• Friday, Jan. 22, 2021
HPA gears up for Tech Retreat, Supersession
Mark Schubin
BURBANK, Calif. -- 

While the HPA Tech Retreat has long been recognized as the common ground forum of the industry’s most thoughtful technical minds, this year’s event comes at a seminal moment in time. At the confluence of the impact of pandemic and technology renaissance, against a changing landscape of media and entertainment, this year’s program curators are setting the stage for an event and knowledge exchange like no other Tech Retreat before it.

Set for March 15–24, the 2021 HPA Tech Retreat will, as in years past, feature the industry’s most informed voices. This year’s key themes, featured in virtual presentations, will address today’s most important technology topics including Cloud, AI, Machine Learning, Virtual Production, Remote Collaboration, content creation in the era of COVID, and how to build a diverse and equitable industry, among other relevant topics. In addition, following on the prescient success of last year’s The Lost Lederhosen, the HPA Tech Retreat will again feature a live Supersession on March 23 and 24.

The Supersession, hosted again by Jochen Zell, will track a number of global productions produced especially for the Tech Retreat, demonstrating how connected, creative collaborative workflows in the era of COVID are evolving in real time. The Supersession will be capped by what promises to be a historic live demonstration of end-to-end cloud centric production through delivery presented in collaboration with MovieLabs.

In acknowledgement of the Zoom fatigue and virtual conferences that have become a hallmark of the COVID era, the Tech Retreat will be presented in HPA’s compelling new custom digital platform, HPA Engage. The event platform will host deep thought leadership presentations, panels, live roundtable discussions, interactive Q&As, our Innovation Zone, featuring demos and ways to learn about the industry’s latest tech, as well as opportunities to network and engage directly with fellow “Tech Retreaters.” As usual, industry technology guru Mark Schubin will provide his own brand of insight and perspective during the Retreat as well as reprising his role as curator of the submissions.

Leon Silverman, HPA Board member and former HPA president, said, “It’s not just that we will be talking about the most important topics of the day. And it’s not just because there will be this coming together of these great minds along with the greater audience that our virtual Tech Retreat enables. It’s that we need this. We are at a critical juncture in our world and industry. We need to discuss, debate, teach, and learn. Our industry’s future depends on it. HPA Tech Retreat: no buzzwords or bullshit allowed. Join us. It will be historic.” 

This year’s Innovation Zone, in addition to the usual focus on new and revolutionary technology, will welcome new uses for established technology. Companies supporting the Supersession will be represented, as well as HPA Engineering Excellence Award winners. Tech Retreat attendees will have opportunities to book one-on-one sessions with company experts and experience live demos.

The 2021 roundtables are no longer limited to breakfast, since attendees can join from around the world. Roundtables feature companies and organizations on the edge of technology presenting the most important developments, and experts hosting lively discussions. Attendees can sign up to attend the table and ask questions, or can simply observe. Curated by Schubin, each session features 30 tables with 12 seats each (in addition to “observers”). As always, spots for roundtables, known for offering rich opportunities for direct connection, are filling quickly.

Seth Hallen, president of HPA, outlined the event, which has been reimagined but whose mission remains steadfast. “The focus of this year’s event brings the key elements of the revered HPA Tech Retreat directly to an audience that cannot be gathered together in Palm Springs but enables engagement with this incredible content from anywhere in the world. The global nature of the virtual environment events – where anyone, anywhere can attend – powers direct contact with an incomparable audience of VIPs, freed from geography. The HPA Tech Retreat may not be exactly the same this year, but given the time and environment in which we are operating, it’s more important than ever.” 

Registration is now open for the 2021 HPA Tech Retreat. Current members will have access to all Tech Retreat sessions and content for $199, and nonmembers for $299.  This year, the Tech Retreat registration fee for nonmembers includes an individual HPA membership.

  • Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021
DaVinci workflow enhances "Safety" for Disney+
A scene from "Safety"
FREMONT, Calif. -- 

The Disney motion picture Safety utilized a complete DaVinci Resolve Studio workflow from principal photography through final delivery, incorporating a digital asset management (DAM) system on set built around Blackmagic Design’s switchers, recorders, routers and monitors. The film premiered on Disney+ last month.

Safety is a drama inspired by the empowering story of former Clemson University football safety Ray McELrathBey (Jay Reeves), a young man facing a series of challenging circumstances, whose dedication and persistence help him to triumph over repeated adversities. Aided by his teammates and the Clemson community, he succeeds on the field while raising and caring for his 11-year-old brother Fahmarr (Thaddeus J. Mixson).

