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Lost in Cyberspace

Forget the VCR: Catch a double feature on the Web tonight

This article was originally published on April 21, 1998 by SignOn San Diego and Copley News Service.

One of the great promises of the Internet was that it would someday make television obsolete (a possibility that can actually make us TV haters laugh maniacally). Forget cable and its hundreds of different stations, the argument goes. You still have to depend on one of those stations showing something you want to watch.

No, we've been promised something much better: Total control over programming your movie-watching. You on a Charles Bronson kick and want to watch "The Dirty Dozen" followed by "You Can't Win Them All"? Have at it. Perhaps the Marx Brothers are more your speed – you can spend "A Day at the Races" right in front of your monitor. Or maybe you're off your medication and want to catch a Barbra Streisand flick? No problem.

And that may still come to pass. There are already Web sites where you can download (for a fee, of course) an entire pop song in digital format. It's easier than going to the local CD shop, and you don't have to buy every song on an album, just the ones you want.

But the slow speed of most Internet connections has kept that market relatively small, and has stymied development of businesses to sell you digitized films over the Internet – although there are some (all but unusable except for those with cable modems or direct network access).

While radical increases in the speed of the Internet and home hookups to it will undoubtedly fix the above problem, some movie producers aren't waiting. Instead, they're creating movies – you can't really call them films anymore, can you? – specifically for the Internet.

D.FILM, short for Digital Film Festival, is preparing for the June 1 debut of The New Venue, an online film festival dedicated to movies created for the Web. Movies shot in other formats – video or film – will not be eligible even if converted to digital format. (Although there is really not all that much difference between a digital video camera and an analog video camera.)

There are already a handful of film clips online at D.FILM so you can get an idea of what folks are doing. Most of it is very underground, very arty – what else would you expect from a new media? The main drawback to many of these movies, especially the ones that are traditional in presenting live action, is that to keep file sizes (and thus download time) to a minimum, the movies are physically very small, typically less than 250 pixels wide. The small format just isn't going to compete head to head with TV. (Anybody remember the Osborne I portable computer with its 4-inch monitor?)

But other sites have more immediate commercial promise. The ShockRave site is dedicated to showing off the results of animation made with Macromedia's Shockwave program and it has both original, underground animation (like the "George Liquor Program" and "Say Uncle") as well as animated clips of "Peanuts" and "Dilbert" and a Shockwave version of "South Park."

Another site with original animation is Spumco's Wonderful World of Cartoons. It's created by the same folks who created Ren and Stimpy – and is equally tasteless. There are some neat things, here, though, that show the state of the art in computer animation and video streaming.

If you're not content to simply be a connoisseur of the arts but rather want to learn how to make your own digital movies, D.FILM has a tutorial section on how to make digital flicks. They go over techniques and equipment, review software packages, and interview digital movie directors and producers.