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American Zoetrope

The Virtual Studio

© 1996-2014
American Zoetrope
All trademarks used herein are exclusive property of The Family Coppola

Zoetrope Films
FilmsPeopleHistoryTechnology

Technological Innovators For More Than Thirty Years

American Zoetrope was founded in 1969 with the mission of finding creative, fast, and economic approaches to film. By constantly embracing new technology and innovatively applying it to movie production, American Zoetrope has built a rich history of pioneering unconventional filmmaking techniques. Surprising a Hollywood that had been using many of the same labor intensive methods since the 1920s, American Zoetrope introduced the use of automated equipment and digital electronics to filmmaking.

The Silverfish: Exterior

Refusing to accept the economic limitations of movie production, Coppola visualized ways of applying electronic technology that would increase production efficiency without compromising the quality. One outcome was the Silverfish, an AirStream RV that provided audio support sets as well an environment for both creating and editing film. Fully equipped with videoviewing machinery, hot tub, and pink interior, the Silverfish served as an electronic hub for all of the sounds and images. With wires attached to each of five stages at the site of the old Hollywood General Studios, the Silverfish captured the sound from each stage as well as the images. As Thomas Brown, who supervised the design of the Silverfish said, "Francis envisioned an environment where image, sound and data flowed like hot and cold water."

The Silverfish shook up the traditional organizational structure of film production by enabling pre-production, production, and post-production to occur simultaneously. Recognizing the potential advantages of using videotape to record movie footage, the Silverfish was designed so that Coppola could review movie clips on video immediately after filming and use them to shape the next day's shooting. Previously, film footage needed to be sent to a lab before viewing it, a time consuming process that limited spontaneity and interactivity while filming.

The Silverfish: Interior

To fortify the relationship between film and video, Zoetrope also refined the Telecine process and adapted it for offline film editing. Specialized database logging provided filmmakers with access to all relevant information.

Another unusual approach to filmmaking came with the project Ulysses. Envisioning the possibilities of applying office technology to filmmaking, Coppola contracted with software developers in the mid-eighties to build a comprehensive film editing system that would use large Unix-based computers and servers in an effort to automate the filmmaking process. Though Ulysses never came into full fruition, the final product would have been the forerunner of standard functions today such as automated budgeting and scripting programs.

Contributions to sound came with Apocalypse Now in 1980. Sound and Editing staff members Walter Murch and Richard Beggs moved away from the standard analogue creation of sound toward digital sound by adapting recording studio equipment to the film mixing studio. This offered more creative control by enabling them to simultaneously edit and mix. Moviegoers also experienced an enhanced spacial sound field for the first time via the audio Dolby lab stereo sound format, the precurser to what is now the standard high definition digital 5.1 channel sound format.

Zoetrope also provided the foundation for the next step in filmmaking: electronic nonlinear editing. In 1989, Zoetrope defied industry standards by editing the Godfather, Part 3 using the Montage Picture Processor, an ancestor to today's digital Avid® editing systems.

Today, American Zoetrope continues to use and provide optimal equipment. The studio facilities offer sound and picture editing rooms, video transfer, a screening room, a sound mixing studio, and a DVD lab. The quest for alternative & exceptional filmmaking strategies continues online, as Zoetrope aspires toward building sites that will launch innovative developments in digital film production.

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