Even before the pandemic of 2020, the need to be more efficient and cost effective, both on set and in post, had become a priority and a necessity for ever tightening budgets. Executive producer Doug Jones knew the practical answer was to improve the technological workflow on set, get rid of the unnecessary roadblocks between set and post, while allowing editors to better interface with production. Jones began to see how DaVinci Resolve, combined with integrated Blackmagic hardware on set, could provide an “online all the time” pipeline, and would save not only time but also money.

Working with director Reginald Hudlin, cinematographer Shane Hurlbut ASC and editor Terel Gibson, the team outlined how the pipeline could help make production more efficient. The process they developed was simple and manageable by one operator on set. When production cameras rolled, they automatically triggered HyperDeck Studio Mini recorders on the DAM cart to record simultaneously, with matching time code, creating immediate playback footage. That same video feed was live graded onset with DaVinci Resolve, allowing video village and remote creatives to view only colored footage rather than raw, uncolored imagery. Thus, colored playback was available right away, with dailies available twice daily both onset as well as remotely, when uploaded to secure cloud services. Live images and recorded shots were immediately available throughout the set via ATEM 1 M/E Production Studio 4K switchers and Teranex Mini SDI Distribution 12G boxes. Audio was handled by the Blackmagic Audio Monitor 12G.

Decision-makers on set who have impact on post decisions, such as directors and DPs, were able to make notes on clips that went through the DAM cart directly to editorial. Even script supervisor notes were added to metadata and available to editorial immediately. Camera original shots were downloaded from storage cards directly to high speed RAID drives, which were then delivered to nearby postproduction multiple times a day.

Hurlbut said, “We were able to track all metadata coming out of the cameras and put that right into our RAID system, send shots all the way up to Disney and keep everyone on the same communication level, with same day dailies that kept the studio feeling very connected to the film.” The comprehensive system gave creatives at every level not only a sense of involvement, but the ability to directly interact.

“The system enables us to engage the studio with decisions, because now they’re seeing same day dailies,” said Hurlbut. “Imagine that we’re shooting in Atlanta and we are processing all the dailies at lunch, and again at wrap. The studio is seeing dailies at four o’clock on the West Coast, right before they go home. They’re able to talk to Reggie. They’re able to talk to the other producers. They’re getting everyone dialed in. Everyone feels like they have a voice. And everyone feels like they’re absolutely included in the creative process.”

  • Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021
DP Dick Pope Cookes For "Supernova"
DP Dick Pope (l) and director Harry Macqueen on location for "Supernova"

Cinematographer Dick Pope, BSC, chose to return to Cooke Panchro/i Classic Prime lenses to shoot Supernova, a film about love and loss written and directed by Harry Macqueen and starring Colin Firth and Stanley Tucci.

Supernova follows Sam (Firth) and Tusker (Tucci), partners of 20 years, on a road trip across England visiting friends, family, and places from their past. Since Tusker was diagnosed with early-onset dementia two years ago, their time together is the most important thing they have.

“The lenses I chose for Supernova were based on the look that Harry Macqueen wanted for his film, which was somewhat old fashioned, warm and romantic in feel, offering a close and intimate chemistry between the two main characters,” said Pope. “I arranged a screening for him of Edward Norton’s Motherless Brooklyn, on which I had previously used Cooke Panchro/i Classic Primes, and Harry loved them on that film.”

Pope had also used the original Cooke Speed Panchros on Mike Leigh’s Mr Turner (2014). “These classic go-to Hollywood lenses from the 1950s and 1960s were loved by Stanley Kubrick and often used by him--for example, on Spartacus,” he said. “The updated Panchro/i Classics retain the same characteristics as those vintage lenses.”

  • Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021
WrkFlo Solutions launches, offers in-house production and post solutions for agencies and brands
WrkFlo Solutions' (l to r) Paul Schneider, Radu Polizu, Joanne Ferraro, Peter Corbett and Dave Dimeola
NEW YORK -- 

WrkFlo Solutions, a provider of workflow management, recruitment and remote collaboration services, launches this month, aiming to help advertising agencies and brands build and operate in-house production more efficiently.

Capitalizing on a paradigm shift toward remote teams, the company offers a complete solution for building and managing in-house production, spanning technology, security, talent and operations--including such tasks as production, editorial, design, visual effects, animation and postproduction. WrkFlo’s goal is to streamline the administration of in-house and remote resources, while boosting productivity and reducing costs.

