• Saturday, Jul. 17, 2021
Voice cloning in Anthony Bourdain documentary raises ethical issues
In this Sunday, March 13, 2016, file photo Anthony Bourdain speaks during South By Southwest at the Austin Convention Center, in Austin, Texas. The revelation that a documentary filmmaker used voice-cloning software to make the late chef Bourdain say words he never spoke has drawn criticism amid ethical concerns about use of the powerful technology. The movie “Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain” appeared in cinemas Friday, July 16, 2021, and mostly features real footage of the beloved celebrity chef and globe-trotting television host before he died in 2018. (Photo by Rich Fury/Invision/AP, File)

The revelation that a documentary filmmaker used voice-cloning software to make the late chef Anthony Bourdain say words he never spoke has drawn criticism amid ethical concerns about use of the powerful technology.

The movie "Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain" appeared in cinemas Friday and mostly features real footage of the beloved celebrity chef and globe-trotting television host before he died in 2018. But its director, Morgan Neville, told The New Yorker that a snippet of dialogue was created using artificial intelligence technology.

That's renewed a debate about the future of voice-cloning technology, not just in the entertainment world but in politics and a fast-growing commercial sector dedicated to transforming text into realistic-sounding human speech.

"Unapproved voice cloning is a slippery slope," said Andrew Mason, the founder and CEO of voice generator Descript, in a blog post Friday. "As soon as you get into a world where you're making subjective judgment calls about whether specific cases can be ethical, it won't be long before anything goes."

Before this week, most of the public controversy around such technologies focused on the creation of hard-to-detect deepfakes using simulated audio and/or video and their potential to fuel misinformation and political conflict. 

But Mason, who previously founded and led Groupon, said in an interview that Descript has repeatedly rejected requests to bring back a voice, including from "people who have lost someone and are grieving."

"It's not even so much that we want to pass judgment," he said. "We're just saying you have to have some bright lines in what's OK and what's not."

Angry and uncomfortable reactions to the voice cloning in the Bourdain case reflect expectations and issues of disclosure and consent, said Sam Gregory, program director at Witness, a nonprofit working on using video technology for human rights. Obtaining consent and disclosing the technowizardry at work would have been appropriate, he said. Instead, viewers were stunned — first by the fact of the audio fakery, then by the director's seeming dismissal of any ethical questions — and expressed their displeasure online.

"It touches also on our fears of death and ideas about the way people could take control of our digital likeness and make us say or do things without any way to stop it," Gregory said.

Neville hasn't identified what tool he used to recreate Bourdain's voice but said he used it for a few sentences that Bourdain wrote but never said aloud.

"With the blessing of his estate and literary agent we used AI technology," Neville said in a written statement. "It was a modern storytelling technique that I used in a few places where I thought it was important to make Tony's words come alive."

Neville also told GQ magazine that he got the approval of Bourdain's widow and literary executor. The chef's wife, Ottavia Busia, responded by tweet: "I certainly was NOT the one who said Tony would have been cool with that."

Although tech giants like Microsoft, Google and Amazon have dominated text-to-speech research, there are now also a number of startups like Descript that offer voice-cloning software. The uses range from talking customer service chatbots to video games and podcasting.

Many of these voice cloning companies prominently feature an ethics policy on their website that explains the terms of use. Of nearly a dozen firms contacted by The Associated Press, many said they didn't recreate Bourdain's voice and wouldn't have if asked. Others didn't respond.

"We have pretty strong polices around what can be done on our platform," said Zohaib Ahmed, founder and CEO of Resemble AI, a Toronto company that sells a custom AI voice generator service. "When you're creating a voice clone, it requires consent from whoever's voice it is."

Ahmed said the rare occasions where he's allowed some posthumous voice cloning were for academic research, including a project working with the voice of Winston Churchill, who died in 1965.

Ahmed said a more common commercial use is to edit a TV ad recorded by real voice actors and then customize it to a region by adding a local reference. It's also used to dub anime movies and other videos, by taking a voice in one language and making it speak a different language, he said.

