• Tuesday, Jul. 28, 2020
In reversal, CES gadget show won't be in-person after all
People look at a 145 inch Ultra Large UHD display in the LG booth at the CES tech show, on Jan. 8, 2020, in Las Vegas. CES, one of the world’s biggest technology conferences, won’t be held in person next January due to the coronavirus pandemic, a reversal from May when organizers said it still planned to go ahead with a smaller show in Las Vegas. Instead, the 2021 event will be a virtual convention, one that organizers hope to bring back to Las Vegas in 2022. (AP Photo/John Locher, File)
NEW YORK (AP) -- 

CES, one of the world's biggest technology conferences, will be a virtual event in January due to the coronavirus pandemic, a reversal from May when organizers said it would go on as a smaller gathering in Las Vegas.

The announcement Tuesday is another blow for Las Vegas which, like all other U.S. tourist destinations, is suffering as people stay home or vacation locally. More than 170,00 people attended the four-day show this year in January, before COVID-19 began to spread across the U.S.

States in the South and West are being hit particularly hard. 

In Nevada over the past two weeks, the rolling average number of daily new cases has increased 27%. The state now ranks sixth in the country for new cases of COVID-19 per capita.

The pandemic has disrupted major tech events everywhere. 

Europe's biggest consumer electronics trade fair, Germany's IFA, usually runs for six days and drew nearly a quarter million people last year. This year, it's half that duration and there will be no public access to the event in September. Web Summit, a glitzy event in Portugal that features high profile tech CEOs and celebrities, will be online this time. Organizers aim to still hold the physical conference in Lisbon in December but won't make any final decisions until early October.

The Consumer Technology Association, which organizes CES, had said in May that it planned to go ahead and hold some events in Las Vegas next year, but the thinking changed as COVID-19 cases spiked around the world, making it impossible to hold an indoor event in January 2021, said CTA CEO Gary Shapiro.

There was also uncertainty over whether employees of big tech companies would be allowed to travel by then. Google, for example, said this week that its employees should work from home until at least July 2021. 

The four-day digital version of the CES gadget show begins Jan. 6. 

Kelvin Chan in London contributed to this story. 

  • Friday, Jul. 24, 2020
XM2 PURSUIT gives flight to Tango II drone
Tango II

XM2 PURSUIT, a global aerial solution provider catering to film, visual effects, television and infrastructure industries, has released Tango II, its newest aircraft for commercial and industrial use. Superior to its groundbreaking XM2 Tango predecessor, the Tango II is billed as being the only drone aircraft of its kind to satisfy all needs for film and industrial applications.

Designed and constructed by XM2 PURSUIT’s expert teams of aerial pilots and engineers, Tango II was created with a strong knowledge of film and industrial applications. The result is a powerful and safe platform capable of lifting a wide variety of payloads--including cinematography cameras, VFX and industrial sensors, as well as lighting rigs.

The new Tango II offers a number of unique features built for the serious drone operator, including:

  • Co-pilot flight and maintenance assistant with HELIX flight controller
  • High-Definition FPV camera with controllable tilt
  • Fully autonomous control without No Fly Zone restrictions
  • Designed for operation from moving platforms
  • Dual camera mount capabilities that allow for both over and underslung content capture
  • 40 km/25 mi control range
  • A revolutionary new dampener that produces unmatched stability for silky smooth footage even when utilizing long lenses
  • Retractable and tool-free quick release landing gear complete with a custom control board for improved performance across a wider range of temperatures
  • Custom carry case for optimal portability, meeting the weight and size restrictions to enable travel on any passenger airline

“Our new Tango II aircraft doubles down on performance, allowing pilots to enjoy integrated autonomous flight capabilities with the unmatched benefits of extended flight times and heavy payloads,” said Stephen Oh, leader of XM2 PURSUIT. “When paired with our proprietary XM2 Helix flight controller, Tango II provides freedom and flexibility to experienced drone operators while achieving superb flight characteristics up to a range of 40 kilometers.”

Recent XM2 Tango television and film credits include: No Time to Die, Fast & Furious 9, Westworld and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. 

  • Thursday, Jul. 23, 2020
AP, Sony reach deal for new still and video cameras
This combination photo shows the Associated Press logo on April 26, 2016, in New York, left, and a Sony logo on July 31, 2014, in Tokyo. The Associated Press and Sony Electronics announced a deal to equip all of the news cooperative's still and video photojournalists with new cameras. It will be the first time the AP will have photographers across the world using cameras from the same manufacturer, which the news cooperative hopes will improve consistency and speed. (AP Photo)
NEW YORK (AP) -- 

The Associated Press says it has reached a deal with Sony Electronics to exclusively equip its photojournalists with new video and still cameras over the next two years.