“The cause is the pandemic, but the effect has been a significant, permanent shift to the production paradigm, one that requires a new, hybrid infrastructure and ongoing collaboration between onsite and remote artists, project managers and technicians,” said WrkFlo Solutions founder Peter Corbett. “Even post-COVID, agencies and brands will rely on hybrid workflows that combine on-site staff and technology with external talent and resources. We offer a comprehensive solution to simplify the building and management of such hybrid teams.”

WrkFlo Solutions addresses a vitally important, often overlooked challenge--security. Huge video and data files are exchanged between in-house and remote workers, often with little or no security measures in place. “Freelancers are granted access to company servers with nothing more than a verbal agreement not to share sensitive assets,” said Corbett. “We provide tools that allow companies to control access files while enabling full collaboration. Secure file access is integrated with other features that facilitate cloud back-up, synchronized on-premises storage and archiving.”

In addition to providing turnkey services for managing on-site and remote production units, WrkFlo Solutions assists with freelance and staff recruitment across a range of creative, production and technical disciplines. It also offers tools for remote collaboration, quality control, approvals and budgeting. Agencies and brands can opt for ad hoc or all-in-one solutions on a project- or retainer-basis.

The company is led by a team of industry veterans whose backgrounds span production, postproduction, engineering, staffing and management. Corbett has more than 30 years of experience as an entrepreneur and innovator, including founder and/or partner roles with more than a dozen agencies, production and post companies including Bonfire, Click 3X, Heard City and Sound Lounge.

Paul Schneider, a highly experienced executive producer and postproduction supervisor, oversees operations as general manager. His background includes senior technology and production roles with Viacom/CBS, Hogarth/Gramercy Park Studios and UVPhactory.

Technology and security services are provided through FlyingMonk, a facility design and engineering firm. Led by Radu Polizu, it has a long history of successfully building dozens of turnkey solutions for agencies, editorial and postproduction, including remote workflows.

Joanne Ferraro, former executive producer at Jump Editorial and Spot Welders in New York, heads talent assessment, freelance procurement and business development

Virtual staffing is offered via Brigade, a specialist in remote editorial, visual effects and animation. Headed by Dave Dimeola, it represents a network of more than a thousand editors, producers, visual effects artists, colorists, designers, animators and other often hard-to-find talent.

While advertising agencies and brands have turned to in-house production as a means of reducing costs and producing media for an expanding range of outlets, many find in-house resources expensive, hard to manage and lacking in flexibility to address specific project needs. WrkFlo Solutions seeks to surmount such challenges by offering a systematic approach with a deep pool of expertise and talent, and by leveraging emerging tools for remote collaboration. Its streamlined solutions resolve common issues related to staffing, security, bandwidth, software licensing and backup systems.

“Agencies and brands often struggle to produce content in-house,” said Corbett. “They lack the expertise to design facilities, select technology and manage operations. Companies outside major media markets have trouble finding talent to fill required creative and technical roles. That’s where we come in. We supply the expertise, resources and talent.”

  • Monday, Jan. 4, 2021
Google workers form new labor union, a tech industry rarity
In this Sept. In this Sept. 24, 2019, file photo a woman walks below a Google sign on the company's campus in Mountain View, Calif. A group of Google engineers announced Monday, Jan. 4, 2021, they have formed a union, creating a rare foothold for the labor movement in the tech industry. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)

A group of Google engineers and other workers announced Monday they have formed a union, creating a rare foothold for the labor movement in the tech industry.

About 225 employees at Google and its parent company Alphabet are the first dues-paying members of the Alphabet Workers Union. They represent a fraction of Alphabet's workforce, far short of the threshold needed to get formal recognition as a collective bargaining group in the U.S.

But the new union, which will be affiliated with the larger Communication Workers of America, says it will serve as a "structure that ensures Google workers can actively push for real changes at the company." Its members say they want more of a voice not just on wages, benefits and protections against discrimination and harassment but also broader ethical questions about how Google pursues its business ventures.

Google said Monday that it's tried to create a supportive and rewarding workplace but suggested it won't be negotiating directly with the union.

"Of course our employees have protected labor rights that we support," said a statement from Kara Silverstein, the company's director of people operations. "But as we've always done, we'll continue engaging directly with all our employees."

Unionization campaigns haven't historically been able to gain much traction among elite tech workers, who earn big salaries and other perks like free food and shuttle rides to work. But workplace activism at Google and other big tech firms has grown in recent years as employers call for better handling of workplace sexual harassment and discrimination, opposition to Trump administration policies and avoiding harmful uses of the products they're helping to build and sell.