He compared it to past innovations in the entertainment industry, from stunt actors to greenscreen technology.

Just seconds or minutes of recorded human speech can help teach an AI system to generate its own synthetic speech, though getting it to capture the clarity and rhythm of Anthony Bourdain's voice probably took a lot more training, said Rupal Patel, a professor at Northeastern University who runs another voice-generating company, VocaliD, that focuses on customer service chatbots.

"If you wanted it to speak really like him, you'd need a lot, maybe 90 minutes of good, clean data," she said. "You're building an algorithm that learns to speak like Bourdain spoke."

Neville is an acclaimed documentarian who also directed the Fred Rogers portrait "Won't You Be My Neighbor?" and the Oscar-winning "20 Feet From Stardom." He began making his latest movie in 2019, more than a year after Bourdain's death by suicide in June 2018.

  • Friday, Jul. 9, 2021
NAB unveils winners of 2021 Technology Awards
David A. Folsom

The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) revealed the recipients of the Digital Leadership Award, NAB Engineering Achievement Awards for Radio and Television and the Service to Broadcast Engineering Award. The winners were honored during “The Future of Media and NAB Technology Awards,” a special event hosted exclusively on NAB Amplify.

Established in 2015, the Digital Leadership Award honors an individual at a broadcast station, group or network who has played a role in significantly transforming a traditional broadcast business to succeed in the digital sphere. The 2021 Digital Leadership Award was presented to Adam Wiener, executive vice president and general manager, CBS Local Digital Media.

Wiener leads all aspects of digital for owned-and-operated CBS Television Stations, including the roll-out of CBSN Local OTT. He began his career at CBS News and previously served as senior producer of Up To The Minute, the first news broadcast of any network with a dedicated website, and was tapped to help launch CBSNews.com. He held senior digital business and operational management roles at web start-ups and traditional media companies before returning to CBS in 2010 to launch CBS Local Digital Media. He is a member of NAB’s Digital Officers Committee and is an Affiliate Board Member of Digital Content Next.

NAB Engineering Achievement Awards
Established in 1959, the NAB Engineering Achievement Awards are given to individuals who are nominated by their peers for significant contributions to advancing broadcast engineering. Awards are given separately for radio and television.

David L. Hershberger is the recipient of the 2021 Engineering Achievement Award for Radio. Having retired as Continental Electronics’ senior scientist, Hershberger worked for Harris Broadcast, Grass Valley Group and Axcera, focusing primarily on exciters and modulators for transmitters, and low-level signal processing. Hershberger co-developed the world’s first digital FM exciter as an experimental prototype and holds 21 U.S. patents.

David A. Folsom is the recipient of the 2021 Engineering Achievement Award for Television. He is the technology lead for Pearl TV specializing in the advancement of Next Gen TV through operational and technical education. Formerly, he was the chief technology officer of Raycom Media Inc, now part of Gray Television. Folsom has worked in broadcast and engineering management for more than forty years and holds two television equipment design patents.

Service to Broadcast Engineering Award
The Service to Broadcast Engineering Award is presented periodically to individuals who have provided extraordinary service to the industry. This year’s recipient is Brady Dreasler, corporate director of engineering and technology at Quincy Media, Inc.

A native of Quincy, Illinois, Dreasler began his career almost 50 years ago with Quincy Media, Inc. at WGEM-TV. He held various positions, including operations manager, local television sales manager and account representative. Throughout his career, he has gained experience in virtually every department of a television and radio station. Dreasler also serves as vice chairman of the NAB TV Technology Committee.

  • Friday, Jun. 25, 2021
Theo Gluck joins Visual Data Media Services as director of library restoration & preservation
Theo Gluck
BURBANK, Calif. -- 

Visual Data Media Services, a global provider of media services, distribution, and content management, is expanding its media supply chain capabilities with the addition of industry veteran Theo Gluck as director of library restoration and preservation.

A respected film historian and title management professional, Gluck joins Visual Data from The Walt Disney Studios where he was director of library restoration and preservation. He will focus on growing Visual Data Media Services’ restoration business to serve the increasing global demand for diverse media across multiple platforms.

