• Tuesday, Jul. 14, 2020
Amazon unveils shopping cart that knows what you're buying
In a photo provided by Amazon, the company's smart shopping cart is seen in spring 2020 in Los Angeles. The cart, which Amazon unveiled Tuesday, July 14, 2020, uses cameras, sensors and a scale to automatically detect what shoppers drop in. It keeps a tally and then charges their Amazon account when they leave the store. No cashier is needed. (Amazon via AP)
NEW YORK (AP) -- 

Amazon has a new cure for long supermarket lines: a smart shopping cart. 

The cart, which Amazon unveiled on Tuesday, uses cameras, sensors and a scale to automatically detect what shoppers drop in. It keeps a tally and then charges their Amazon account when they leave the store. No cashier is needed. 

It's the latest attempt by Amazon to shake up the supermarket industry and offer a solution to long checkout lines. The online shopping giant opened a cashier-less supermarket in Seattle that uses cameras and sensors in the ceiling to track what shoppers grab and charge them as they leave. Amazon.com Inc. also has roughly 25 cashier-less convenience stores with similar technology.

The cart, called Amazon Dash Cart, will first show up at a new Los Angeles supermarket Amazon is opening later this year. The store will have cashiers, but Amazon said it wanted to give shoppers a way to bypass any lines. In the future, it could be used at Amazon's Whole Foods grocery chain or other stores, if Amazon sells the technology, but there are no plans for either right now. 

Several startups are already making similar smart shopping carts that are being tested in stores, but many require scanning groceries before dropping them in. 

There's no scanning on the Amazon cart. A screen near the handle lists what's being charged, and the cart can detect when something is taken out and have it removed from the bill. And there's also a way to let the cart know if you need to throw a jacket or purse in the cart so you don't have to carry it around. 

  • Friday, Jul. 10, 2020
London animation studio adapts to finish Disney film
This July 2020 photo taken from video released by Locksmith Animation shows art director Justin Hutchinson-Chatburn, right, communicating on his computer during the filming of a video diary. The London animation studio Locksmith had been in production on "Ron's Gone Wrong" for more than two years before the pandemic hit. Suddenly, animators found themselves on lockdown wrestling with glitchy technology. Hutchinson-Chatburn said it’s remarkable that animation is “thriving and surviving” during the pandemic, but he’s hoping to gather with work colleagues in person soon. (Locksmith Animation via AP)
LONDON (AP) -- 

Hanging under blankets for audio soundproofing and working around patchy home Wi-Fi, a London animation studio is following the British motto of "keep calm and carry on" during the coronavirus pandemic to complete its first feature film in time for Disney's planned release early next year.

Some 270 crew members have been working from home on "Ron's Gone Wrong" in a re-imagined production process that Locksmith co-founder Sarah Smith calls a logistical "nightmare." 

"It's exciting and complex and fun and incredibly challenging," said Smith, a writer and producer of the film. "And once you've done it once, nothing else seems even vaguely interesting because it's like the hardest thing you've ever done."

Most of the crew is remotely connecting to their office workspaces for digital modeling, rigging, animation and lighting. Editors then assemble the remote work, in some cases with temporarily out-of-sync audio. 

"Looking at the stuff in edit was the hardest thing because it was out of sync and with your brain trying to figure out the fine timing of an edit, which in animation is super precise," Smith said. 

The film and television industry halted production in March because of safety fears over the coronavirus pandemic. Some are now restarting production or exploring ways to do so safely. 

Locksmith had been in production for more than two years before the pandemic hit. Suddenly, animators found themselves on lockdown wrestling with glitchy technology while their nearby children stared at tablets. "Ironically and brilliantly, the film is actually about children and screen time," Smith said.

The story is set in a world where talking robots have become children's best friends. For one 13-year-old boy, things don't go according to plan when his bot malfunctions. 

"It's supposed to be taken away and destroyed for being dangerous. But he keeps it, and he tries to teach it how to be a friend," Smith said. 

Voice actors have been unable to record in formal studios during the lockdown. The lead child star had to tell his grandfather to turn off the television and his mother to go offline in order to conserve home internet bandwidth for a remote recording session, Smith said. 

