Axel Braun: Digitally Removing Condoms Still Unrealistic

HOLLYWOOD, Calif.—For mainstream movie producers, special effects have long been a blessing and a curse. Those who specialize in creating the illiusions of explosions, "space warps," objects and people flying (with or without special costumes or armor), massive storms and all the other artifices used to bring "reality" to an unreal situation are true (if commercial) artists, and every year, they win awards from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. Anyone who's seen the recent film Gravity (expecially if they saw it in 3D) fully understands why its special effects wizards won this year's Oscar for Best Visual Effects.

But special effects aren't necessarily easy—or cheap. For example, in These Are the Voyages, TOS, Season One, the excellent recently released analysis by Marc Cushman and Susan Osborn of the original Star Trek's first season, it's explained that the special effects seen in that show, which seem so "old hat" now, were so new and expensive in 1966 that their cost heavily contributed to production delays and eventually the bankruptcy of Desilu Studios, which bankrolled that series' early days.

Fast-forward to 2009, when a subcommittee of the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (CalOSHA) first began considering AIDS Healthcare Foundation's (AHF) petition to require adult entertainment producers to use condoms for all oral, vaginal and anal contacts between performers—and an AHF lobbyist told Capitol Weekly that "[t]he advent of digital technology could make the issue of condoms moot" because "[i]t is possible to quickly and easily take any visual indication of the condom out of the form or image before sale."

AVN quickly debunked that myth, but the concept hasn't gone away, surfacing most recently in Assemblymember Isadore Hall III's latest "mandatory barrier protection" bill, AB 1576, which states, in proposed new Health Code Section 6720(h)(2)(i), that "This section shall not be construed to require condoms, barriers, or other personal protective equipment to be visible in the final product of an adult film."

That section of the bill, which clearly implies removing the condoms by post-production special effects techniques, intrigued adult producer/director Axel Braun, who's also the owner of Level 5 Post, a large post-production company that supplies editing, authoring, graphics and special effects to many adult and mainstream companies—effects which led to the company winning the 2014 AVN Award for Best Special Effects for its work on Iron Man XXX.

"Digitally removing condoms would be extremely difficult, time consuming, and impossibly expensive," Braun told AVN. "You would need to rotoscope each individual frame, delete the condom, and then add artwork to match the color, texture and wetness of the genitals. Given that a sex scene is on average 20 minutes long, and even subtracting a generous 10 minutes for the oral and climax, which are always condom-less, you'd still have 10 minutes left. At 30 frames per second, that's 18,000 unique frames per scene, times five scenes per movie, for a total of 90,000 frames that would need to be altered."

"The cheapest quote I've been able to find for rotoscoping is from India, at $2 per frame," he continued. "In the L.A. area, the average is between $8 and $10 per frame, so we're talking well over $180,000 as Level 5's cost at zero profit for the company."

Braun noted that he believes that such a service, which he opined "would make absolutely no financial sense to spend this kind of money" on a straight hardcore movie, would be most useful for gay movie producers who wished to have their actors appear to be having sex bareback, a genre that is continually gaining market share in the gay porn viewer community.

Indeed, Chris Ward, president of gay production companies Falcon and Raging Stallion, recently stated, “We vigorously support condom use in our films and scenes because we feel strongly that the safety of our actors is our responsibility. Our company is behind condom use in gay erotica 100 percent and we’re exploring how to make condom scenes that use production and post-production techniques to mitigate the visual of condoms which many, many customers find distracting. We decided to try to see if this was possible and the result is California Dreamin’ 1 and 2.  Anyone familiar with Photoshop and video editing programs will know how to do this, and it’s also partly done on the set with lighting. A viewer of this movie will not mistake it for a bareback movie. The condoms are slightly visible, more in some scenes than in others because of lighting. The goal here was to simply take the condom issue out of the viewer's experience as much as possible while keeping our models safe. It’s there, but it’s not giant and distracting.”

Though AVN requested copies of both California Dreamin' movies more than a month ago, they have yet to arrive, so AVN cannot comment on how successful the condom minimization has been. Braun, however, stated that he had seen a trailer for California Dreamin' 1 and commented, "I could still see condoms very clearly in most shots, so maybe the guys at Falcon need to give me a call…"

Pictured: Axel Braun and the U.S. government patent drawing for the first rotoscoping machine.