The pitch came in two metal boxes. One contained a videotape. The other was a bit of pure geek bliss. ''A plastic robot,'' says producer Jon Avnet of the day in 1997 when brothers Kerry and Kevin Conran pitched their retro-cool flick The World of Tomorrow. ''I put the tape in and was blown away.'' The footage -- six minutes of computer animation that had been home-cooked on a Mac over four years -- not only illustrated the Conrans' nostalgic nerd vision but suggested a novel way of producing it. The film -- directed by Kerry, with production design by Kevin -- would have an adventure hero called Sky Captain, a plucky reporter love interest, and giant killer robots stomping through a Fritz Lang metropolis, but except for the actors, everything in the movie would be computer-generated. Avnet bought the pitch (''Indiana Jones meets Buck Rogers'') and made the gutsy decision to finance the estimated $70 million production, starring Jude Law and Gwyneth Paltrow, independently. It worked: Paramount paid a reported $40 million to distribute Tomorrow in North America, and sales to other territories will likely make up the rest of the budget. ''If I knew then what I know now, I would have shot myself,'' Avnet says. ''But I would be all the poorer for it.'' Dead, too.