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Special Effects Take Movie-Making In Pittsburgh To Brand New Level

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Jon Delano Jon Delano
Jon Delano is a familiar face on KDKA-TV, having been the station's...
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PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Incredible new special effects in movies are redefining the way Hollywood makes films, and Pittsburgh is playing a key role in making such movies possible.

“If you think about what people are trying to do in the movie industry, lately it’s all about rendering special effects,” Avere Systems CEO Ron Bianchini says.

Inside what was once an old Heinz company warehouse on the North Side, a start-up company called Avere Systems employs dozens of computer geeks to develop the latest technology that Hollywood and producers worldwide covet.

We’re not talking about those traditional special effects, having someone stand at a blue screen, then placed at some nice warm beach, or out in the middle of the desert, or even trudging through a snowstorm.

These new effects are much more sophisticated.

“More and more we’re seeing what people call ‘invisible effects.’ So when a robot transforms in front of you it’s obvious a computer did that. But when a helicopter appears in a scene and it looks natural, all the movie studios call those invisible effects, and invisible effects are much less costly than to actually deploy a helicopter,” Bianchini says.

And that’s where Pittsburgh-based Avere is taking the city’s reputation for movie-making to the next level.

“It takes computer power and processing power and it’s all really focused around the storage, where that movie is stored and to get those effects into the scenes,” Bianchini says.

Movie producers, says Mike Kazar – Avere’s acclaimed chief technology officer, have only one request.

“‘We want it to go faster,'” Kazar says they tell him.

“They have only one knob they want to turn typically and that’s make this go faster. Look at something like ‘Gravity.’ They have thousands and thousands of frames each of which get rendered separately and speed is what really matters the most,” Kazar states.

“Gravity” is one of Avere’s hit movies, where special effects reached new levels, and so was “Zero Dark Thirty” where much of what we saw on the screen was not real, including the helicopters that landed in Osama bin Laden’s compound.

“There were no helicopters in that movie, and there were no sand storms in that movie,” says Bianchini.

“Rather than flying helicopters in or creating sandstorms and then they would spend days cleaning the sand out of all the equipment, they just told the actors and actresses to squint, and then the computers would go in and draw the helicopters and draw the sand — and all that was done in post-production on a computer,” Bianchini adds.

And it’s Pittsburgh’s computing skills, thanks to local universities, notes Bianchini, that have led Avere to make the systems they now ship to movie companies around the world.

“That technology that enables you to quickly put things into the frames, it’s all happening here in Pittsburgh,” Bianchini says.

Guaranteeing that Pittsburgh’s movie-making tradition that started on-location here from “Flashdance” in 1983 to “The Dark Knight Rises” a couple years ago will continue well into the 21st century.

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