That Society of Film and Television Engineers (SMPTE) late last month, for the first time since 2019, convened its annual Media Tech Summit in person at the Loews Hollywood Hotel, where Arizona State University is an associate professor Ana Herruzowho works in the field of emerging and computational media, gave the keynote speech on the topic “Enhancing Creative Disciplines Through Emerging Computational Tools”.
director Ang Lee was awarded Honorary Membership, the SMPTE’s highest honor, “in recognition of his extensive breakthrough innovation in [the] Using new technologies to enhance theatrical storytelling,” as before Charles H. Jablonski “in recognition of his decades of promoting the cutting edge of entertainment production and distribution, and his services to the education and mentoring of young entertainment engineers.”
HPA Women in Post and SMPTE Hollywood have joined forces for a down-to-earth conversation with well-known key figures at the forefront of technological change in the M&E industry. Moderated by Universal Pictures’ Annie ChangPanelists included those from Sony Pictures Entertainment Emmanuelle Borde; Blu Digital Group Paulette PantojaLionsgates Theresa Muellerand Blockchain Creative Labs’ Gia Elliott.
Chang first asked what emerging technologies these executives are exploring, to which Borde, Pantoja, and Miller mentioned cloud and automation, while Elliott, of course, mentioned blockchain and the Metaverse.
“We’re looking at how we can optimize the cloud,” Borde said. “The caveat is the price compared to on-prem.”
Pantoja said her company is focused on cloud-based post-workflows and “as much as possible on automation so we can leverage what people are doing.”
Miller also mentioned “ML/AI in terms of data science on the corporate side to see what movies people are getting into theaters.”
All executives emphasized that staying curious is important to staying relevant in the industry.
“Technologists love to learn new things,” Miller said, while Borde added that she likes “looking at how other industries solve problems.”
When Chang asked her what technologies she thinks will shape the future, Borde mentioned virtual manufacturing and AR; Miller pointed out that “AI is coming to the workplace,” and Pantoja pointed out AR and the Metaverse.
“Blockchain is now the Wild West,” Elliott said. “I see a future where digital assets are actually owned and the fan is closer to the content creation process. That means better content, more diversity and more voices.”
Some of the executives started their careers as software developers. Miller started out as a developer at MGM and then moved into technology testing.
“I did other types of auditing too, so I was really teaching the business,” she said. “Then I went back into IT to a managerial position.”
Elliott revealed that she never thought she would get into technology. “I thought I had to be super good at math,” she said. “I never thought of it as a creative medium. Now that I do, I can’t believe I ever thought that.”
Chang asked them if they had ever experienced “impostor syndrome” because they were one of the few women in a male-dominated tech sector.
“There’s nothing wrong with constantly questioning yourself,” says Pantoja. “It’s only a problem if it prevents you from asking for a raise or another role at the company. At some point you realize no one has all the answers, but I still question myself, which is what keeps me on my toes.”
You have to “fake it until you become it,” advised Borde.
Executives also spoke about the different ways they are mentoring women in their companies as well as students pursuing STEM careers.
“We support local charities that focus on women and underserved communities, from elementary school through to women in need of a second career,” said Lionsgate’s Miller. “I also support STEM Advantage, which matches Cal State University students with internships.”
Elliott noted that as someone who moderates ideation sessions, she likes to keep track of who is speaking. “I always go back to people who have had a point but are less open to make sure they have a chance to be heard.”
In another session Data Scientist Yves BergquistDirector of Blockchain Initiative Project Hedy at USC Entertainment Technology Center, spoke about the evolution and promise of blockchain in the M&E industry.
“We found about a dozen use cases,” he revealed. “They include content security, NFTs, the metaverse, community management, and archiving.”
Bergquist added that ETC started Project Hedy “to create an industry owned and operated metadata repository [the] Blockchain.” “Right now, that’s being monetized by private companies,” he said. “Our goal is to have an industry-wide group for a trusted, robust, and secure repository.”
Later, SMPTE Hollywood produced a discussion on “Cutting Edge Technologies and the Impact on Creative Decisions”. Hosted (and co-produced with Belinda Merritt) by Marvel Studios’ Markus ZornThe panelist included the cameraman David Stump, ASC; Governor of the Hollywood SMPTE Region Kylee Pena; Marvel Studios Danielle Costa; IMAX’s Bruce Markoe; Paramount Globals Josh Limorand barcos Joachim Zell.
Zorn first mentioned Extended Reality/Virtual Production Stages as an emerging technology impacting creativity.
“It has gone from being a novel and tremendously new technology to being a simple tool in the box,” said Stump. “And it changed a few paradigms. We’re used to leaving decisions to post-production and making last-minute decisions, but XR doesn’t have that luxury: now you have to make a commitment when you go on stage.”
Markoe added that “when using these tools in live environments, there is a wide range of knowledge and skills to create this type of content.” “We’ve done a lot of tests on virtual sets at IMAX and some of them look really bad out,” he said, emphasizing the need for training.
Pena agreed, adding that “the vocabulary isn’t there… and there’s a knock-on effect of bad creative decisions.”
Finally, Stump revealed that ASC is “just getting started” with a master glossary of relevant terms.
Limor further pointed out that there have been “many iterations” of the virtual production, starting with green screen and blue screen. “It’s both the foreground space and the background space that we have to pay attention to,” he said.
Zell said that “we always have to mix real shots with XR production shots – the trick is to make it look the same, and that’s where the color scientist comes in.”
Stump agreed that “color management is very difficult in LED wall production,” and Limor insisted that “LED [screen] was never designed as a light source.” “We know we need to add additional lights,” Limor said. “Once you enter a volume, the lightbulbs on each side of the volume will produce different colors.”
Costa revealed that Marvel Studios have used LED walls for three films, two of which have not yet been released. “The only thing that we found very successful is what we did with the poor man’s procedure,” she said. But, she added, although LED monitors cost a lot, it can be an ideal method for creating 12 hours of magic hour, for example, or for productions that can’t afford to go on location.
The emerging 8K resolution quickly became a contentious topic towards the end of the panel.
“We ran endless tests comparing HDR at 2K versus 4K and yes, you can see the differences in certain types of shots,” Costa said. “But that’s rare and generally you don’t want it to be that crisp all the time. Sometimes less is more.” She reminded the audience that “all VFX shots are done in 2K” and upped to 4K if needed. “No one is interested in 8K, but everyone is very excited about HDR,” Costa added .
Stump noted that “among cinematographers, the discussion keeps coming back to lenses.” “A very small percentage of the time you’re talking about getting most of the resolution,” he said. “But mostly they talk about lenses from the 1950s or 1960s and the great look they got.”
Pena — recently hired at Netflix and on the verge of moving to Adobe — made the strongest statement. “I think 8K is mostly a waste of time,” she said. “It’s valid in sports, but as a post-producer I don’t want you shooting in 8K and sticking all the footage in the editor to finish in HD or 2K. The benefit-suffering ratio is not worth it to me.”
Instead, Pena mentioned the potential power of Web 3.0, which “will transform the notion of ownership and the relationship between creator and fan,” as well as generative AI.
“The production tools don’t drive creativity,” concluded Stump. “Creativity is what drives the tools of production, and it always should be.” He added that he “wants to see technology in the hands of kids, who the technology has always been for.”
A group of these young people attended a speed networking event hosted by SMPTE and the Hollywood section of SMPTE for students in the M&E sector. At a dozen round tables, each dedicated to a topic including broadcast, editing and sound, two industry experts answered questions from students moving from table to table in a “speed dating” format.
Judging by the strong participation of young people, the lively discussions and the networking, future technologies are in good hands.