The journey from dream to DVD

Local filmmakers combine creativity and technology

Posted: Thursday, March 13, 2003

The first film Patrick Race made, when he was about 12, showed two clay balls morphing into a pair of hands. The film was made with stop-motion animation, meaning Race, with the help of his father, shot one frame at a time, subtly manipulating the clay with each shot.

"Video was always a hobby," Race said. "It was something that I really liked doing, and it's still that way. It's still something I really enjoy."

In January 2002, he and business partner Aaron Suring turned that hobby into a business. After earning computer science degrees from the University of Alaska Fairbanks, they opened Lucid Reverie Creative Design, a film-production and Web-design company based in Juneau.

The company, named with the help of a thesaurus to invoke the idea of a clear daydream, aims to illustrate its customers' ideas creatively, Race said.

"If you can come up with an idea and you can explain it to someone that can execute it ... I don't feel there's a ceiling on what we can do," Race said.

Lucid Reverie shoots television commercials, films local events such as the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council's Wearable Art show, and creates advertisements and videos for school districts, political candidates and businesses.

Making movies ties together their training and their passion.

"During our final year (in college) we spent a lot of time doing creative projects," Suring said. "It was just a lot of fun, and actually a lot more fun than any of the degree stuff I was doing."

Race and Suring's computer science backgrounds are useful when they finish filming and begin editing the video on their computers, Race said.

"Knowing how the computer functions and what it's doing helps you troubleshoot a lot of things, whereas otherwise you might get caught up with problems with the computer," he said.

After filming with a digital camera, Race and Suring download the footage onto their computers, where they edit the footage and burn the final film onto a DVD.

Race and Suring are young - 25 and 24, respectively - and so is the film technology they use. They have around $30,000 worth of equipment in their office in the Emporium Mall downtown, and can make more complex films than millions of dollars worth of equipment would have been able to produce 10 years ago, they said.

"There's just so many special effect doo-das that you can pull off in the comfort of your own office," Race said.

The "special effect doo-das" have come into play in several Lucid Reverie films.

Race and Suring created Dayton, a computer-animated character, for a series of videos for the Alaska Staff Development Network, a statewide teacher-training partnership.

"They said they wanted a little animated guy to take them from point A to point B, and we said OK, here he is," Race said.

The computer-animation software Lucid Reverie uses, made by Adobe, allows the partners to use the mouse to manipulate a 3-D sphere on their computer screen into any shape they want. Once they have the desired shape - be that a house, a hare or a human - they can do what they want with it. Shrek, the computer-animated ogre that starred in a 2001 Dreamworks SKG film, was created with similar technology.

Animation "kind of came as an extension of playing around with stop-motion stuff and being a computer geek at the same time," Race said.

Though most of their commercial films are not computer-animated cartoons, several combine computer technology and human actions.

A short film they created for the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council features footage of a dancer that they manipulated on the computer into a shadowy pink dancing silhouette. Eventually, the dancer forms the hands in the JAHC logo.

Race and Suring try to keep their costs close to $50 per hour - less than many production companies.

"We figure you can go to Seattle and get a big expensive firm, or you can stay here and get a medium expensive firm," Race said.

How long a project takes varies, Race said.

"As far as I know, there's no typical video project," he said. "We have a 30-second spot that took two months to make; then we have a 90-minute piece that took two days."

The film industry has changed considerably in the last few decades, said Tony Criss, another local filmmaker. He has been making videos since 1972, when as a college student he took a job as stagehand and camera operator. He started Tony Criss Productions in 1991.

"I've grown up in the industry," he said. "In 1972 ... you didn't take the cameras out of a studio. When the portable videotape came along, the first was 3/4-inch; then you could go out to a business and shoot. That was a big change in how video production was done."

As the barriers to video production have gone down, so have the costs, producers said.

"What I'm able to do with my setup here, you could not have done without several million dollars worth of equipment 15 years ago," Criss said.

He has about $50,000 worth of digital equipment in the form of cameras, computers and computer software.

Criss is working on a series of eight martial arts films for Song Pak, a Juneau martial arts expert, and a video slide show for the artist Rie Muñoz. He's worked on projects for the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Coast Guard as well.

"I do everything myself," Criss said. "I don't have any employees, so I do copywriting, shooting, editing and producing the graphics.

"In talking with the client, you figure out what he wants and what his objective is, what he's trying to accomplish with the video, and it's all creative from that point," Criss said.

Mark Sabel started Sabel Media in Juneau in 1997. He entered the film business as a cameraman in California in the mid-1980s, and now works solo on freelance projects.

"It's just me," he said.

He shoots commercials, videos for corporations and some government agencies, and press videos for Gov. Frank Murkowski. Like Criss, he's seen plenty of change in the industry.

"When I started in this business, I kid you not, it took something that looked like a NASA control room with three people in there operating and an engineer on call," Sabel said. "Now, 90 percent of what that room can do with all that gear can be done on a computer costing less than $10,000. It's a massive technological change."

More changes are to come, too, said Sabel.

"The big transition that's going to be coming up over the next few years is high definition," he said. "Now we're doing standard definition, which is the same thing they've been doing since the 1950s. ... Eventually we're all going to need high-definition cameras and equipment, and that's going to be a huge change."

Christine Schmid can be reached at

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