Story line comes first, executive says High-tech special effects go with riveting content, movie maker stresses


September 29, 1998|By Mark Guidera | Mark Guidera,SUN STAFF

The blockbuster film "Titanic" may have cost an

unprecedented $200 million to make and included more than 500 dramatic visual effects -- many of them the result of breakthrough digital imaging and computer technologies -- but in the end what held audiences spellbound was this piece of magic: a love story in the midst of tragedy.

For Tom Rothman, president of Twentieth Century Fox Film Production, which underwrote "Titanic's" production with Paramount Pictures, the lesson of that success was compelling: Don't be fooled into thinking technological advancements alone will draw consumers.

"The movie business as a whole is learning this and continues to learn it -- spectacular effects alone won't necessarily bring people into the theater. Customers will choose the best story, not the best technology," Rothman said yesterday while in Baltimore to deliver a guest address to 1,300 high-technology leaders gathering for the Greater Baltimore Committee's high-technology dinner and awards event.

Rothman, a Baltimore native and Columbia Law School graduate, said the same message can be taken to heart by executives running telecommunications, information and other high-technology firms in the Baltimore-Washington region.

"High-tech firms should concentrate on the content or product they're trying to provide first. The ones that can pair that with the best technology can win the grand prize."

To drive home his point last night at the GBC event, Rothman used a collection of clips from Twentieth Century Fox Films, including "Titanic" and "Dr. Dolittle" (the most recent version, with talking animals) to illustrate how the film producer uses technology to build story and characters and advance the drama.

For example, Rothman said, "Titanic" director James Cameron combined two types of camera technologies to achieve a dramatic high point in the film when actor Leonardo DiCaprio's character trumpets from the bow of the great ship that he's "King of the World."

That sweeping scene involved the use of what are known as motion control and motion capture photography.

Motion control photography involves the use of computer-controlled cameras that repetitiously repeat complex camera movements with accuracy so that computer-generated images and real ones can be blended.

Motion capture technology, on the other hand, is used to convert live performances into digital components so that they can be manipulated by computers.

The technologies made it possible, Rothman said, for Cameron to achieve a fluid, sweeping viewpoint. Movie viewers are made to feel as if they are circling and seeing the ship and DiCaprio from the air.

In the end, that freedom of motion helps convey the dramatic exuberance of the character as he shouts to the world from the racing bow of the great ship.

"I believe that you have to use technology in service of the story," Rothman said. "Without emotional involvement, slight of hand is simply that.

"The same thing applies no matter what technology you're working with. Your core product has to be something people can relate to on a personal level."

Pub Date: 9/29/98

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