The AP sends some 3,000 photos and 200 videos a day to customers worldwide. Visual journalism is a point of pride for the news cooperative, which won its 54th Pulitzer Prize this year, the 32nd it has won for photography.

The new Alpha cameras will be smaller and lighter, and employ mirrorless technology, enabling photographers to work silently.

"This is a game-changer for the AP and will give us way more flexibility into the future," said Derl McCrudden, deputy managing editor for visual and digital journalism.

The company would not discuss the size of the investment.

It will be the first time the AP uses video and still cameras from the same manufacturer, which it hopes will allow for greater consistency in the product and more speed. Photographers will be able to easily share lenses and memory cards.

"We think we can get images from the back of cameras to customers in minutes," said J. David Ake, director of photography.

Ake said he hoped the transition would be complete in between 18 months and two years, although training on the new equipment will be initially complicated by the coronavirus pandemic.

Neal Manowitz, deputy president for Imaging Products and Solutions Americas at Sony Electronics, said the company is "honored to equip AP's journalists with our technology and support, giving them the opportunity to capture, transmit and deliver imagery in ways they never could before."

  • Thursday, Jul. 16, 2020
Blackmagic Design rolls out URSA Mini Pro 12K
The Blackmagic URSA Mini Pro 12K
FREMONT, Calif. -- 

Blackmagic Design has announced Blackmagic URSA Mini Pro 12K, a new digital film camera with an advanced 12,288 x 6,480 12K Super 35 image sensor, 14 stops of dynamic range and high frame rate shooting at up to 60 frames per second in 12K at 80 megapixels per frame. This new 3rd generation model supports new Blackmagic Generation 5 Color Science and higher Blackmagic RAW performance, all in the award winning URSA Mini Pro camera body.

Blackmagic URSA Mini Pro 12K will be available in July 2020 from Blackmagic Design resellers worldwide for US$9,995.

Blackmagic URSA Mini Pro 12K is a revolution in digital film with a 12,288 x 6480 12K Super 35 sensor and 14 stops of dynamic range, built into the award winning URSA Mini body. The combination of 80 megapixels per frame, new color science and the flexibility of Blackmagic RAW makes working with 12K a reality. Oversampling from 12K gives customers the best 8K and 4K images with the subtle skin tones and extraordinary detail of high end still cameras. Customers can shoot at 60 fps in 12K, 110 fps in 8K and up to 220 fps in 4K Super 16. URSA Mini Pro 12K features an interchangeable PL mount, as well as built in ND filters, dual CFast and UHS-II SD card recorders, a SuperSpeed USB-C expansion port and more.

URSA Mini Pro 12K’s extreme resolution goes well beyond traditional motion picture film. Customers get the benefits of shooting with film including incredible detail, wide dynamic range and rich, deep color. Perfect for feature films, episodic television and immersive, large format IMAX. The incredible definition around objects makes it ideal for working with green screen and VFX including compositing live action and CGI. Super sampling at 12K means customers not only get better color and resolution at 8K, but also a smoothness that comes from making aliasing invisible.

The Blackmagic URSA Mini Pro 12K features a revolutionary new sensor with a native resolution of 12,288 x 6480, which is an incredible 80 megapixels per frame. The Super 35 sensor has a superb 14 stops of dynamic range and a native ISO of 800. The new 12K sensor has equal amounts of red, green and blue pixels and is optimized for images at multiple resolutions. Customers can shoot 12K at 60 fps or use in-sensor scaling to allow 8K or 4K RAW at up to 110 fps without cropping or changing their field of view. URSA Mini Pro’s interchangeable lens mount lets customers choose from the widest range of vintage and modern cinema lenses, so customers can capture every ounce of character and detail from their favorite optics.

The URSA Mini Pro 12K sensor and Blackmagic RAW were designed together to make 12 bit RAW workflows in 12K effortless. As an incredibly efficient next generation codec Blackmagic RAW lets customers shoot 12K and edit on a laptop, a capability that simply isn’t possible with other codecs. The massive resolution of the sensor means you can reframe shots in post for delivery in 8K and 4K. It’s like a multi camera shoot with only one camera. And it’s perfect for great looking vertical and square video, too. The advanced design of the sensor and Blackmagic RAW means that customers can work in any resolution in post production instantly, without rendering, while retaining the full sensor’s color accuracy.

Only Blackmagic RAW makes cinema quality 12-bit, 80 megapixel images at up to 60 frames a reality. Constant quality Q0 and Q5 options and new Q1 and Q3 lock the quality level, allowing compression to adapt, matching the detail of the scene. Constant bitrate encoding options 5:1, 8:1, 12:1 and the new 18:1 are designed to give customers the best possible images with predictable and consistent file size. Customers can record RAW to two cards simultaneously so customers can shoot 12K or 8K to either CFast or UHS-II cards, even at high frame rates. Blackmagic RAW stores camera metadata, lens data, white balance, digital slate information and custom LUTs to ensure consistency of image on set and through post production.