Google software engineer Chewy Shaw, who has been elected to the new union's executive council, said he and others decided to form the group after seeing colleagues pushed out of the company for their activism.

"We want to have a counterforce to protect workers who are speaking up," Shaw said. 

The union's first members include engineers, as well as sales associates, administrative assistants and the workers who test self-driving vehicles at Alphabet automotive division Waymo. Many work at Google's Silicon Valley headquarters, while others are at offices in Massachusetts, New York and Colorado.

"One of the reasons why it's taken a while for workers to get to this point is because the leaders of these companies did a good job of convincing workers they were these benevolent folks who were going to provide for them, kind of a paternalistic model," said Beth Allen, communications director at the CWA. 

"That got them a long way," Allen said, but workers have increasingly realized they need "to come together and build power for themselves and have a voice in what's going on."

The National Labor Relations Board typically recognizes petitions to form new unions when they get interest from at least 30% of employees in a given location or job classification in the U.S.; a majority of affected workers must then vote to form one. Alphabet has a global workforce of roughly 120,000.

Allen said the Alphabet Workers Union is not currently planning to pursue official recognition as a collective bargaining group. Instead, she said it will work similarly to public sector unions in states that don't allow public employees to bargain collectively. 

"We'd love to get direct legal representation but the focus right now is we're not going to depend on that," Shaw said.

  • Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2020
Details unveiled for HPA Tech Retreat; event reimagined for a virtual setting
Seth Hallen
BURBANK, Calif. -- 

Details have been unveiled for the 2021 edition of the Hollywood Professional Association’s Tech Retreat, taking place February 15-26.

As in previous years, the conference schedule will be anchored by main program presentations, curated by HPA Tech Retreat maestro Mark Schubin. The popular Supersession, Innovation Zone, networking, and breakfast-lunch roundtables will also return. The HPA Tech Retreat has brought industry leading developments, expert opinion and connection to the media content creation community for more than 26 years. It is expected that 2021 will continue to further that trajectory, including the launch of HPA Engage, where compelling content will be available to members year round.

HPA president Seth Hallen outlined the event, which has been reimagined for a virtual setting. “The focus of this year’s event--aptly described as ‘exactly the same, completely different and over the top’--brings the key elements of the  HPA Tech Retreat directly to our audience. The critical parts of the Retreat: top flight knowledge, the latest technological and product news and reviews, debate and discussion as well as the nearly legendary social networking, have a value that cannot be overstated. With that in mind, we are building an event that we believe will exceed expectations on all of those fronts.  It may not be the same physical event, but it will have all of the verve of the retreat in a different setting.”  

  • The Main Conference Program is curated by Schubin alongside the program committee, and fueled with solicited submissions. This year over 110 submissions were received, exceeding the usual response for proposals. The program continues to adhere to the same rules of every Tech Retreat:  cutting edge, top tier knowledge sharing presentations only. Marketing content is not permitted. Dates: February 15-26, 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. (PST)
  • The HPA Tech Retreat Supersession:  Following last year’s “The Lost Lederhosen,” this year supersized with “Found Lederhosen,” a global series of productions and a behind-the-scenes documentary (from Origin Point) that brings the worlds of virtual production, far-flung locations, and remote collaboration to the HPA Tech Retreat in real time. Leading technology companies – many drawn from the pool of Engineering Excellence winners - support productions in Hollywood, Mexico City, London, Dubai, Mongolia, and Australia. The Supersession is again under the leadership of Joachim Zell,  this year in collaboration with Mark Chiolis. Dates: February 23 and 24, 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 pm (PST)
  • Breakfast and Lunch Roundtables : While roundtables of the 2021 HPA Tech Retreat won’t be set at actual round tables with participants sharing breakfast, they are designed as lively places to discuss issues. Each will be limited to 12 participants at a time, including the host/moderator. While there is no cost to host a roundtable, it’s strongly suggested that the request is made quickly. There is no deadline, but the capacity limit will not be exceeded. Roundtables will be assigned on a first-come, first-served basis and there is no vetting (and no speaker discount conveyed by moderating/hosting a roundtable). The breakfast roundtables are the only part of the retreat where marketing is acceptable. As Schubin says, “hosts/moderators may preach, teach, sell, kvell, ask, take to task, referee fights, or do anything else that keeps the conversation flowing for an hour.” More information is available here.   Dates: Roundtables will take place on Tuesday, February 16 (9 AM and 1 PM PST); Tuesday, February 23 (9 AM and 1 PM PST); and Wednesday, February 24 (9 AM only).
  • Innovation Zone: Once again, the Innovation Zone provides access to the most important companies at work on innovative technologies and products. Under the stewardship of Eliot Sakhartov, the innovation zone will feature both future-oriented technologies and new and inventive uses for tried and true technologies. More information is available here. Dates: February 15 – 17, February 23-24, hours vary
  • Networking remains a critical component of the HPA Tech Retreat.  The event’s powerful event platform offers both synchronous networking events and ongoing opportunities to connect directly, whether through in-platform video chatting, LinkedIn networking, group chat, or direct messaging. Networking hours and cocktail events are in development. Attendees will have the opportunity to interact with all attendees and presenters throughout the event, continuing the tradition of connecting the industry.
  • HPA Engage:  On February 15, HPA will unveil a new, content rich portal which will serve as a deep vault of creative and technical content for HPA members, including viewpoints of thought leaders, industry voices, award winners, and innovative member companies.  Each day during the HPA Tech Retreat, Mark Schubin will introduce a new piece of content, and contextualize its value.  After the Retreat, content will continue to be added on an ongoing basis. Content will be available to members only. In addition to the Tech Retreat, HPA members will have access to HPA’s vast archive of previous events, including past Tech Retreats, Critical Conversations, Town Halls and select Women in Post and NET events.

