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By Nancy Eaton
Two friends without any filmmaking experience or background in computerized special effects are rocking the desktop moviemaking world with “Duality,” a short Star Wars fan film with a look that rivals sci-fi epics made by Hollywood’s biggest names.

And they made the film entirely on Macintosh, using off-the-shelf cameras and software, learning as they went along.

Dave Macomber and Mark Thomas

Dave Macomber and Mark Thomas, both 31, have been friends since childhood. Thomas creates and sells vintage fonts, and Macomber owns a martial arts school in Santa Barbara. Although they are avowed film buffs and both know their way around a computer, neither had any real moviemaking or effects experience before they jumped headlong into desktop filmmaking. “When we were in junior high we used to do stop-motion animations and little things like that,” Macomber says. “But we’re the kind of guys who like to listen to the directors’ commentary on DVDs, that sort of thing. We pick up a lot of tips that way.”

QuickTime VR footage of a Halt Droid, one of the objects in the movie.

A Tentative Start with “Duel”
It all started a couple years ago when an aspiring actor contacted Macomber asking to learn swordsmanship skills to help him secure a Star Wars audition. Macomber suggested shooting a demo reel of the actor swordfighting with lightsabers enhanced using computer effects. The actor agreed. Three weeks later, Macomber and Thomas shot and produced a short film called “Duel,” and posted the movie online.

The actor never got the audition, but Macomber and Thomas got a lot of positive feedback for “Duel.” Even so, the two were dissatisfied with the film. They longed for more realistic Star Wars backdrops and environments than the sand dune where they’d shot “Duel.” They theorized that they could create a better-looking film by designing computer-generated backgrounds superimposed on a blue screen, along with computer-generated special effects. “The idea of entirely using blue screen appealed to us as an impossible challenge begging to be conquered,” said Thomas.

Meeting the Challenge, Head-on
And conquer it they did. The two released their new six-minute film, “Duality,” after 14 months of extensive preplanning, three days of studio time, four months of diligent post-production and about $3,000 in out-of-pocket costs.

This version of Duality is a juxtaposition of the storyboards, bluescreen footage and the final film.

Macomber and Thomas’s eclectic talents were well suited for the varied tasks required to complete the movie. Macomber’s martial arts experience was showcased in Duality’s action sequences. He choreographed the lightsaber fight, and created detailed storyboards for the shots filmed in the studio.

Thomas handled most of the computer graphics, including modeling, matte paintings and animation, where his background in fine art landscape and portrait painting came in handy. Macomber used his own fine arts training, as well, in creating the storyboards and in modeling several interior shots.

From Filming to Final Cut
The live action was shot in a studio with a 30’ x 30’ cove painted entirely with chroma key paint. They used two miniDV cameras to shoot the film — a Canon XL1 and a Canon GL1 — both running in progressive (non-interlaced) frame movie mode. They transferred the footage to the Power Mac G4s using FireWire.

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