Shooting RAW in 12K preserves the deepest control of detail, exposure and color during post. Oversampling means customers get extremely sharp 8K without harsh edges. Best of all, Blackmagic RAW is designed to accelerate 12K for post production, making it as easy to work with as standard HD or Ultra HD files. It is highly optimized, multi‑threaded, works across multiple CPU cores and is also GPU accelerated to work with Apple Metal, CUDA and OpenCL. So customers can always work with their camera RAW files without having to make proxies. Blackmagic RAW 12K images provide unprecedented resolution and quality for color, keying, compositing, reframing, stabilization and tracking in 4K or 8K.

Blackmagic Generation 5 Color Science features a new film curve designed to make full use of the massive amount of color data from the new URSA Mini Pro 12K sensor. This delivers even better color response for more pleasing skin tones, and better rendering of highly saturated colors such as neon signs and car tail lights in high contrast scenes. Generation 5 Color Science informs complex Blackmagic RAW image processing, with color and dynamic range data from the sensor preserved via metadata for use in postproduction. Compatible with all previously shot Blackmagic RAW files, Generation 5 Color Science lets customers take advantage of the new film curve even with their existing work.

URSA Mini Pro 12K is multiple cameras in one, shooting standard resolutions and frame rates in 4K, 8K and even insanely detailed 12K. With a massive 80 megapixels per frame at 60 fps in RAW customers can capture perfect stills and motion shots in a single camera at the same time. Customers can shoot up to 60 fps in 12K 12,288 x 6480 17:9. For higher frame rates, customers can shoot 110 fps at 8192 x 4320, 140 fps at 8192 x 3408 and even window the sensor to Super 16 to capture 4K at an incredible 220 fps at 4096 x 2160 DCI. URSA Mini Pro 12K has flexible frame rate and resolution options, and captures with improved motion rendering which means that customers get smoother edges in 8K and 4K even at lower frame rates.

URSA Mini Pro 12K is the ultimate high bandwidth recorder with 3 options for recording 12K, which contains almost 10 times the resolution of Ultra HD. Customers get dual built in CFast and UHS-II SD card recorders, and a SuperSpeed USB-C expansion port for recording to fast SATA and NVMe drives. With “Record RAW on 2 Cards” turned on, URSA Mini Pro 12K can record simultaneously across two cards up to an incredible 900MB/s to 2 CFast cards, or an impressive 500MB/s to 2 UHS-II SD cards. The SuperSpeed USB-C expansion port on the rear can record to USB-C flash storage up to 900MB/s as a third recording option so customers won’t be short of choices for capturing stunning 12K up to 60p or 8K up to 110p.

Different projects require different lenses which is why URSA Mini Pro features an interchangeable lens mount. Customers can quickly switch between PL, EF and F mount lenses on the URSA Mini Pro 12K, as well as B4 lenses on the URSA Mini Pro 4.6K G2. That means customers can work with high quality large PL cinema lenses, EF or F mount photographic lenses, and even B4 broadcast lenses, making URSA Mini Pro compatible with the widest possible range of professional lenses.

Blackmagic URSA Mini Pro features an innovative high speed USB-C Expansion Port. The 4.6K G2 model features USB-C 3.1 Gen 1 which operates at up to 5 Gb/s, while the new 12K model has a USB-C 3.1 Gen 2 for a blistering 10 Gb/s. Customers can connect and power external flash disks and SSDs or on URSA Mini Pro 12K customers can connect the new URSA Mini Recorder for recording to fast NVMe SSD drives for longer recording times. NVMe SSD drives are ideal for shooting 12K in the highest constant quality 12‑bit Blackmagic RAW in the Q0 setting or for high frame rates. When shooting is complete customers can simply move the external disk to their computer and start editing from the same disk, eliminating file copying.

URSA Mini Pro includes a full version of DaVinci Resolve Studio. Customers get the world’s most advanced solution that combines professional editing, color correction, audio post and visual effects all in one software tool. DaVinci Resolve is used to finish more Hollywood feature films than any other solution, so users will get the best possible post production tools to edit native video from their camera and retain every bit of quality. Whether users are working on major Hollywood feature films, episodic television, music videos, commercials or even the latest YouTube shoot, DaVinci Resolve Studio gives customers a completely lossless workflow for native editing, color correction, effects, audio and delivery.

