POSTBUSTERS

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They're active in interactive, they're meddling in multimedia. Commercials postproduction companies are cutting a swath through the infobahn. So how's business so far?

POSTPRODUCTION HAS GONE POST-POST. ALMOST EVERY post house is hustling to form a new media unit, or, at the very least, to affiliate itself with an existing one. And, until real-time interactive ads become available and online purchases are common currency, these divisions are busy honing their skills, dreaming up artsy software, compiling CD-ROMs on their favorite topics and sprucing up their company Web sites, all the while pointing to niches where clients can insert their logos.

It's a whole new commercial horizon that presents post production companies with the opportunity to do work that often bares little resemblance to that which they did for traditional TV commercials. Consider the projects of sculptor-turned-multimedia creative director Marylyn Dintenfass of Tape House Interactive, New York, who's busy developing a series of fantasy-based CD-ROM games called HandsOn, Interactive Media for the Arts. "We're using ourselves as guinea pigs," Dintenfass says, explaining their role as content providers, coming up with interactive games for kids while they pitch proposals to publishers and ad clients. "We just don't want to be a service bureau, where all we're doing is burning CD-ROMs."

Dintenfass' attitude signals a watershed for post facilities, who've steadily increased their role in the creative process over the years. "I've seen so many companies get caught up in the buzz du jour," admits Ron Burdett, president/ceo of Sunset Post in Glendale, Calif., noting the spate of facilities rushing to get hip to multimedia. As current president of the International Teleproduction Society, Burdett doesn't see the change as a conflict of interest, but rather a redefining of roles. "The dust hasn't cleared yet," he says of the opportunities awaiting for Internet and CD-ROM ventures. But he adds, "if the multimedia equipment is sitting idle from midnight to 8 a.m., then why not create your own shows?" Indeed, Sunset is presently creating a CD-ROM title for the American Horse Shows Association, and plans on developing some how-to and historical titles.

Until clients become a sure gig, it seems to be common thread in post facilities around the country. "We've gotten a lot of interest, but nobody's biting," says Vinnie Ray Fugere, co-founder of Antenna Tool & Die, an interactive offshoot of editorial house Lost Planet that's working with Laurie Anderson on a new software project. Antenna is also creating a CD-ROM called "The Beat Experience," part of a project for Red Hot Productions and the Whitney Museum in New York; it will be included in a multimedia exhibition on the Beats later this year. Since forming as a think-tank/art house in 1994, AT&D has branched into commercial applications, creating a quirky software package called Kickstand. Once loaded, it appears as a montage of video clips in a box on the Windows platform, running like background music. So far, Fugere says, they've had no takers for adapting the idea to a kiosk format.

Marketing entertainment events on the Web reflects a typical interactive client-sponsored assignment. For instance, Post Perfect/New York's new media unit, working with HBO, offered on the Web video of performers like Aretha Franklin and Bruce Springsteen shot at a Labor Day concert this week celebrating the opening of the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland. Meanwhile, Colossal Pictures is busy furnishing the interior of the Rock 'n' Roll center. Relying on the technical support of San Francisco's Varitel New Media to amass hours of archival footage in a digital format, Colossal's Media Concrete division has assembled a virtual multimedia arcade with a huge video wall and kiosks.

But as far as tight corporate tie-ins go, Editel New Media in Chicago just finished a show-biz assignment that's a paradigm of Internet ads. Working with Chicago agency Frankel & Co., Editel created a Web site for Visa Gold and Elton John that promotes the singer's concert tour schedule and favorite AIDS charities, and offers John trivia (http://www.visa.com/eltonjohn/). You can't escape the Visa Gold theme that permeates the site: sections with titles like "A Heart of Gold, Elton John AIDS Foundation," laid over a soft, two-toned gold background, all echo the graphics from the promotions created by Frankel & Co.

One challenge in creating the site, explains Liz DeStefanis, new media consultant who spearheaded the project, was in compressing eight QuickTime clips of John, something they deemed worthwhile, despite the tedious download times, for die-hard fans. For those with less patience, audio-only clips are available for downloading. The aesthetic goal, say DeStefanis, was to imitate a broadcast style with a "fun, stylized look."

Another area open for advertisers is, of course, the game market, which is waiting to be invaded by product shots in the same manner movies have been exploited. At least that's what Brennan McTernan, partner at 3D Creations Inc., which works with post facility Manhattan Transfer, has in mind: "As far as product placement goes, you can't get better delivery than a game," points out McTernan, explaining that the repetitive nature of games allows repeated glimpses of a brand, compared with a one or two time appearance in a movie.

One project they're presently bidding on would put a game on the Internet, available for free downloading through corporate sponsors. Despite the interest, there's still a lot of client confusion about what interactive media entails and how best it's applied, he says. "Clients need to be educated," McTernan says. When the Flame was introduced, "clients started to get Flame on the brain." Now the buzz is interactive.

Mike Cunningham, president/CEO at Western Images in San Francisco-which is finishing production on Wing Commander 4, a movie-based game with three hours of motion video-agrees that interactive hype has created a lot of confusion. "This is a new industry that has its own lingo and culture," Cunningham says. It also has its challenges, such as dealing with the enormous data files that result from digitizing moving images (hence the concept of costly "real estate" in the new jargon), as well as the technical problems inherent in compressing full-motion video. "Try to come up with audio solutions that will help the client deal with these restraints," advises Cunningham.

While post houses are busy developing their own content, they're also emerging as providers of cross-platform technology, acting as electronic interpreters to translate various file formats so they can be adapted between the creators, the telcos and online service providers, according to Sunset Post's Burdett. The task of translating different video formats, Burdett says, "was child's play" compared with the "nightmare" of sorting out different digital files. Post facilities should play a beacon role in this field, he says, "because in the

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