Sunday, May 20, 2018

Toolbox

  • Tuesday, May. 15, 2018
Trick Digital uses Fusion Studio for VFX on "The Last Movie Star"
A scene from "The Last Movie Star"
FREMONT, Calif. -- 

Blackmagic Design announced that Los Angeles-based visual effects house Trick Digital used its VFX and motion graphics software, Fusion Studio, on the film “The Last Movie Star.”

Starring Burt Reynolds, “The Last Movie Star” follows an aging, former movie star as he faces the reality that his glory days are behind him. Also starring Ariel Winter, Chevy Chase, Clark Duke and more, “The Last Movie Star” is written and directed by Adam Rifkin and was recently released by A24.

VFX supervisor Adam Clark and his team at Trick Digital were tasked with doing the VFX for the film, including a number of complex sequences that place Burt’s character, Vic Edwards, in some of Burt’s real-life notable films, such as “Smokey and the Bandit” and “Deliverance.”

Director Adam Rifkin explained, “Although technically it’s a fictional story about faded fame and growing old, the character of Vic Edwards is clearly based on the real Burt Reynolds. As a result, I wanted to use famous scenes from some of Burt’s most iconic films to show the juxtaposition between Burt in his prime and the Burt of today. In these fantasy sequences, old Vic confronts a cocky young Vic about his reckless choices. He tries to give his younger self advice about slowing down, but of course it all falls on deaf ears.”

“For those scenes, we used Fusion Studio to composite out the other actors and add modern day Vic,” Clark said. “For example, in one scene Vic is traveling down the road with Lil, Ariel Winter’s character. He begins to nod off and all of a sudden, he’s back in ‘Smokey and the Bandit,’ traveling down the road in the passenger side of the Trans-Am with his younger self in the driving seat as Bandit.

“To achieve that, we first used Fusion Studio to rotoscope Sally Fields out of the shot. However, since her hair was blowing in the wind and she’s moving across the car in the shot, we ended up having to completely replace the background. This meant using Fusion Studio to rotoscope Burt’s Bandit character out of the shot and then rotoscoping him back in, along with Vic. We used Fusion Studio’s rotoscope and keying tools to do this frame-by-frame. We also used some of its paint features to make the background consistent, replacing signs and removing repetitious images that were looped.”

Trick Digital also used Fusion Studio on a similar sequence where they inserted Vic and removed Jon Voight’s character from a canoe in “Deliverance.”

“For the scene, Burt was shot against a green screen and we used Fusion Studio to key him in the frame after we rotoscoped Jon out,” Clark continued. “Since it was in a canoe, it was a trickier to match Vic’s motions so they’d look natural as the canoe rocked. We ended up animating different segments of his body so they’d naturally move with the canoe as it floated down the river. We then used Fusion Studio to paint in water around Vic to blend with river, as well as remove parts of the background when needed. Once Vic was in the canoe and looking natural, we used Fusion Studio to add back in some of the details that were removed during the composite, such as a fishing line that’s across him.”

Clark and his team also used Fusion Studio for VFX sequences such as changing locations, building new exteriors, replacing signs and landmarks, and more.

“We relied heavily on Fusion Studio’s painting, tracking, rotoscoping and keying tools for our work on the film,” Clark concluded. “We also used DaVinci Resolve Studio within our workflow to pull and insert VFX plates.”

  • Tuesday, May. 8, 2018
Google showcases AI advances at its developers conference
Google CEO Sundar Pichai speaks at the Google I/O conference in Mountain View, Calif., Tuesday, May 8, 2018. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. (AP) -- 

Google is again putting artificial intelligence in the spotlight at its annual developers conference Tuesday.

The company opened its I/O event with literal bells and whistles at the outdoor Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View, California — showing off what it's like to experiment with artificially intelligent synthesizers and inviting thousands of people to participate in an AI drawing game.