The new Blackmagic URSA Mini Recorder lets customers record 12-bit Blackmagic RAW files onto fast 2.5 inch SSDs, including the latest U.2 NVMe Enterprise SSDs. SSDs such as the latest 7mm U.2 NVMe disks are super fast, delivering data transfer speeds of up to 900 MB/s. This blazing fast performance allows customers longer recording times for full resolution 4K, 8K and 12K 12-bit Blackmagic RAW files in the highest quality Q0 encoding. The unique design of the Blackmagic URSA Mini Recorder means it attaches directly to the back of their URSA Mini Pro between the camera and the battery. It’s controlled via the USB-C so customers don’t have to worry about manually starting or stopping the SSD recorder.

“With Blackmagic URSA Mini Pro 12K we have advanced imaging technology into a new generation where new styles of shooting will be possible,” said Grant Petty, CEO, Blackmagic Design. “Its not just the 12K sensor, but there is so many other innovations in this camera. From the Generation 5 Color Science, the in sensor scaling, new symmetrical color pattern, full RGB quality and of course the 12K resolution, it’s going to be exciting to see what DOPs do creatively with this technology!”

Blackmagic URSA Mini Pro 12K features:

  • 12,288 x 6480 12K Super 35 sensor.
  • Use for feature films, VFX and high end TVC’s.
  • 14 stops of dynamic range and native 800 ISO.
  • New Blackmagic RAW for real time 12K editing.
  • Blackmagic RAW optimized for Metal, CUDA and OpenCL.
  • Generation 5 Color Science with new film curve.
  • Shoot up to 60 fps in 12K, 110 fps at 8K and 220 fps at 4K.
  • Dual card CFast recording at up to 900MB/s.
  • PL mount included, EF and F mounts available.
  • SuperSpeed USB-C for recording to external disks.
  • Includes DaVinci Resolve Studio for post production.
  • Compatible with new Blackmagic URSA Mini Recorder.
  • Thursday, Jul. 16, 2020
Sony shares details on its HDC-P31 multi-purpose POV system camera
Sony's HDC-P31
PARAMUS, NJ -- 

Sony Electronics has released details on its latest camera, the HDC-P31, a point of view (POV) system camera with remote functionality and 1080/60p HDR capability that complements the company’s versatile lineup of box and portable system camera options. As the demand to streamline media production workflows increases, the model’s remote menu setting and status monitoring minimize the time and personnel needed on-site during a production, since POV cameras are often mounted in inaccessible or hard to reach locations or used on a crane, rail or robotics system. The flexible and lightweight HDC-P31 is ideal for studio, faith and rental applications, and sports production. The HDC-P31 is planned to be available in November of 2020.

The new HD model incorporates a global shutter three 2/3-inch CMOS sensor system for enhanced optical performance that provides high sensitivity and low noise.  In addition, the camera is designed to be used as an integral part of Sony’s popular HDC series ecosystem, creating the same stunning images and look and using the same workflow, but in a smaller POV form factor.  The camera creates a comprehensive system while working alongside Sony’s XVS series of switchers for a powerful ELC Live Production Control Automation system.

“The heart of the camera is its image sensor, and as a leader in sensor technology, Sony continues to combine our legacy and expertise in imaging with feedback from our user base to develop the necessary tools to enhance our lineup and serve the production community,” said Theresa Alesso, pro division president, Sony Electronics.  “From resolution and form factor to price and future capabilities, Sony prides itself on providing choices that empower our users.  With the launch of the HDC-P31, Sony is delivering an option that responds to the industry’s request for remote functionality, paired with a smaller footprint for more mounting freedom, both of which contribute to a streamlined media production workflow.”

Key features
POV cameras are frequently located in difficult to access or isolated positions, so remote functionality helps promote production efficiency by saving time and money and reducing the need for staff on-site.  Remote access using a Web UI is planned for winter 2020 via a software update that will allow for menu setting, status monitoring, log files and firmware updates to be done offsite. The web-based application is easy to setup and does not require dedicated software.  In addition, when using compatible lenses, operators can adjust the back focus of the camera remotely.  For enhanced flexibility, tally can be supported through an IP network cable.

The HDC-P31 provides superb HD imagery with exceptionally high sensitivity of F12 (at 1080/60i, 1080/60p), F13 (at 1080/50i, 1080/50p).  It boasts impressively low noise (62dB), making it possible to capture content even in challenging lighting conditions. 

Additionally the HDC-P31 meets the increasing demand for HDR production by supporting HDR with a choice of S-Log3 / HLG.  Additionally, the camera accommodates Sony’s SR Live workflow, offering simultaneous production in HDR and SDR, which can be done by one production team to reduce cost and complexity.  The HDC-P31 also supports SR Live metadata, which is embedded in the SDI signal feed and ensures consistent quality of both HDR and SDR signals throughout the live production pipeline.

  • 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.  

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