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Reel World 

Local effects

Wednesday, May 9 2001
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What Dreams May Come While a tidal wave of applause is building for Pacific Data Images (PDI), DreamWorks' Palo Alto-based subsidiary, and its animated feature Shrek, the venerable Tippett Studio goes about its business out of the spotlight. The 15-year-old Berkeley visual effects house (Starship Troopers, Hollow Man) created the computer-generated animation crucial to Evolution, the Ivan Reitman comedy opening June 8. Armed with books on biology and physiology, company founder Phil Tippett led a team that designed 18 creatures that evolve out of a meteor crashed in the Southwest. (There's no truth to the rumor that Jesse Helms is developing an effects-driven comedy called Creation, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bible.)

"From cave paintings until now, there's a thread of storytelling through images that forms the foundation of how we create our work," says Tippett's biz dev/marketing honcho Jim Bloom. "We're not just engineers." Maybe, but they did tape and study a live cat prior to creating a computer-generated feline (a Russian Blue, if you must know) for the July 4 release Cats and Dogs. As Jar Jar Binks would tell you, natural-looking movement is crucial to believable CG characters. Of course, the computing power and software programs exist to create such believability. As Bloom explains, "There are no limits now other than schedule and budget."

For a company with 185 employees, Tippett Studio keeps a low profile outside the industry. Nonetheless, the comic-book crowd is already wise to the news that the effects company will do CG action sequences for Blade 2 with Wesley Snipes, now shooting in Prague and pegged for a 2002 release. And science-fiction fanatics are twittering in chat rooms about Phil Tippett's plans to direct Ringworld, the best-selling Larry Niven novel. It's in the early stages of development, as they say.

Best in Show "The feel-good movie of the year!" That's bound to be the tag line on the one-sheet (that's industry-speak for "movie poster") since Promises -- in which Palestinian and Israeli kids prove we can all just get along -- snared the S.F. International Film Festival Audience Award for Feature Documentary along with the Golden Gate Award for Best Bay Area Documentary. The Skyy Prize for first feature went to The Business of Strangers, from the S.F.-L.A. production company i5, while Aditya Assadat's Motorcycle drove home the Golden Gate Award for Best Bay Area Short. For a complete list of winners, see www.sffs.org.

A Better Tomorrow Jon Favreau (Swingers) zipped into town last Thursday for an advance screening of Made, his directorial debut and on-screen reunion with Vince Vaughn. A regular guy in jeans and a sweater, the 6-foot-2-inch Favreau told the crowd of college students at the Embarcadero Center Cinemas, "It's an old lesson that Sid Caesar taught us: You always hire someone taller than you when you want to be funny." Made opens July 27. ... When Driven opened on top of the charts the weekend before last, it was outgrossed at the Shattuck by Himalaya -- in its fourth weekend. Don't underestimate Berkeley's Sherpa community.

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Michael Fox

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