The demonstrations warmed up the crowd ahead of a keynote by CEO Sundar Pichai, who made announcements about the company's latest AI-powered services.

The company's digital concierge, known only as the Google Assistant, is gaining new abilities to handle tasks such as making restaurant reservations and placing other tedious phone calls without human hand-holding.

"Hi, I'm calling to book a hair appointment for a client," said a realistic-sounding automated voice in a demo from the conference stage. The AI voice used pauses and "ums" and "mmm-hmms" to sound more human during interactions with people.

The company said it is rolling out the technology, called Google Duplex, as an experiment in coming weeks.

"We really want to work hard to get this right," Pichai said.

The company is also introducing an autocomplete feature in its Gmail email service that uses machine learning to offer suggested ways to finish sentences users start typing. For example, "I haven't seen you" might be autocompleted to "I haven't seen you in a while and I hope you're doing well." Users can accept the completion by hitting tab.

For its photos service, Google is starting a new service called "Suggested Actions." If it recognizes a photo of someone who is a Google contact, it can suggest sending it to the person. It can also convert photos to PDFs and automatically add color to black-and-white photos or make part of a color photo black and white. The changes are coming in the next two months.

The search giant aims to make its assistant so useful that people can't live without it — or the search results that drive its advertising business. But it also wants to play up the social benefits of AI, and plans to showcase how it's being used to improve health care, preserve the environment and make scientific discoveries.

Pichai didn't emphasize the privacy and data security concerns that have put companies like Facebook, Twitter and Google in the crosshairs of regulators. But he did say company "can't just be wide eyed about the innovations technology creates."

"We know the path ahead needs to be navigated carefully and deliberately," he said. "Our core mission is to make information more useful, accessible and beneficial to all of society."

It's too early in the year for Google to showcase any new hardware, which it tends to do ahead of the Christmas shopping season. Last week, however, it said its partner Lenovo will sell a $400 stand-alone virtual reality headset that doesn't require inserting a smartphone. (Facebook last week announced a competing $199 device called the Oculus Go.)

Google also last week updated actions that its assistant can perform on smartwatches powered by its Wear OS software. For instance, it can tell you about your day if you're wearing headphones instead of making you read your calendar.

O'Brien reported from Providence, Rhode Island. AP Technology Writer Mae Anderson in New York contributed to this report.

  • Tuesday, May. 8, 2018
Microsoft launches $25M program to use AI for disabilities
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella delivers the keynote address at Build, the company's annual conference for software developers Monday, May 7, 2018, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
SEATTLE (AP) -- 

Microsoft is launching a $25 million initiative to use artificial intelligence to build better technology for people with disabilities.

CEO Satya Nadella announced the new "AI for Accessibility" effort as he kicked off Microsoft's annual conference for software developers. The Build conference in Seattle is meant to foster enthusiasm for the company's latest ventures in cloud computing, artificial intelligence, internet-connected devices and virtual reality.

Microsoft competes with Amazon and Google to offer internet-connected services to businesses and organizations.

The conference and the new initiative offer Microsoft an opportunity to emphasize its philosophy of building AI for social good. The focus could help counter some of the privacy and ethical concerns that have risen over AI and other fast-developing technology, including the potential that software formulas can perpetuate or even amplify gender and racial biases.

In unusually serious terms for a tech conference keynote, Nadella name-checked the dystopian fiction of George Orwell and Aldous Huxley, declared that "privacy is a human right" and warned of the dangers of building new technology without ethical principles in mind.

"We should be asking not only what computers can do, but what computers should do," Nadella said. "That time has come."

The five-year accessibility initiative will include seed grants for startups, nonprofit organizations and academic researchers, as well as deeper investments and expertise from Microsoft researchers.

Microsoft President Brad Smith said the company hopes to empower people by accelerating the development of AI tools that provide them with more opportunities for independence and employment.