“This year’s HPA Tech Retreat promises to be one of the most meaningful Tech Retreats we have ever held” said Leon Silverman, past president of HPA and conference program committee member. “The ability to join the smartest and most informed minds and to soak in the latest topics, trends, challenges and solutions is no longer constrained by the time and expense of traveling to Palm Springs. And while spending time at the physical Tech Retreat in the past, and we hope in the near future, delivers a full immersion in all things tech, this virtual event will unlock access to people, thoughts and a depth of content that could never be offered in a physical event. Simply put, the HPA Tech Retreat will be the one place that can help make sense of these times of challenge and promise. If you miss it, you will have missed an important historical industry moment and opportunity to connect with those who will lead us to a future of safety, health and incredible creativity. I urge you to join us for the collaboration, conversation and connection.”

Preregistration is open now here.

 

  • Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020
SMPTE elects Hans Hoffmann as president for 2021-’22
Hans Hoffmann
WHITE PLAINS, NY -- 

Hans Hoffmann, head of media fundamentals and production at the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), has been elected by the SMPTE membership to serve as SMPTE president for the 2021-’22 term. He currently serves as SMPTE executive vice president and, on Jan. 1, 2021, will become the first European to serve as the Society’s president.

“Hans is a wonderful leader in so many ways,” said Barbara Lange, executive director at SMPTE. “While he has a uniquely deep understanding of emerging technology in the modern media landscape, he also is a proven talent-builder. He has great instincts, a knack for defining a clear direction, and the leadership skills to bring everyone along. With Hans at the helm, SMPTE will be well-positioned to meet our industry’s rapidly changing requirements and opportunities with purpose and agility.”

Hoffmann, a SMPTE Fellow, joined the Society as a young engineer and progressed through roles leading standardization groups, acting as chair of various technology committees, and serving as a Board governor for the EMEA Region, vice president of standards, and vice president of finance before becoming executive vice president. He has been involved with SMPTE, the EBU, the ITU, and other international standards bodies throughout his career, and more recently with newer groups including founding the Inter SDO, an informal but valuable group of international standards bodies that meets regularly to compare work. Hoffmann has decades of experience working on future media production technologies, with a current focus on media in the cloud.

From 1993 to 2000, Hoffmann worked at the Institut fuer Rundfunktechnik in research and development for new television production technologies. In 2000, he joined the EBU as a senior engineer in the technical department. Hoffmann has chaired the EBU project groups P/BRRTV and P/PITV, which were both involved in standardization activities such as SDTI and file formats. Hoffmann is a member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and the FKTG (Germany). He earned his diploma in telecommunication engineering from the University of Applied Sciences in Munich and earned his Ph.D. at Brunel University West London, at the School of Engineering and Design.

Hoffmann is the 2020 winner of FKTG’s Richard Theile Medal for outstanding services in television technology. The honor recognizes his services in the development of HDTV and UHDTV television systems and his significant contribution to international standardization committees.

“It’s an honor to be elected to this leadership position at SMPTE,” said Hoffmann. “I look forward to collaborating with the fantastic SMPTE team in White Plains, the SMPTE Board, and our membership to identify the Society’s gravity points--strengths and areas we need to develop to grow now and in the near future. We have a world of opportunity ahead of us, and we need to be agile in positioning the Society to delve into the areas that address the rise of the cloud, IP, remote workflows and media creation, artificial intelligence and machine learning, software in place of hardware, and personalization and ‘immersiveness’ in media consumption.