Studio art director Justin Hutchinson-Chatburn said it's remarkable that animation is "thriving and surviving" during the pandemic, but he's hoping to gather with work colleagues in person soon. 

"It will be great when we can all get down the pub because there's going to be some big wrap parties that we are all going to want to go to," he said. 

  • Wednesday, Jul. 8, 2020
BBC and Hulu's "Normal People" finished in DaVinci Resolve Studio
Paul Mescal (l) and Daisey Edgar-Jones in “Normal People” (photo by Enda Bowe/courtesy of Hulu and Element Pictures
FREMONT, Calif. -- 

Blackmagic Design announced that the television adaptation of Sally Rooney’s New York Times best selling novel, Normal People, was graded and finished in DaVinci Resolve Studio.

Produced by the Oscar and BAFTA award winning production company, Element Pictures, and generating almost 48 million requests on BBC iPlayer so far, the lauded 12-part drama has gripped audiences across the U.K. and U.S.

Normal People tracks the tender but complicated relationship of Marianne and Connell from the end of their school days in a small town west of Ireland to their undergraduate years at Trinity College. When Connell comes to pick up his mother from her cleaning job at Marianne’s house, an indelible connection grows between the two teenagers--one they are determined to conceal. Normal People sees the pair weave in and out of each other’s lives and explores just how complicated intimacy and young love can be.

The Irish love story series was directed by Lenny Abrahamson and Hettie Macdonald, with cinematography by Suzie Lavelle BSC and Kate McCullough. Gary Curran, colorist and company director at Outer Limits, who handled all postproduction, relied on an ACES workflow in DaVinci Resolve Studio for the grade, online and final deliverables.

Curran said, “The camera work on this series is fantastic. Suzie decided to use K35 lenses that introduce flare and fogging. They had a real softness to their highlights and contrast.

“Overall, my aim was to not take anything away from that,” he continued. “Rather just enhancing Suzie and Kate’s work further. It was about finding the right balance between keeping it natural in the DI and not too stylized while also retaining a slight richness to the images.”

Throughout the series, each location and point in time has its own world. This was not just in the grade, but in everything; from production design and costume, to cinematography and direction. Curran added: “When the characters are in school, we reflected the greys and blues of the uniform.

“Then the story evolves to Trinity, where the colors get richer--a warmer hue of reds, oranges and browns. The following sequences in Italy were bright and sharp, which made a really stark contrast to when Marianne’s character is in a dark place in Sweden.”

Curran explained that many of the interior shots in Sweden were actually filmed in Dublin, so there was some shot matching to the exterior scenes, which were graded with low, bleak light, reflecting Marianne’s state of mind.

He added: “With the camerawork, which is sometimes placed very close up, you are always present with the main characters. You feel almost like you’re sat next to them, and you really get to see their mental turmoil. Body language, gestures, looks were all key parts of the storytelling, and so it was important to ensure viewers could always see this.

“Sometimes we found the light would be falling away in some of those interiors into darkness and shadow, and there were times where we let that happen stylistically. However, in others we wanted to bring out their faces, and so I used Resolve’s channel mixer to narrow the range of skin tone. If there was too much green or blue, we could control those levels while still ensuring skin tones were natural and soft.”

  • Monday, Jun. 29, 2020
Using "face doubles," a new documentary captures an anti-LGBTQ purge
A scene from "Welcome to Chechnya" (courtesy of HBO Documentary Films)

Anonymous sources in documentaries have often been reduced to a shadowy, voice-distorted figure — or worse, a pixelated blur. 

But a new documentary premiering Tuesday on HBO has, with the aid of advanced digital technology, gone to greater lengths to preserve the secrecy of its sources while still conveying their humanity.

"Welcome to Chechnya," directed by David France, is about an underground pipeline created to rescue LGBTQ Chechens from the Russian republic where the government has for several years waged a crackdown on gays. In the predominantly Muslim region in southern Russia ruled by strongman Ramzan Kadyrov, LGBTQ Chechens have been detained, tortured and killed.

France, the filmmaker behind "How to Survive a Plague" and "The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson," worked in secrecy with the Russian LGBT Network, a group formed to help save gay Chechens and find them asylum abroad. But France had a dilemma. He couldn't reveal the identities, or the faces, of his main characters. Their lives depended on staying anonymous.