"It may be an accessibility need relating to vision or deafness or to something like autism or dyslexia," Smith said in an interview. "There are about a billion people on the planet who have some kind of disability, either permanent or temporary."

Those people already have "huge potential," he said, but "technology can help them accomplish even more."

Microsoft has already experimented with its own accessibility tools, such as a "Seeing AI" free smartphone app using computer vision and narration to help people navigate if they're blind or have low vision. Nadella introduced the app at a previous Build conference. Microsoft's translation tool also provides deaf users with real-time captioning of conversations.

"People with disabilities are often overlooked when it comes to technology advances, but Microsoft sees this as a key area to address concerns over the technology and compete against Google, Amazon and IBM," said Nick McQuire, an analyst at CCS Insight.

Smith acknowledged that other firms, especially Apple and Google, have also spent years doing important work on accessibility. He said Microsoft's accessibility fund builds on the model of the company's AI for Earth initiative, which launched last year to jumpstart projects combating climate change and other environmental problems.

The idea, Smith said, is to get more startups excited about building tools for people with disabilities — both for the social good and for their large market potential.

Other announcements at the Build conference include partnerships with drone company DJI and chipmaker Qualcomm. More than 6,000 people are registered to attend, most of them developers who build apps for Microsoft's products.

Facebook had its F8 developers' gathering last week. Google's I/O conference begins Tuesday. Apple's takes place in early June.

This is the second consecutive year that Microsoft has held its conference in Seattle, not far from its Redmond, Washington, headquarters.

  • Monday, May. 7, 2018
Mistika VR introduces keyframe animation feature
MADRID -- 

SGO has announced another new version of the industry adopted stitching software Mistika VR, introducing keyframe animation together with many other new features and improvements. This upgrade is available to all existing
Mistika VR customers at no additional cost.

The latest release of Mistika VR brings the much requested keyframing feature, providing enhanced stitching flexibility and greater control of the VR 360 postproduction process. This results in a significantly higher final quality of the project.

Mistika VR is also now able to stitch Insta360 Pro footage at the highest level of precision due to the newly incorporated Insta360 Pro calibration libraries. This new tool facilitates the selection of a perfect calibration frame with the results being immediately applied in Mistika VR. 

And a new Vertical Alignment tool allows precise user-assisted alignment, essential for VR180 shots, as automated tools in this field are not readily available.

Furthermore, storyboard icons are now saved with the timeline and restored at the project load preventing time-consuming recalculation of all the shots.

  • Thursday, May. 3, 2018
Editor Alan Edward Bell deploys Fusion 9 Studio on "Red Sparrow"
Alan Edward Bell
FREMONT, Calif. -- 

Blackmagic Design announced that editor Alan Edward Bell used its visual effects and motion graphics software, Fusion 9 Studio, while editing the film “Red Sparrow.”

”Red Sparrow” is the spy thriller from 20th Century Fox about ballerina Dominika Egorova (Jennifer Lawrence) who is recruited into Sparrow School, a secret Russian intelligence service. On the search for a mole within the Russian government, Dominika’s first target is an American CIA agent (Joel Edgerton). Also starring Jeremy Irons, Matthias Schoenaerts, Mary-Louise Parker and more, “Red Sparrow” was directed by Francis Lawrence.

Bell used Fusion Studio as one of his editing tools while cutting the film, using it to create performance enhancing VFX during the editing process. He explained, “With performance enhancing VFX, you merge together editing and compositing to get the best cut, whether you’re heightening actors’ performances, helping with cohesion, or adding impact. By using Fusion Studio within my editing workflow, I can easily merge together different takes or make subtle changes to help amplify a scene.”

For example, Bell used Fusion Studio while editing “Red Sparrow” to merge together actors’ performances from different takes when it was needed to preserve the performance or further the story.

