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Germany

Animation Software Whizzes Strike Gold

Two computer freaks from Dortmund have invented a programme that have saved film companies much money, time and effort. The two have now been rewarded with a Oscar for Technical Achievement.

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And the winner is...

Demons and ghosts roam the prehistoric world of the middle earth and render it unsafe, flocks of predatory birds serve monstrous rulers as spies.

These creatures and along with them Peter Jackson's Tolkien film epic "Lord of the Rings" would not have existed if it hadn't been for the computer freaks Rolf Schneider and Uwe Sassenberg from Dortmund.

The two along with representatives from 20 other companies will pick up the Oscar for Technical Achievement Award of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Los Angeles on March 2.

Sophisticated and time-saving

Their acclaimed programme, "3D-Equalizer" reconstructs with the help of film material the movement and focus of the camera and thus makes it possible to copy thousands of real computer animations in the film.

From the analysis of the two dimensional material, the software is able to make out three dimensional movements of humans, animals and objects in the film, says 33-year-old information technology expert Schneider. "To do that with a single scene in the conventional manual way takes four weeks. Our software needs 15 minutes".

Which means there's enough time to make way for the massive armies on the screen. "Many ogres like those in the mines of Moria are computer animated. We didn't need to use thousands of extras for that", says Schneider.

The relevant sequences are shot with identical movements of the camera and then copied over one another. In this way the most fantastic buildings of the middle earth were created among the landscape of New Zealand.

High-profile takers

But it's not just Tolkien's fantasy epic that owes its presence to the technology of the software pros from Dortmund. Schneider and the 35-year-old physicist Sassenberg also count among their customers more than 100 production companies in Hollywood, Japan, Britain, Australia, France and Germany.

These high-profile customers have already used the programme for around 60 film productions, among them "Oceans 11", "Gladiator", "Tomb Raider" and "Matrix". Last year, "Gladiator" won an Oscar for special effects.

Schneider and Sassenberg founded the company, "Science D Visions" towards the end of 1995, after they'd been involved in computer animation since the late 1980s. "At that time there were no sensible techniques to mix computer animations with real film", says Schneider. The first version of the 3D-Equalizer appeared in 1996.

Pioneering work

"I wouldn't want to say that it's the best programme of all times. But we are simply way ahead", says Schneider.

The programme is definitely a pioneer, and it's not exactly cheap at 10, 266 euro. But it does save animation technicians a huge amount of painstaking work.

"It's not apparent the amount of work that actually goes into a film But everybody notices when a scene doesn't look perfect", says David Hofmann, Head of the 3D department of the post production company "Das Werk" in Munich.

The full impact of their unbelievable success still hasn't sunk in. "We're naturally very happy, but you can't say that the champagne corks are exactly flying", says Rolf Schneider. "But perhaps the party mood will come later when we stand there in our smoking suits and hold the award in our hands".

Schneider is elated about other things: "Our software was used for Stanley Kubrick's last film, "Eyes Wide Shut". Now that's special. His films are legendary".