“Equally important, we need to consider the perspectives of younger generations of media professionals and engineers and provide them with purpose and solutions that will help carry them forward. While SMPTE already is a global organization, we will continue to think more broadly and work more closely with industry and partner organizations worldwide in delivering concrete initiatives that speak to the interests and needs of our diverse industry. I am thankful that the EBU is supporting this important post, as it will obviously bring mutual benefits to user organizations and industry.”

  • Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2020
Autodesk releases Maya 2020.4
Bifrost volumetric clouds from Maya 2020.4

Autodesk has rolled out Maya 2020.4. Designed to help artists and studios keep pace with the ever-increasing demand for content, this release unveils the biggest update to the Bifrost visual programming environment yet. Enhancements include deeper integration with Maya; a user experience overhaul; and new scattering, instancing, volumetrics, and FX capabilities that extend proceduralism in Maya beyond FX and across the content creation pipeline. The release also integrates the latest version of Arnold, bringing artists a faster, more creatively engaging rendering experience, as well as updates to the Motion Library and Substance plugins.

Powerful new capabilities in Bifrost include:

  • Maya curve support: Maya curves can now be dragged and dropped directly into Bifrost graphs, where they are converted into Bifrost strands and can be used to build curve-based assets and tools. This update opens the door for artists to use Maya curves to guide procedural generation of roads and fences, as well as the placement and orientation of object scattering.
  • Graph shape nodes: Artists can now view Bifrost graphs as either DG or DAG nodes, that are visible in the outliner. DAG nodes are the new default for Bifrost graphs in Maya.
  • New fields system: This update introduces user-defined, implicit 3D scalar and vector fields with infinite resolution and low memory overhead. Using fields nodes, artists can now define custom fields to act as dynamic influences on particles, cloth, or aerodynamic simulations – without having to go inside FX compounds to edit them.
  • Scatter pack: Higher-level scattering and instancing compounds have been added to the Bifrost toolkit, including a blue noise scattering node and integration with the new fields system.
  • Volume improvements: Volume tools now support fully adaptive conversions between meshes and volumes, merging adaptive volumes, and converting between fields and volumes.
  • Cloth and thin-shell simulations: Users can now produce more accurate collisions and self-collisions with an updated Material Point Method (MPM) solver.
  • Aerodynamic simulations: The Aero solver gains significant performance enhancements, as well as increased capacity for detail refinement and artifact reduction, and new features like texture advection.
  • Instantly terminate computation: Quickly escape out of slow running simulations by hitting the ESC key.

A faster, more engaging rendering experience with Arnold 6.1 includes:

  • New post-processing nodes: Users can now adjust image exposure, color correction, white balance, tone mapping, and vignetting using new post-processing nodes called ‘imagers’.
  • Nestled dielectrics: A new priority system for overlapping transparent objects enables artists to create scenes with more physically accurate reflections and refraction of rays. This allows for more realistic renders of scenes such as glass containers with liquid contents and bubbles or ice cubes.
  • GPU improvements: The GPU renderer can now partially load textures, providing big savings on both memory consumption and rendering time. Support for light linking and additional light AOV groups, and enhanced OSL JIT compilation performance have also been added.

Plugin updates

  • Motion Library in Maya: Updates to the native Motion Library plugin include enhanced character previews with new orbit and zoom functions and a smoother initialization experience.
  • Substance plugin: An updated Substance plugin adds Substance Engine 8.0.3 compatibility, Standard Surface support, and improved interoperability with Maya and other Substance programs.

“Artists are being challenged to create ever-more complex visuals, whether for film, TV, or games. Maya 2020.4 was designed with artists in mind, offering major updates to Bifrost for Maya and Arnold to help them tackle increasingly complex work while pushing their creative limits,” shared Ben Fischler, industry strategy manager, Autodesk. “Creating detailed simulations for smoke, fire, snow, explosions and more, or procedurally generated environments, has historically required a high level of expertise, but with the latest updates to Bifrost in Maya 2020.4, artists of all skill levels can take their first steps in visual programming,  building powerful simulations and custom tools.”

  • Saturday, Dec. 5, 2020
Google AI researcher's exit sparks ethics, bias concerns
This Thursday, Jan. 3, 2013, file photo shows Google's headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. Prominent artificial intelligence scholar Timnit Gebru helped improve Google's public image as a company that elevates Black computer scientists and questions harmful uses of AI technology. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File)

Prominent artificial intelligence scholar Timnit Gebru helped improve Google's public image as a company that elevates Black computer scientists and questions harmful uses of AI technology.