Yet France still wanted to faithfully show the trials they were enduring. This was a tragedy that needed a face. That meant none of the old methods of cloaking anonymous sources would work.

"They were dehumanizing," France said in an interview. "I believe one of the reasons we haven't been hearing about this ongoing crime against humanity in the south of Russia is because we haven't been able to hear from the people and see the people who have suffered this unspeakable torture. When the only testimony of a crime of this magnitude comes from people who are behind a curtain, it lacks the empathy of the public that this story truly deserves."

France didn't know how he would resolve the issue, but he promised those he shot that he would somehow disguise them. After searching and testing a range of approaches, France settled on a novel one: In "Welcome to Chechnya," the faces of all the LGBTQ Chechens have been replaced using artificial intelligence. It's a little like the documentary answer to "The Irishman" or a more altruistic version of a "deepfake."

The faces seen in "Welcome to Chechnya" belong, in fact, to 22 volunteers whose faces were superimposed on the people in the film. Most of them are LGBTQ activists in New York. The "face doubles" were shot on a blue screen stage and converted into algorithms that, with machine learning, could digitally mask the subjects of the film. Different voices were substituted, too.

"Nobody had ever really attempted this before," said France. "And most people said it was impossible. It turned out it was pretty close to impossible but not impossible."

The technology was developed by software architect Ryan Laney. And its implementation was decided through a study organized by Dartmouth College professor Thalia Wheatley, an expert in brain sciences. She showed 109 students different visual effects options of "Welcome to Chechnya" to determine which one conveyed empathy the best and avoided an "uncanny valley" effect. (Another less successful option was using filters to render the film's individuals cartoon-like caricatures.)

Still, adding the face doubles throughout the film was a grueling, months-long process that only concluded a week before the premiere of "Welcome to Chechnya" at the Sundance Film Festival in January. "The Irishman," by comparison, altered its actors' faces in highly planned scenes with carefully orchestrated camera movement. France's documentary was full of erratic movements of both camera and people.

Every step of the way, France and his editors worked on encryption drives, and never let their original footage with real faces touch the internet or even a computer that had previously been connected to the internet. They edited in what France calls a windowless bunker in Los Angeles.

"It added a lot of time to our work," said France, "But it reminded us everyday what the stakes were and what it meant to be the people whose lives were shared with us and entrusted us in sharing their lives with a wider audience."

  • Wednesday, Jun. 24, 2020
OpenDrives unveils new storage solution
OpenDrives' Ultra Hardware Platform
LOS ANGELES -- 

OpenDrives, a trusted network-attached storage (NAS) solution in the digital media industry, has introduced its Ultra Hardware Platform. The new storage solution is designed specifically to enable users to scale up in multiple dimensions while preserving ultra-high performance, super-low latency, and intelligent data integrity. The solution includes three different NAS hardware solutions to meet changing business requirements and is controlled by OpenDrives’ centralized management software, Atlas.

“In scale-up instances, the most common method to increase performance and capacity is to add more disks until a limit is reached. Then customers face the dilemma of adding an additional system which does not aggregate the capacity or performance, as well as being complex, costly and difficult to manage,” said Sean Lee, chief product and strategy officer at OpenDrives. “With Ultra’s architecture, customers can choose which dimension or dimensions they want to scale; capacity, performance, or both, without limits.”

3 different models
OpenDrives’ new Ultra Hardware Platform includes three different NAS hardware series, all managed by the new Atlas centralized management software platform, enabling organizations to grow their storage solution in multiple dimensions--performance, capacity and concurrency--to match business requirements:

  • The Ultimate Series delivers the highest level of performance and throughput in the Ultra Hardware Platform. Designed with speed and low latency in mind, the Ultimate incorporates an all-flash NVMe design in the form of the F and FD capacity modules to handle the most demanding workflows.
  • For organizations that require a balance between performance and flexibility, the Optimum Series was designed to provide freedom of choice and is configurable with either all-flash NVMe (F, FD) or SAS HDD (H, HD) capacity modules, or both. The workhorse of the Ultra Hardware Platform, the Optimum can handle resource-intensive workflows while also managing data integrity with ease.
  • The Momentum Series leverages OpenDrives’ HDD (H, HD) capacity models to deliver high performance at a cost-effective price. Designed to excel at write-intensive workflows, such as camera-heavy security surveillance, the Momentum provides power at a price-point to meet any budget.

