Tools & Toys

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In the special effects industry, time really is money. Of course, talent is money, too, and so is the ton of equipment found at any post house these days. Put them all together and it's easy to see why a 30-second commercial relying on computer graphics effects can rapidly run into the high six figures.

Enter the Internet, T1 lines and real-time streaming video. As these high-speed connections proliferate, tech-savvy companies with an eye on the bottom line can begin to squeeze costs out of the commercials production business while creating even more effective lines of communication. Leading the charge is Radium (, a live action/special effects house based in San Francisco and Los Angeles, with clients ranging from Dow Jones to MTV. The creative and technical wizards at Radium, who may have discovered that time is their most precious element, have created secure password protected Websites for each client, enabling a director, an agency creative or even, horrifying as the thought may be, an account executive to log on at a moment's notice and virtually look over an animator's shoulder to check work in progress.

While there's nothing new about production sites in general, Radium has taken the idea to the next step. In addition to a dedicated work site that allows access to versions of storyboards, approval frames, job notes and a production schedule, Radium has created links to motion tests, rough cuts and live streaming video feeds that provide a direct link to a special effects compositing session in real time. Which means, in theory, now there's no need for agency people in New York to jump on a plane and lose two days traveling to and from the West Coast in order to spend five minutes at Radium approving a motion test. With a computer and a phone line, a client can review work in progress, ask for changes and see the results of those changes instantaneously. Ultimately, that means shorter approval times, less time wasted on travel, a smoother production process and better client communication.

According to Radium's founder and creative director Jonathan Keeton, the response has been evenly divided. "Fifty percent of our clients are ecstatic that they don't have to see us in order to review the work. For the other 50 percent, their response, is, `Bummer. We don't get to come to San Francisco.' "

So what good are all these cheap airfare deals on the Web, if, thanks to the Web, you don't have to fly anymore?

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