“It’s rare to have a conversation about restoration without Theo’s name coming up,” said Steve Spear, SVP global media operations for Visual Data. “His exceptional level of technical knowledge and creative depth paired with his unique ‘studio perspective’ make him an ideal fit for our restoration servicing team and ensures we are well positioned to meet our clients’ needs.” 

Gluck’s expertise combined with technologies like Visual Data’s MatchMaker scanning and Dolby Vision HDR/UHD remastering workflows will offer content owners and distributors a comprehensive suite of media services.

“Theo’s knowledge and expertise in restoration and preservation is second to none,” said John Trautman, CEO, Visual Data.  “As we continue to broaden and enhance our media supply chain capabilities, we will look to Theo, who has been instrumental in establishing the foundation for restoration, to help us engage with the industry and deliver on our mission to provide a truly customer-centric experience.”

Since its founding by Trautman in 1995, Visual Data has delivered quality end-to-end media solutions including restoration, remastering, content management, digitization, digital cinema mastering, dubbing, translation, localization and more. The company maintains its commitment to supporting customers at every stage of the supply chain and has continued to build on its leadership position with a recent partnership with Endeavor Capitol.

“There’s never been a better time to be in this business and Visual Data is at the forefront of thought leadership for content preservation and distribution,” Gluck commented. “Audiences have so many distribution platforms and content viewing options to choose from. That opens the door to new creative possibilities for preserving, presenting and delivering the titles people want to see, and I’m looking forward to working with the team at Visual Data to drive innovation around audience demand for content.”  

Gluck is a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. He sits on the Academy’s Science and Technology Council and serves as chairman of the council’s Technology History Subcommittee. His longstanding professional affiliations include the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE), the British Kinematograph, Sound and Television Society (BKSTS) and the Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA).

  • Wednesday, Jun. 23, 2021
Rembrandt's huge "Night Watch" gets bigger thanks to AI
Museum director Taco Dibbits explains how Rembrandt's biggest painting the Night Watch just got bigger with the help of artificial intelligence in Amsterdam, Netherlands, Wednesday, June 23, 2021. Right above Dibbits, left, one of the added parts is seen, the Dutch national museum and art gallery reveals findings from a long-term project to examine in minute detail Rembrandt van Rijn's masterpiece the Night Watch. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

One of Rembrandt van Rijn's biggest paintings just got a bit bigger.

A marriage of art and artificial intelligence has enabled Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum to recreate parts of the iconic "Night Watch" painting that were snipped off 70 years after Rembrandt finished it.

The printed strips now hang flush to the edges of the 1642 painting in the museum's Honor Gallery. Their addition restores to the work the off-center focal point that that rebellious Golden Age master Rembrandt originally intended.

"It can breathe now," museum director Taco Dibbits told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

The crowded painting's two main characters, Captain Frans Banninck Cocq and Lieutenant Willem van Ruytenburch, are central in the chopped down painting. With the new digital additions — particularly a strip on the left of the painting that features two men and makes clear that a boy is looking over a balustrade — the main figures effectively are shifted to the right.

"It really gives the painting a different dynamic," Dibbits said. "And what it taught us is that Rembrandt never does what you expect."

The museum always knew the original, uncut, painting was bigger, in part thanks to a far smaller copy painted at the same time that is attributed to Gerrit Lundens.

Researchers and restorers who have painstakingly pored over the work for nearly two years using a battery of high tech scanners, X-rays and digital photography combined the vast amount of data they generated with the Lundens copy to recreate and print the missing strips.

"We made an incredibly detailed photo of the Night Watch and through artificial intelligence or what they call a neural network, we taught the computer what color Rembrandt used in the Night Watch, which colors, what his brush strokes looked like," Dibbits said.

The machine learning also enabled the museum to remove distortions in perspective that are present in the Lundens copy because the artist was sitting at one corner while he painted Rembrandt's painting.