Atlas
OpenDrives’ is announcing the latest version of its software platform, Atlas, which will be free to upgrade in Q4 for all OpenDrives customers. Altas combines all-new intelligence technology with automation in an easy-to-use, single-pane-of-glass centralized management solution for the OpenDrives Ultra hardware family. With the ability to manage all OpenDrives systems from a single interface, companies can manage their entire storage infrastructure no matter how geographically distributed it may be. Plus, Atlas seamlessly incorporates intelligent data integrity to ensure against corrupt data or data loss. New features include: inline and proactive caching, bandwidth throttling and actionable analytics to support business intelligence. 

Team players
Founded in 2011 by a veteran Hollywood team of technical media engineers, postproduction professionals and studio heads, OpenDrives has maintained its commitment to solve the industry’s most critical pain points, including speed, latency, and scalability. Over the past decade, the company has grown to encompass a team of postproduction professionals fluent in performance and committed to creating seamless workflows with storage that supports the highest fidelity media across a range of industries, including Hollywood production studios, streaming, live broadcast, esports, advertising, animation, security, military, healthcare and diagnostics. 

“OpenDrives’ first-hand perspective on postproduction performance means you get true partners who understand the importance of seamless workflows,” said Mark Dietel, CTO at SouthPark Studios. “By using their highly intuitive, reliable storage solution, we’re able to eliminate performance delays to give our creatives more time to iterate and perfect their projects. This continues to give South Park Studios a creative advantage within a competitive animation space.

“OpenDrives is the strongest link in the HBO Verification Lab’s stack. We have many flavors of machines and operating systems and the storage works seamlessly across the board,” said Bennett Cain, director of HBO Verification Lab. “Through their tireless support and collaborative spirit, they’ve been a top-notch partner in our facility’s growth.”

Most recently, OpenDrives adapted its NAS solution to fit the transition to a remote workforce and for an industry that relies heavily on on-premise, on-lot production. In March 2020, the company introduced OpenDrives Anywhere, an in-place private cloud model that enables users to work on the same project from multiple locations, without any compromises in workflow performance, quality and security of files. 

OpenDrives’ Ultra Hardware Platform and the existing Atlas Operating System, as well as OpenDrives Anywhere, is available to existing and new customers starting today. All customers will be able to upgrade to the new Atlas software in Q4 2020.  

  • Tuesday, Jun. 23, 2020
Apple previews new iPhone software, changes to Mac chips
In this photo provided by Apple Inc., CEO Tim Cook delivers the keynote address during the 2020 Apple Worldwide Developers Conference Monday, June 22, 2020, in Cupertino, Calif. At its postponed and now-virtual developers conference, Apple is expected to unveil some modest changes to iPhone operating software and possibly to drop some hints about its efforts in augmented and virtual reality, although any new gadgets are still probably a few years away. (Brooks Kraft/Apple Inc. via AP)

Apple on Monday provided a glimpse at upcoming software changes designed to make the iPhone even easier to use and also announced a long-anticipated shift to a new type of chip to power its line of Mac computers. 

The preview of the next version of the iPhone's operating system, known as iOS 14, highlighted Apple's annual conference for computer programmers and mobile app makers. The event, which was delayed for three weeks due to the coronavirus pandemic, took place in virtual form via a webcast from the company's Cupertino, California, headquarters.

In recognition of the pandemic, Apple's next iPhone operating system will include an option to put a face mask on a personalized emoji. Upgraded software for the Apple Watch will also detect when wearers wash their hands.

Apple CEO Tim Cook kicked off Monday's session with remarks that acknowledged the nationwide protests triggered by George Floyd's death last month at the hands of Minneapolis police, as well as the social and business challenges posed by the worst pandemic in a century.

But most of the presentation revolved around an array of new features that, for instance, could help iPhone users manage their apps better, find new ones, and use their phones to unlock and start their cars remotely. (Though that last feature will initially only be available for a 2021 BMW model.)

Apple also promised an upgraded version of its digital assistant Siri intended to make it smarter and less cumbersome, helping it fend off rival voice-activated concierges made by Google and Amazon.