But internally, Gebru, a leader in the field of AI ethics, was not shy about voicing doubts about those commitments — until she was pushed out of the company this week in a dispute over a research paper examining the societal dangers of an emerging branch of AI.

Gebru announced on Twitter she was fired. Google told employees she resigned. More than 1,200 Google employees have signed on to an open letter calling the incident "unprecedented research censorship" and faulting the company for racism and defensiveness.

The furor over Gebru's abrupt departure is the latest incident raising questions about whether Google has strayed so far away from its original "Don't Be Evil" motto that the company now routinely ousts employees who dare to challenge management. The exit of Gebru, who is Black, also raised further doubts about diversity and inclusion at a company where Black women account for just 1.6% of the workforce.

And it's exposed concerns beyond Google about whether showy efforts at ethical AI — ranging from a White House executive order this week to ethics review teams set up throughout the tech industry — are of little use when their conclusions might threaten profits or national interests.

Gebru has been a star in the AI ethics world who spent her early tech career working on Apple products and got her doctorate studying computer vision at the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. 

She's co-founder of the group Black in AI, which promotes Black employment and leadership in the field. She's known for a landmark 2018 study that found racial and gender bias in facial recognition software. 

Gebru had recently been working on a paper examining the risks of developing computer systems that analyze huge databases of human language and use that to create their own human-like text. The paper, a copy of which was shown to The Associated Press, mentions Google's own new technology, used in its search business, as well as those developed by others. 

Besides flagging the potential dangers of bias, the paper also cited the environmental cost of chugging so much energy to run the models — an important issue at a company that brags about its commitment to being carbon neutral since 2007 as it strives to become even greener. 

Google managers had concerns about omissions in the work and its timing, and wanted the names of Google employees taken off the study, but Gebru objected, according to an exchange of emails shared with the AP and first published by Platformer. 

Jeff Dean, Google's chief of AI research, reiterated Google's position about the study in a statement Friday. 

The paper raised valid points but "had some important gaps that prevented us from being comfortable putting Google affiliation on it," Dean wrote. 

"For example, it didn't include important findings on how models can be made more efficient and actually reduce overall environmental impact, and it didn't take into account some recent work at Google and elsewhere on mitigating bias," Dean added.

Gebru on Tuesday vented her frustrations about the process to an internal diversity-and-inclusion email group at Google, with the subject line: "Silencing Marginalized Voices in Every Way Possible." Gebru said on Twitter that's the email that got her fired. 

Dean, in an email to employees, said the company accepted "her decision to resign from Google" because she told managers she'd leave if her demands about the study were not met.

"Ousting Timnit for having the audacity to demand research integrity severely undermines Google's credibility for supporting rigorous research on AI ethics and algorithmic auditing," said Joy Buolamwini, a graduate researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who co-authored the 2018 facial recognition study with Gebru.

"She deserves more than Google knew how to give, and now she is an all-star free agent who will continue to transform the tech industry," Buolamwini said in an email Friday.

How Google will handle its AI ethics initiative and the internal dissent sparked by Gebru's exit is one of a number of problems facing the company heading into the new year. 

At the same time she was on her way out, the National Labor Relations Board on Wednesday cast another spotlight on Google's workplace. In a complaint, the NRLB accused the company of spying on employees during a 2019 effort to organize a union before the company fired two activist workers for engaging in activities allowed under U.S. law. Google has denied the allegations in the case, which is scheduled for an April hearing.

Google has also been cast as a profit-mongering bully by the U.S. Justice Department in an antitrust lawsuit alleging the company has been illegally abusing the power of its dominant search engine and other popular digital services to stifle competition. The company also denies any wrongdoing in that legal battle, which may drag on for years.

AP Technology writer Michael Liedtke in San Ramon, California, contributed to this report.

  • Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2020
Light Iron expands solutions for remote collaboration, adds three to sr. leadership team
Seth Hallen
LOS ANGELES -- 

As productions increasingly look for ways to make their workflows remote, Light Iron, a Panavision company, has responded with a range of innovations for dailies, offline editorial, DI, and finishing that expand clients’ creative options wherever they are working, even as the company’s in-facility offerings have resumed.

To further advance its support for innovation and reimagining postproduction workflows, Light Iron has brought three executives to its sr. leadership team. Seth Hallen, Phil Harrelson, and Laura Borowsky will help grow the company’s infrastructure, expand its service offerings, and support in-house talent while continuing to nurture the collaborative, innovative, and nimble atmosphere for which Light Iron is known.

