Computer Graphics
and Video Displays

After reading Adam Herz's script for AMERICAN PIE, we realized we were participating in something special--a distinctive and hilarious coming-of-age film whose raw yet realistic dialogue set it apart from the slew of other high school films that appeared in the late '90's. Following the exploits of a group of boys nearing their high school graduation, the story chronicles their attempts to lose their virginity before prom. Banned From The Ranch was approached to supervise and execute the video display and extensive computer sequences in the film. Gail Wise produced the film's computer graphics and 24 frame video display work.

Jim (Jason Biggs) 'enjoys' scrambled porn, courtesy of Banned From The Ranch.
The film opens with Jim (Jason Biggs), um, ahem, 'pleasuring' himself in front of his television. Because his family doesn't subscribe to cable channels broadcasting porn, Jim watches the scrambled signal to get his jollies. The AMERICAN PIE production sent over an approved adult video, which BFTR heavily edited (to ensure that no excessively explicit shots appear onscreen). The edited piece was sent through a series of converters and distortion passes to achieve a realistic scrambling signature. Scrambling the image was quite tricky--we wanted to sufficiently distort the image, yet make it recognizable as a pornographic video, and even support lines of dialogue (Jim triumphantly cheers that he was able to clearly see a female's bare breast). Technical supervisor Glenn Cannon and playback assistant Josh Saeta played back the sequence on 24fps monitors, synched up to the motion picture camera.

Jim logs onto the fictional "E-Date" dating service. Click here for a bigger image.
When the boys make their pact to lose their virginity, Jim decides to log on to "E-Date," an internet dating service, where he uses his digital video camera to send an image of himself to the service. Later, hoping for numerous responses to his listing, he is disappointed to find that he has no replies.

To match the raw and realistic dialogue that appears in AMERICAN PIE, computer graphics supervisor Todd Vaziri and the film's director Paul Weitz and producer Chris Weitz decided to make the computer screens equally realistic. Many films feature stylized, highly unrealistic computer interfaces--what we created for AMERICAN PIE was very natural, believable desktop systems.

Every single computer that appears in the film is actually running a carefully programmed simulation of a computer desktop environment. Using such programs as Macromedia Director and a custom-made presentation program, we are able to program certain keystrokes and actions into the computer, no matter what keys the actor presses. This allows the actor to concentrate on his performance, instead of worrying about which button to press and where to click.

Oops! Jim sent his email to the entire school. Click here for a larger view.
With a background in web page design, Todd designed the fictional E-Date web site (don't bother looking for www.edate.internet on the web), as well as the desktop and title bar graphics. For this sequence, we rigged an Apple monitor to a UNIX machine, due to the live-video needs of the scene (the Macintosh G3 on his desktop was just a prop). With a functional QuickCam on his desktop, Glenn wired the signal to the UNIX machine, sufficiently strobed the signal to 12fps, then sent it back to the monitor, to play back over Todd's graphics.

But biggest part of our workload was the "Nadiavision" sequences. Jim, knowing that Nadia (Shannon Elizabeth) will be changing her clothes in her bedroom, plans to secretly broadcast the action over the internet, via his QuickCam and the fictional "NetBot" software. He emails the URL to his buddies Kevin and Stifler, but accidentally addresses all of East Great Falls high school--another UNIX-run simulation.

The first part of Nadiavision involved videotaping the action. Instead of relying on the QuickCam, Glenn videotaped the actors on BetaSP from a camera that was placed on the set where the QuickCam would be situated. Because of the extensive amount of time Shannon was nude, it was a closed set, which made our rigging all the more challenging. Todd then digitized some fourty minutes of footage using Adobe Premiere and an AV Macintosh. A portion of the actual QuickCam footage--Jim looking into the camera--had to be seamlessly merged with the Beta footage. Using Adobe After Effects, Todd morphed the two pieces of footage together. In the QuickCam footage, the motion picture camera was clearly visible (since the production was shooting over Jim's shoulder), and the top edge of the set was also visible. Using After Effects, Todd removed these elements by painting a new window and wall element and tracking them into the footage.

The QuickCam footage featured the motion picture camera in the background, as well as revealing the top edge of the set. BFTR extended the set and removed the camera from the video footage.

Using the fictional "NetBot" software (which BFTR also used for a Jennifer Lopez music video, the entire school watches Jim strut his stuff.

Read about BFTR's work on AMERICAN PIE in Adobe Premiere World's article on the film. Download clips from the film, and see screenshots of the footage being processed.

This link actually works now. Trust me.

The final edited footage, mastered at 400x300, was then given the 'internet look', by running at 5fps. This not only gave the material an authentic streaming video quality, but ensured consistent and flawless playback onset. The QuickTime movie was played within Macromedia Director simulations of various desktops, including Kevin's computer (Thomas Ian Nichols), Stifler's computer (Seann William Scott), Sherman's computer (Chris Owen), and more. It all helped make the Nadiavision sequence one of the funniest moments of the film.

While on set, the producers approached us with a last-second change to the film's ending. Nadia, now in her home in Czechoslovakia, logs on with Jim on his internet video phone, to watch him strip for her, one more time. Glenn, Todd and Josh rolled into action--the very next day, they were videotaping Shannon Elizabeth on a makeshift set. A few days later, we played her footage back on Jim's computer screen.

Although AMERICAN PIE is a low-budget comedy, the computer systems used in the film were quite high-tech... all of which were used to make the computer experience for the characters of AMERICAN PIE as realistic as possible. And as an added bonus, we were exposed to more nudity and pornography than we ever have in all of our computer graphics projects.

Update: the Adobe Premiere World article has been restored, along with new photos and GIFs.

©1999 Universal Pictures
Computer Graphics and Video Displays by
Computer Graphics Supervisor
Technical Supervisor
On-Set Playback

Special Thanks to:
Ian Marks, Joe Kane, Nicholas Greco, Melissa Mead, Hitoshi Inoue, Debra Sanderson

Banned From The Ranch Entertainment Home Page
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