Apple also said its Mac computers will begin using its own chips as it phases our the Intel processors that have powered the machines for the past 15 years. Some Macs will have the Apple chips before the end of the year, but the full transition away from Intel chips won't be completed until 2022.

There had been speculation that Apple would unveil apps that rely on augmented reality, or AR, a technology that melds digitally projected images with the real world. Although Cook has been hyping AR has the next big wave in technology, it hasn't caught on in the mainstream yet and Apple didn't drop any new bombshells about it during Monday's event. Instead, the company disclosed a few relatively minor features in its AR platform for iPhones and iPads in a written summary.

Apple is widely believed to be working on an AR headset and internet-connected glasses that could be released in the next two to three years. True to its secretive nature, Apple hasn't disclosed any plans for its own line of AR devices. 

The company gave no indication whether the pandemic-driven disruptions in work in the factories that make iPhone parts will delay the release of the next model. The company typically unveils its next iPhones in early September and then starts selling them toward the end of the month.

Analysts believe the release of the iPhone 12 will be come later than usual, but are expecting it still will be on sale well before the pivotal holiday shopping season. Earlier this month, the CEO of chip maker Broadcom, Hock Tan, told analysts he expected a delay in the production of a product made by a major North American smartphone maker. Broadcom is a major supplier for the iPhone.

Apple is expected to roll out as many as four different iPhone 12 models this year, including its first version that will be able to work on the next generation of ultrafast wireless networks known as 5G.

Investors are betting heavily that Apple could emerge even stronger from the pandemic and the associated recession. The company's stock hit a new all-time high Monday before closing at $358.87 — a gain of 22% so far this year that gives Apple a market value to give the company a market value of more than $1.5 trillion.

  • Thursday, Jun. 18, 2020
Submissions deadline nears for 72nd Engineering Emmy Awards
2019 Engineering Emmy Award recipients
NOHO ARTS DISTRICT, Calif. -- 

The submissions deadline for the 72nd Engineering Emmy® Awards is looming--online submissions will remain open through Monday, June 29. The Engineering Emmy Award honors an individual, company or organization for developments in engineering that are either so extensive an improvement on existing methods or so innovative in nature that they materially affect the production, recording, transmission or reception of television.

The 2020 Engineering Emmy Awards entry form can be downloaded here.

Recipients of the Engineering Emmy, The Charles F. Jenkins Lifetime Achievement Award and the Philo T. Farnsworth Corporate Achievement Award will be selected by the Engineering Awards Committee, which is comprised of highly qualified Academy members appointed from technically oriented peer groups. Winners will be announced this October.

Previous Engineering Emmy Award winners include AVID, Canon, Dolby Laboratories, Disney, FUJI, Netflix, NASA, Sony Corporation and YouTube.

  • Wednesday, Jun. 17, 2020
Deluxe launches cloud-based IP delivery solution One VZN
Andy Shenkler, chief product & technology officer of Deluxe
LOS ANGELES -- 

Deluxe Entertainment Services Inc. (Deluxe) has launched One VZN (pronounced “vision”), a cloud-based IP delivery solution distributing major studio and independent content to movie theaters and exhibitors worldwide quickly and securely. Developed in collaboration with Amazon Web Services (AWS), One VZN is an enhancement to the Deluxe One platform, the company’s flagship cloud-based solution that unifies the media supply chain. One VZN leverages Deluxe’s 100+ years of experience providing high-quality, reliable theatrical services to the media and entertainment industry and represents a continued investment in theatrical content delivery and support for the resurgence of theatrical viewing by consumers. 

“As our industry faces one of the most impactful hardships in modern history, we know one thing--global cinematic experiences will return. One VZN is poised to be one of the most important innovations in digital cinema distribution in the past decade, fundamentally changing not only the economics of film distribution for exhibitors and studios around the globe, but also enabling new theatrical experiences for viewers as well,” said Andy Shenkler, chief product & technology officer of Deluxe. “We are invested in the future of cinema and are thrilled to expand our relationship with AWS to bring this innovative solution to market using AWS Snowcone. Bundling connectivity, management, and unlimited capacity, we’re looking forward to reshaping theatrical distribution and getting everyone back to the movies.”