“There is a scene after Dominika finishes her Sparrow training and is reunited with her mother. In one take, Jennifer’s performance was very powerful as it showed a sense of dread, however, in another take they added a line that underscored her character’s determination and furthered her motivation. Instead of compromising on the performance or just slipping in the audio but not the visual, which is what editors have done in the past, I used Fusion Studio to combine the two takes together, layering Jennifer’s performances on top of each other,” Bell said. “I used Fusion Studio’s new planar tracker to track and stabilize the image. I then composited Jennifer’s mouth out of the first shot, and morphed the mouths together. Dominika’s motivation for the rest of the film is colored by that line, so it was important that we got it in, and because of Fusion Studio I was able to do it seamlessly.”

Bell continued, “Throughout the film, Dominika goes through varying stages of facial bruising and some hemorrhaging in her eyes. Using Fusion Studio, I was able to enhance and smooth out the way Jennifer’s bruising looked while editing, so when we previewed the film it was seamless.”

Bell concluded, “We used a lot of wide shots for this film, which meant that when I needed to rely on performance enhancing VFX, the backgrounds often needed tweaking to get things to line up. I frequently used Fusion Studio’s grid warper to make sure the background would match and that things were cohesive between cuts.”

  • Tuesday, May. 1, 2018
Rafael Castillo joins TVU Networks as GM of Latin America
Rafael Castillo
MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. -- 

Industry veteran Rafael Castillo has joined live IP video solutions company TVU Networks as its general manager of Latin America. Castillo is leading TVU’s efforts to strengthen its presence across the Latin American region.

Castillo brings decades of management experience across Latin America to TVU. Most recently, he served in the roles of VP of Latin America and Caribbean for Snell Advanced Media, as well as VP of Latin America for SeaChange International. Previously, Castillo worked for Grass Valley for 18 years, including seven years in the role of SVP, Latin America.

Paul Shen, CEO of TVU Networks, said of Castillo, “He has a proven track record of driving growth and strengthening relationships across the Latin American region--an area that TVU is dedicated to expanding its presence. As we roll out the new TVU MediaMind platform, which consists of innovative new solutions that use AI technologies to automate the broadcast workflow, we’re confident that these new solutions will simplify operations for Latin American broadcasters and content creators.”

Castillo, who is based in Miami, said, “From the company’s flagship TVU One mobile uplink transmitters, to its new cloud-based video production solution TVU Producer Pro, TVU is focused on creating next-generation technologies that stay ahead of the curve.”

TVU Networks has over 2,500 customers in more than 85 countries. The TVU Networks family of IP transmission and live production solutions gives broadcasters and organizations a powerful and reliable workflow to distribute live video content to broadcast, online and mobile platforms. TVU has become a critical part of the operations of many major media companies. The TVU Networks suite of solutions has been used to acquire, transmit, produce, manage and distribute professional-quality live IP HD footage as an integral part of news, sports and major global events.

  • Friday, Apr. 27, 2018
ARRI introduces certified program for sale of pre-owned and refurbished cameras
MUNICH, Germany -- 

ARRI has introduced its Certified Pre-Owned Program. The motion picture equipment manufacturer is now offering selected pre-owned and refurbished camera systems of the ALEXA series for sale. Stephan Schenk, managing director of ARRI Cine Technik and general manager of the Business Unit Camera Systems, said of the program, “It’s a global initiative which adds a new tier to our products, allowing more filmmakers access to our technology. It also gives educational institutions a cost-effective way of providing high-quality equipment for their students.”

ARRI’s attention to detail and intimate knowledge of conditions on set for over 100 years have resulted in generations of cameras that are robust, reliable, and simple to operate. Under the ARRI Approved Certified Pre-Owned Program selected ALEXA Plus and ALEXA Classic EVs undergo thorough assessments, are given thorough overhauls, and are recalibrated. 

All components—starting with the sensor—are checked to confirm they are fully functioning, and that all systems work as they should. Any parts that require replacement are exchanged. 

