for-hire service provider, and when we need connectivity to our clients we now have a professional vendor who can provide it."