The reason the 1642 group portrait of an Amsterdam civil militia was trimmed is simple: It was moved from the militia's club house to the town hall and there it didn't fit on a wall between two doors. A bit of very analog cropping with a pair of scissors ensued and the painting took on the dimensions that have now been known for centuries. The fate of the pieces of canvas that were trimmed off remains a mystery.

The digital recreation that will be on show in coming months come as part of research and restoration project called " Operation Night Watch " that began just under two years ago, before the global pandemic emptied museums for months. 

Under relaxations of the Dutch COVID-19 lockdown, the museum can welcome more visitors from this weekend, but still only about half of its normal capacity.

During the restoration project, the painting was encased in a specially designed glass room and studied in unprecedented detail from canvas to the final layer of varnish.

Among that mound of data, researchers created the most detailed photograph ever made of the painting by combining 528 digital exposures.

The 1642 painting last underwent significant restoration more than 40 years ago after it was slashed by a knife-wielding man and is starting to show blanching in parts of the canvas.

Dibbits said the new printed additions are not intended to trick visitors into thinking the painting is bigger, but to give them a clear idea of what it was supposed to look like.

"Rembrandt would have definitely done it more beautifully, but this comes very close," he said.

  • Thursday, Jun. 17, 2021
Weta Digital partners with Autodesk to offer next generation creative cloud production pipeline 
Prem Akkaraju, CEO of Weta Digital

Visual effects studio Weta Digital has partnered with global media and entertainment software provider Autodesk, Inc. (NASDAQ: ADSK) to launch WetaM--a groundbreaking product offering that provides tools designed and developed by Weta Digital, fully embedded in Autodesk Maya. Weta Digital has won 13 Academy Sci-tech Awards for its tools that helped artists produce some of the most successful film and TV series in the world, including The Lord of the Rings, Avatar, Game of Thrones, and Planet of the Apes. Weta intends to rollout WetaM as a private beta in Q4.

WetaM productizes Weta’s unique set of proprietary VFX tools for artists built on Maya’s open API, and will be commercialized by Weta Digital as a subscription cloud service. For the first time, artists from around the world will have access to one complete--from stage to screen--cloud based pipeline. The launch of WetaM marks the first product launch under a newly formed Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) division within Weta Digital. This new business arm is an integral part of Weta’s expansion strategy to offer professional and prosumer tools to artists across the global entertainment industry.

“WetaM is the first step in the democratization of VFX and animation production. Weta Digital brings together the most creative minds in the world and has been a pioneering innovator in the visual effects and entertainment industry for decades,” said Prem Akkaraju, CEO of Weta Digital. “WetaM is a transformational move that will raise the bar for global creative production, redefining the industry in the process. At its core, this partnership with Autodesk will extend the reach of the Weta magic, making it more accessible for artists in pursuit of creating amazing characters and worlds across film and television.” 

“We are longtime fans of Weta’s remarkable visual effects achievements, and they are constantly breaking new ground building immersive, imaginary worlds and unbelievably real and engaging digital characters,” said Diana Colella, sr. VP, entertainment & media solutions, Autodesk. “The debut of WetaM is a gamechanger as it opens up years of Weta’s dedicated animation and VFX R&D resources to all creatives. It is exciting to be working with Weta to bring their magic to Maya artists, offering them powerful new effects tools and time-saving automation capabilities.”

  • Thursday, Jun. 10, 2021
Pixomondo, William F. White partner on major virtual production initiative
A virtual production stage from Pixomondo, William F. White International

Oscar-winning visual effects company Pixomondo (PXO) and Canadian TV and film equipment rental business, William F. White International (WFW), a Sunbelt Rentals company, are partnering to build LED volumes across Canada together with a combined initial capital commitment of more than $30 million.  

Under the new arrangement, WFW and PXO will co-rent LED volume equipment, with two new stages already under joint construction in Vancouver and Toronto. Several other new sites across Canada will follow in 2022.  

The high demand for virtual production shoots, coupled with strong bookings at Toronto’s first LED volume in the city’s West End, prompted the decision to formalize the working arrangement over the long term, for the whole of Canada. 