Christian Richter, manager of Certified Pre-Owned Camera Systems at ARRI, said the program delivers reliability, affordability, and dependability. “It will give more filmmakers access to tools that will enable them to capture stunning images,” he said. “They can be sure that they are not sacrificing performance for price, because the selected ALEXA cameras come directly from the manufacturer and are backed by ARRI’s warranty.”

Before the ARRI Certificate of Approval is issued, the equipment goes through the same final function test as new cameras, ensuring it meets the high standards expected of it. The ARRI approved and certified cameras are also covered by a one-year warranty. 

  • Wednesday, Apr. 25, 2018
TAG Video Systems makes mark--marks 10th anniversary--at NAB
TAG CEO Abe Zerbib
TEL AVIV, Israel -- 

TAG Video Systems LTD, a leader of innovative IP monitoring and high-quality multiviewer solutions for the broadcast, production and post markets, is celebrating its 10th year anniversary and marked the milestone with a reception at the NAB Show in Las Vegas earlier this month.

Established by Tomer Schechter and Gal Waldman in Tel Aviv, TAG turned out its first product--a real-time live audio transcoding solution that converted Internet radio into a DVB MPEG-TS--which reflected its founders’ extensive experience in real-time embedded systems and IP networking.

Expanding TAG’s reach into broadcast, Schechter and Waldman soon recognized the need for monitoring DVB MPEG transport streams at a facility’s input and output. The two tapped into their collective pioneering spirit and set out to develop one comprehensive solution that incorporated excellent DVB MPEG TS probes and analysis data, a native multiviewer with IP inputs, and real time error detection and alarms in the IP MPEG TS domain. The result was the company’s flagship MCM-9000, one solution that did it all: DVB ETR-290 real-time monitoring and alarming, as well as baseband analysis and HD mosaic Multiview creation, all in the IP domain using off-the-shelf IT server hardware. The innovative MCM-9000 was the first-of-its-kind, shattering traditional monitoring technology and paving the way for a whole new “IP Monitoring Multiviewer” paradigm.

Abe Zerbib, TAG CEO, said, “The MCM-9000 was groundbreaking, but then we enhanced it with OTT support. Most recently we’ve included support for the SMPTE 2022-6/7 and 2110 IP uncompressed standards, a development that has disrupted the way media is viewed on Multiviewers.”

The company that began with two founders and one product in 2008 has grown to an international organization with a solid infrastructure today. “We still maintain a very lean and efficient operation, which enables us to react quickly to customer requests,” said Zerbib. “Our customer list is a testament to our quality and service, and includes many tier-one, high-profile organizations, including: Deutsche Telekom, Eutelsat, MX1, NBC Sports, Fox Sports, DirecTV, MLB, Sky UK, TATA communications, and numerous others who recognize the innovation and technical advance of the products, and have become loyal, long-term customers.”

At NAB 2018, TAG once again broke barriers with the introduction of an upgraded version of its flagship MCM-9000 software-only IP-multiviewer — the MCM-9000U. The first-of-its-kind in the industry, the new MCM-9000U incorporates all the functionality of its predecessor but now supports SMPTE’s newly published ST 2110 suite of standards for managed IP networks that address HD and UHD uncompressed video and audio streams at the inputs and outputs of the multiviewer. The MCM-9000U was shortlisted for a prestigious IABM BaM Awards™ in the Support category at NAB.

Other significant products featured at this year’s show included the TAG Descriptor, which allows for real-time monitoring of encrypted content in the “secure zone” while keeping the content secure. TAG has also responded to customers looking for a dedicated NMS solution to receive long-term logging and reporting features, by introducing the TAG-NMS product.

  • Thursday, Apr. 19, 2018
Rob Di Figlia named VP of software services at GPL Technologies
Rob Di Figlia
BURBANK, Calif. -- 

GPL Technologies, a technologies solutions provider to the media and entertainment industry, has appointed Rob Di Figlia to the newly created post of VP of software services. A former executive with Autodesk, Di Figlia will work with enterprise-level clients in integrating software solutions in areas including high-performance computing, cloud migration and virtual production.