One VZN uses the newly announced AWS Snowcone, a small, ultra-portable, and rugged edge computing and data transfer device, to provide secure, easy-to-manage storage of content in theater locations. One VZN distributes content from Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) using high speed online transfers to AWS Snowcone devices in theater locations using AWS DataSync. The combination of the Deluxe One platform and AWS Snowcone can overcome on-site storage constraints by sending smaller, customized content packages and providing an incredibly small infrastructure footprint in theaters, while also improving security with military-grade encryption.

Bill Vass, VP of technology, AWS. said, “Together, AWS and Deluxe continue to spearhead cloud innovation for the media and entertainment industry. Deluxe One and One VZN are great examples of digital transformation built on AWS that deliver tangible benefits to a whole industry and will improve customers’ experience in theaters when it’s safe to return.”

John Fithian, CEO of the National Association of Theater Owners, added, “The return of theatrical experiences is something we all are looking forward to and we are excited that our partners in the industry see the future as bright as we do. The investment in this solution represents Deluxe’s support for the future of our business and the resiliency of the theatrical market. We look forward to what Deluxe and AWS are bringing to the market and are excited about all of the possibilities.” 

As a part of the One VZN subscription, exhibitors will also receive managed high-speed network connectivity at no additional cost. In mere hours, content is now made available to movie theater owners and exhibitors. This reduced delivery time will have a significant impact across the end-to-end media supply chain, providing content creators and owners with additional time to finalize the production process in advance of a global distribution. Exhibitors will now be able to eliminate their reliance on the physical delivery of hard drives, providing them with the ability to add late bookings of content or dynamically extend content without constraints of server storage or the threat of new incoming titles. The solution will also provide the ability for key management integration with files at the edge as well as tighter integration between Theater Management Systems and cloud-based content repositories, driving further support for alternative content and live event experiences in theaters.

One VZN will be piloted in select sites across North America as theaters slowly begin to reopen, including Premiere Cinemas, Emagine Entertainment, Classic Cinemas, ArcLight Cinemas, amongst additional major theater locations. Following the North America implementation, One VZN will continue to be rolled out globally. 

  • Wednesday, Jun. 10, 2020
ARRI lights up with GM Ivo Ivanovski
Ivo Ivanovski
STEPHANSKIRCHEN, Germany -- 

Ivo Ivanovski will join ARRI as general manager of business unit lighting, effective August 1. Together with GM Markus Lampier, Ivanovski will manage ARRI’s lighting business unit out of the facility in Stephanskirchen, Germany. 

Ivanovski will be responsible for demand creation including the areas of product management, application engineering, service, sales, and marketing. Ivanovski will report directly to Markus Zeiler, executive board member of ARRI.

  • Wednesday, Jun. 10, 2020
DP Cookes up look for "Penny Dreadful: City of Angels"
"Penny Dreadful: City of Angels" (photo by John Conroy)
LEICESTER, UK -- 

When it came time for cinematographer John Conroy to develop the look for Showtime’s Penny Dreadful: City of Angels spin-off, he already had eight episodes of lensing the original Penny Dreadful under his belt. A major part of the look for the spin-off would come from using Cooke Optics’ S4/i prime lenses and rehoused vintage Cooke Speed Panchro lenses.

Conroy noted, “The original series was set in Victorian gothic London, while City of Angels is set in 1938 Los Angeles — a very different look. That gave us the opportunity to start fresh and create our own vision. For example, the original series was dark with action taking place in shadows, while City of Angels takes place in a very colorful era in a bright and sunny city. It truly was the difference between night and day.”

Conroy explained, “We used four ARRI ALEXA Mini cameras in 3.2K 16:9. We rented a full set of S4/i lenses — all 18 lenses from 12mm to 300mm, as well as two sets of rehoused vintage Speed Panchro primes in 25mm, 100mm and 135mm focal lengths. We did several tests at Panavision to make sure that the Panchros and the S4/i’s matched, with the goal of the two lens families looking seamless to the viewer by the time our colorist got done with the footage.”

Creator and writer John Logan was very specific about not wanting a noir look and feel, but rather embracing the 100-degree heat of Los Angeles. “Our mantra from John was ‘we gotta feel the heat,’” said Conroy, who added that “having 60-70-year-old optics that were designed in the 1920s really helped with that aesthetic.”

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