The second Toronto stage will be completed in July 2021 and is designed for shorter-term bookings and projects with quick turnaround times. It will be based at Studio City’s recently completed development at the east end of the city’s downtown core, minutes away from PXO’s Toronto office at Revival Studios and close to WFW’s Toronto office and Pinewood Studios. 

The new Vancouver stage, which will be the largest build of the three sites to date, is under construction at an undisclosed location and is scheduled for completion in September 2021. 

As with the first Toronto stage, the two new volumes will be operated by on-set PXO personnel for all productions, including those using the company’s 3D environment creation services. PXO and WFW have designed and will build the volumes in close collaboration with their technology partners Brompton Technology, Epic Games, Lenovo, NVIDIA and ROE Visual. 

  • Thursday, Jun. 10, 2021
Virtual production and post expert John Miller joins WrkFlo Solutions as partner & chief growth officer
John Miller (l) and Peter Corbett

John Miller, a veteran postproduction sales and marketing executive who was an early proponent of the power and flexibility of remote post production processes and virtualization, has joined WrkFlo Solutions as partner and chief growth officer. 

Miller has more than 20 years of experience in broadcast, media and entertainment. Joining WrkFlo Solutions reunites him with company president and founder Peter Corbett, who was an early client of Miller during his time with Discreet Logic, when Corbett owned and ran the production and post house, Click 3X.

Prior to joining WrkFlo Solutions, Miller was SVP of sales and marketing for BeBop Technology, a leader in the virtual production and post arena. Before that he was VP of sales for Brightcove. Miller is perhaps best known to the production and post communities for the six years he spent at Avid as the VP of the North American business activities. At Autodesk and Discreet Logic, he held the position of VP of worldwide sales and marketing.

“In launching WrkFlo Solutions and its embrace of virtualization, I believe we’re on the cusp of a revolutionary change in the business of production and postproduction,” said Corbett. “Having someone with John’s experience, knowledge and relationships will give our mission a huge boost in the marketplace.”

“I’ve always loved being in the forefront of new technology,” Miller said about his professional journey that’s led him to WrkFlo. “Peter and I have now come full circle, from employing giant supercomputers costing hundreds of thousand dollars to a technology that actually eliminates hardware. This is clearly the very future of our business. At WrkFlo Solutions, we’re aggregating an impressive suite of best of breed solutions, all revolving around virtualization.”

Miller first realized the potential of virtualization while heading up sales at BeBop Technologies. He noted that the push for virtualization was already underway even before the pandemic hastened its acceptance, but that a few key links in the chain were missing. “People were uploading to the cloud, and delivering via the cloud, but not working in the cloud,” he said. At WrkFlo Solutions, he added, “we’re clustering our services around the key pillars: technology, security and talent.”

The company will offer varying levels of virtualization, from full up to hybrid set-ups to meet clients’ respective needs, as well as the capability to rapidly scale up for productions or post projects and then just as quickly scale down. It will also offer access to its roster of artists for everything from editorial to color to VFX to design, CG, animation, sound design and mix

Corbett sees virtualization as the end of the era of what he described as post companies “buying into this era of heavy metal--the machine rooms, the air conditioning, the infrastructure. It all feels somewhat archaic.

“What we offer is more than just a remote capability,” Corbett continued. “It’s the ability to access talent from any part of the globe that can work in a fully collaborative, real-time environment without latency, as though they’re right down the hall. It’s total flexibility for businesses to shrink or grow and provides absolute security of assets without the expense and headaches associated with equipment purchase and maintenance.”

WrkFlo Solutions can help postproduction and editorial companies that will be increasingly challenged to meet a new hybrid work model that mixes remote with on-premised, supervised sessions, Corbett added. “Virtualization allows these companies to continue working with all of the software they’ve relied on for years, to deliver the same level of quality their own clients have come to expect,” he pointed out.

Miller joins a WrkFlo leadership team that’s comprised of industry veterans whose backgrounds span production, postproduction, engineering, staffing and management. It includes Radu Polizu, VP Engineering, who has decades of experience as a senior broadcast engineer, having built over 3O facilities; Paul Schneider, managing director, operations, who was head of post for such companies at WPP’s Hogarth as well as postproduction supervisor at Viacom; and Dave Dimeola, VP, customer experience, who leads WrkFlo’s talent sourcing operations and is a pioneer in virtualization, building remote post, VFX and animation teams in the cloud for over six years.