Hallen joins Light Iron as co-managing director, bringing extensive expertise in production and post to the team, along with decades of leadership experience and a wide range of industry relationships. With a background as a business unit owner within Sony, an entrepreneur, and a CEO, Hallen currently serves as president of the Hollywood Professional Association (HPA), a role that he has held since 2016.

As Light Iron’s VP of operations, Harrelson will be responsible for managing the company’s overall operations, with a particular focus on implementing systems and processes to help better serve customers. Harrelson has more than 20 years’ experience in the postproduction industry across VFX, dailies, production, and sales, including six years working at Deluxe. He brings with him an incredibly diverse set of skills that he developed as both a client--having worked for more than a decade as a post supervisor and post producer for series and features--and a vendor.

New director of business development Borowsky brings her wide-ranging experience garnered over 19 years working in tentpole features, indies, and commercials to expand Light Iron’s business development team, which is led by Katie Fellion. Borowsky began her career with Technicolor, and through her work she’s developed strong relationships with studio clients as well as creatives including cinematographers and directors, making for a strong synergy with Panavision. Based in Los Angeles, Borowsky hails from Atlanta, and her new role will include a focus on developing the Southeast market.

When production halted earlier this year in the face of worldwide lockdowns to combat the spread of COVID-19, projects already in post had to adapt on the fly to take their workflows remote. “From the beginning, it’s been our mission at Light Iron to guide our clients through postproduction’s constantly changing technologies and workflows so they can focus on telling their stories without compromise,” said Peter Cioni, co-managing director at Light Iron. “Having long embraced mobile tools and remote collaboration, we were able to seamlessly transition our artists and clients offsite, bringing our in-facility experience right to their homes without missing a beat--or a deadline.”

Light Iron was an early pioneer of mobile dailies workflows, and the company continues to innovate with Outpost Remote Control (RC), the latest generation of its Outpost near-set dailies solution, which now allows a Light Iron dailies colorist to control the complete system remotely, regardless of geographic distance. The Outpost RC system can be quickly deployed in a production office, data center, or wherever is convenient for the production, providing all the benefits of a real-time near-set solution without requiring a colorist to be physically present on set. This allows the production to keep their on-site crew numbers down--which remains a priority during COVID-19--while simultaneously giving cinematographers the flexibility to collaborate with any dailies colorist on Light Iron’s roster, regardless of the colorist’s location.

Light Iron has also expanded its offline editorial rental solutions to bring the experience of its New York location’s in-facility offerings directly to clients, equipping them with a complete home installation that’s securely connected back to Light Iron’s main infrastructure. Light Iron’s white-glove delivery provides everything the client will need, from the furniture to the hardware--including an SDI confidence monitor--with comprehensive, step-by-step support to get the system up and running. Once set up, the client’s system connects to and reads from the secure Avid Nexis server that’s housed at Light Iron, with access to the same trusted infrastructure, support, and shared storage experience they would enjoy if working in the facility. Light Iron’s remote offline editorial rentals are currently being deployed in the New York City area, with targeted regional expansion in early 2021.

For DI and finishing, Light Iron provides a variety of synchronous (live) and asynchronous review solutions to meet clients’ needs. Projects that Light Iron has recently finished with remote workflows include the series What We Do in the Shadows, Next, The Queen’s Gambit, The Haunting of Bly Manor, and Social Distance, and the features One Night In Miami, Wander Darkly, and What the Constitution Means to Me.

Additionally, since late June, Light Iron has again been hosting clients in person. The company is committed to providing a safe, flexible, and efficient experience, and has instituted new safety protocols for clients working in-facility, including comprehensive cleaning programs, updated food-service procedures, and strict occupancy limits and appropriate distancing. 

“Seth, Phil, and Laura bring a huge amount of industry experience. They each will boost the creative insight we can give our clients and put us in the best position to continue charting our course through and beyond the disruption caused by COVID-19,” said Cioni.

“Despite the significant challenges presented in recent months, we’re optimistic about both the future of our industry and our unique capabilities for supporting our customers,” Cioni added. “As post and production continue to evolve, Light Iron’s focus remains where it’s always been, on empowering our clients’ creativity. We’re constantly developing new ways of working to meet their needs, and we’re always here to help them find — or create — the best solution for their individual projects. With this expansion in our services and staff, our clients can take advantage of more flexibility than ever before and enjoy a seamless postproduction experience that ensures they’ll see their vision from set to screen, no matter where or how they choose to work.”

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