GPL Technologies CEO Brian Terrell said that, with cloud computing rapidly changing the way the media and entertainment industry conducts business, Di Figlia will lead a group that will help companies make the transition and harness the power of emerging technologies. “Rob will work with our customers at a very high level and help them become more efficient and more competitive,” Terrell said. 

Cloud software has become a crucial component to the IT services that GPL Technologies provides to its customers, which include visual effects houses, animation companies, postproduction facilities, design studios and others. “Our infrastructure, hardware and software services are merging,” said CTO Jason Blum. “It’s a trend we’ve focused on for some time and we’re very excited to have someone on board devoted to an aspect of our business that is going to be a core service moving forward.”

Di Figlia brings nearly 20 years of senior level experience across visual effects, animation, project management and pipeline engineering. For the past three years, he served as business development executive for the M&E division of Autodesk. He was tasked with growing the company’s Shotgun Production Pipeline Services teams and building strategic partnerships with clients including Warner Bros., Sony, Netflix, Amazon Studios and Activision/Blizzard. His background also includes five years as managing director and head of production at Oktobor Animation, a company he co-founded. The New Zealand-based studio produced original content as well as contract work for Nickelodeon, DreamWorks and others.

In discussing his new role, Di Figlia said that he plans to use his expertise to help clients be more productive and work more efficiently while adding services that complement GPL’s core business. “Our goal is to build studio-agnostic tools and workflows that allow our clients to extend their infrastructure, whether it is on-premises, in the cloud, or a hybrid system,” he observed. “As traditional production processes continue to evolve, and workforces become more distributed, companies need better solutions to connect their teams to their data. Our focus is on building flexible pipelines which are designed to run anywhere at any time by anybody.”

  • Wednesday, Apr. 18, 2018
Call for entries opens for HPA Engineering Excellence Award
Joachim Zell, VP of technology for EFILM and chair of the HPA Engineering Excellence Award Committee
BURBANK, Calif. -- 

The Hollywood Professional Association (HPA®) has opened its call for entries for the Engineering Excellence Award. Now in its 13th year, the HPA Engineering Excellence Award is considered one of the most important technology honors in the industry, spotlighting companies and individuals who draw upon technical and creative ingenuity to develop breakthrough technologies. Submissions will close on May 25, 2018. 

Joachim Zell, VP of technology for EFILM and chair of the HPA Engineering Excellence Award Committee, said, “Artistic vision is what drives the technical and engineering processes that bring that vision to life. Ultimately, our work is fundamentally about helping filmmakers realize their vision.  The companies and individuals supporting creative storytellers face constant pressure to evolve to expand the creative palette. Their contribution to the entertainment industry cannot be overstated. The Engineering Excellence Award is a highly competitive honor, and the past winners have changed the course of entertainment technology. We encourage the submission of your significant technological achievements.” 

Entrants for this peer-judged award may include products or processes, and must represent a significant step forward for its industry beneficiaries. Past winners have included Aspera, Canon, Colorfront, Dolby, The Foundry/Sony Pictures Imageworks, MACOM, NVIDIA, Panasonic, Quantel, and RED Digital Cinema.  Rules and procedures can be found here.

Applicants present to a blue-ribbon industry panel.  Presentations  will take place on a Saturday in June in Los Angeles. More information about the presentation dates and location will be announced soon.

Entries for the Engineering Excellence Award will be accepted until May 25. Winners will be announced in advance, and honors presented during the HPA Awards gala on the evening of November 15, 2018 at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles. 

In addition, the HPA Awards will again honor important craft categories including Outstanding Color Grading, Editing, Sound and Visual Effects for feature film, television and commercials. The call for entries in these creative categories will be announced in May.

For more information about the HPA Awards, including complete rules, guidelines and entry information, click here