Supporting Miller in his role as chief growth officer will be the Atlanta-based Dave Warner, who’s handling business development for the Southeast, and the Chicago-based Helen O’Brien, who’ll handle Midwest sales.

  • Tuesday, Jun. 1, 2021
DP Isaac Vila goes "Below Zero" with Cooke lenses
A scene from "Below Zero" (Netflix)

Cinematographer Isaac Vila chose Cooke S7/1 Full Frame lenses for Netflix’s action thriller feature, Below Zero. The Spanish Netflix Original follows the events after a prisoner transfer van is attacked. The officer in charge must fight those inside and outside while dealing with a silent foe: the icy temperatures.

For the most part, the action in the film takes place inside a truck, with some additional scenes around Madrid and a variety of smaller towns, including the ancient city of Segovia, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Full frame lenses were not the initial choice, as Vila explained, “At first we wanted to shoot the movie with anamorphics. Then we realized that maybe it was not the best option seeing how small the space in the van was. So, we opted for spherical, but in full frame format to get that feeling of spaciousness. The Cooke S7/i’s were perfectly suited to what we needed. They offer the quality, and at the same time a minimum of focus, which allowed us to shoot freely inside the van. We also used a T2 diaphragm, which was highly appreciated for the night shots.”

Vila added, “The fog and the cold are very important narrative elements, and the smoothing characteristics of the Cooke lenses offered the perfect blend for them to become additional characters.”

  • Tuesday, Jun. 1, 2021
SXSW indie feature "I'm Fine (Thank You For Asking)" finds Blackmagic
A scene from "I'm Fine (Thank You For Asking)"
FREMONT, Calif. -- 

Independent feature film I’m Fine (Thank You For Asking), which had its premiere at this year’s South By Southwest Film Festival, was shot on the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 6K in Blackmagic RAW, and graded in DaVinci Resolve Studio.

Written by Kelley Kali, Angelique Molina and Roma Kong, and co-directed by Kali and Molina, the film follows a recently widowed mother who, after becoming homeless, convinces her 8 year old daughter that they are only camping for fun while she works to get them off of the streets. A micro budget feature not only about the trials of a mother during the pandemic, the film was actually shot in 2020, providing unique challenges for production while ensuring a safe set. “We had to shoot a lot in a little time,” said producer Capella Fahoome. “Our crew had to be nimble, which was what led us to our choice in cameras.”

The filmmakers chose the Pocket Cinema Camera 6K not only for the quality of the image, but also because of its design. “One reason I picked the Pocket 6K was the physical size,” said cinematographer Becky Baihi Chen. “Since we were shooting exteriors a lot, we didn’t want to draw too much attention. My first AC (Junyi “James” Song) and I put the Pocket 6K on a Ronin S and added another handle to the rig for an easier grip.” With the lead character Danny, also played by Kali, roller skating throughout the film, Chen had to find creative ways to keep the imagery organic, yet simple and easily managed, considering the small crew.

Once the film was edited by Katie McLellan and Angelica Lopez, the film was conformed in DaVinci Resolve by Lopez. Colorist Harry Locke IV graded the film in DaVinci Resolve Studio.


  • Tuesday, Jun. 1, 2021
David Cohen joins TVU Networks as global VP, strategic marketing
David Cohen

TVU Networks, which specializes in cloud and IP-based live video solutions, has named David Cohen, former VP of marketing communications at Grass Valley, as the company’s new global VP, strategic marketing. Cohen will report to TVU Networks CEO Paul Shen.

Cohen will develop and oversee the marketing strategy for TVU Networks and ensure a cohesive approach across the company’s worldwide digital, sales enablement, branding and communications efforts. His primary, initial focus will be on accelerating the transition of the TVU Networks brand identity as the company delivers on its cloud-based production and media supply chain vision.

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