Categories
Technology Thoughts

Rewind 2012: YouTube

YouTube Rewind 2012

YouTube has come a long way since its birth in April 2005 and since people learnt how to get more views on Youtube, but what does its meteoric rise mean for the worlds of film and television?

When a young man posted a video of himself in a San Diego zoo in early 2005, no-one could have predicted it was the beginning of a revolution in on-line content.

Whilst what would become YouTube had antecedents (such as iFilm) it was a combination of timing and Silicon Valley connections that really sent it into the stratosphere, culminating in its acquisition by Google in October 2006.

Its explosive growth over that year and the sheer amount of copyrighted content being uploaded led to speculation that it would be sued out of existence.

That didn’t happen, largely because Google had the money to legally defend itself, but also because the first media corporation to take legal action (Viacom) had their claims of copyright infringement struck down in 2010.

Although they can still appeal, it looks like YouTube’s official takedown policy and their large legal budget will cover them on this front.

Perhaps more interesting is the partnerships that the site has engaged in with more traditional media organisations like the BBC and CBS (the latter who are owned by Viacom).

YouTube has become like a default TV station for the entire web.

As of January 2012, Reuters reported that it was:

…streaming 4 billion online videos every day, a 25 percent increase in the past eight months,

…According to the company, roughly 60 hours of video is now uploaded to YouTube every minute, compared with the 48 hours of video uploaded per minute in May.

A lot of this is copyrighted material, but a newer generation are growing up with the site as a regular outlet for films, television and music, but also as a launchpad for memes, funny animals, activism and all kind of weird and wonderful stuff.

Their review of the most popular videos of 2012, featured a neat interactive timeline.

The collection shows the sprawling nature of content on the site, which is now so vast that it boggles the mind to think where it will be in another seven years.

More importantly, what are the future implications for longer form content?

Will our collective attention span gradually reduce as we get used to more short-form content on mobile devices?

And what effect will this have on professionally produced shows and films?

Live sports and music won’t be immune either as the site has already made headways into streaming live cricket and concerts.

Is it conceivable that in the next few years (as broadband speeds really increase) YouTube could buy the English Premier League football rights? I certainly think so.

For the film business it represents crisis and opportunity. At a recent Hollywood Reporter round table discussion, several studio executives held forth on the state of the business.

But it was long-time veteran Jeffrey Katzenberg of DreamWorks Animation who perhaps had the most interesting things to say.

The full discussion is below but click here to go directly to his answer about the future (i.e. next ten years) of the industry:

Katzenberg’s analogy with sports is astute and the discussion of the release window also hints at the underlying tensions that are still ongoing between studios and exhibitors.

Whilst the conversation about home entertainment and video on demand is often dominated by Netflix and local sites such as Lovefilm (UK) and Hulu (US), YouTube is perhaps the most fascinating VOD platform for the future.

The sheer scale of content, infrastructure and legal bills paid by Google, are likely to make it an interesting barometer for the state of the film and TV business over the next decade.

> History of YouTube
> Time Magazine article from 2006

Categories
Amusing Technology

The 8 Billion Dollar iPod

Author Rob Reid recently gave a very funny TED speech on copyright.

It covered a remarkable new field of study ‘based on numbers from entertainment industry lawyers and lobbyists’.

> Rob Reid profile at TED
> Find out more about Copyright at Wikipedia

Categories
Social Media Technology

Drive on Twitter

To promote the UK release of Drive on DVD and Blu-ray yesterday the distributors held a ‘Tweetalong’.

This essentially involved anyone on Twitter starting the film at 8pm and doing text commentary on it whilst watching.

Organised by online agency Think Jam, the official account was @DriveUK and users tweeted under the hashtag #DriveTime

Twitter commentaries on television shows aren’t anything new, but this was the first time I’d seen it used as part of the launch of a new home entertainment release.

(At the end of this article is a Storify post of what the comments looked like)

Although it is still in its relative infancy (it was first launched in 2006), the microblogging service can be a very useful tool in getting the word out about certain films.

The distribution game is still generally dominated by major studios and films with enormous marketing budgets, but beneath them are some interesting exceptions.

Just in the last year, The King’s Speech and The Inbetweeners Movie were home grown independent films that ended being the 2nd and 3rd highest grossing films at the UK box office in 2011.

Drive represents a very interesting example of a wide release.

It is essentially a stylish genre movie (LA noir crime drama) with arthouse pedigree (Nic Winding Refn) that stars two hot young actors (Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan) alongside an experienced supporting cast (Albert Brooks, Bryan Cranston and Ron Perlman).

Although originally a studio project set up at Universal, it was eventually put into turnaround before being financed independently.

The US distributor was FilmDistrict, a relatively new outfit formed by GK Films, and hopes were high for its US theatrical release when it was warmly received at Cannes (where Refn won Best Director) and Toronto.

Festival buzz, generally great reviews and a hot young cast meant that the distributor opted for a wide release at 2,886 cinemas.

But on opening weekend in mid-September when it came in third behind The Lion King 3D re-release and Contagion (on its second week of release), people realised it wasn’t connecting as they hoped.

The post-mortem on widely-read industry site Deadline cited the fact that young males are a more unpredictable demographic than they used to be:

“…young guys who used to be Hollywood’s target audience are just not consistently (and indiscriminately) going to the movies anymore. The reason is either financial or too many other entertainment choices. That was the gist of internal conversations inside studios all summer when uncompelling fare like Conan The Barbarian, Fright Night, Cowboys & Aliens, and Green Lantern fell short with young guys. ”It didn’t dawn on us they weren’t coming to the malls,” one perplexed exec told me. Instead, adults did.”

Bob Berney – who has since left FilmDistrict – was also quoted in the piece:

“Some people thought it should have done $20M the first weekend, but they are crazy! Even with the great reviews and Cannes pedigree, it’s still an ‘arts-ploitation’ film. It’s out there in a new genre. It’s really a polarizing film but in a good way. The pacing, music, style, and violence creates heated debate and reaction. The people that love it, really love it and talk about it. But it’s too extreme for many.”

Berney is right – what made Drive such a critical and festival favourite was probably what put off average mainstream audiences.

But only to an extent.

Drive cleverly fused traditional genre elements with considerable artistic flair and obviously the theatrical run didn’t conform to expectations, but why do I get the feeling that this is a film which could have a long shelf life ahead of it?

Not only are Gosling and Mulligan captured in their youthful prime but it is perfect for late night home viewing and also has a killer soundtrack to boot.

So Drive clearly has a fan base, if not one as large as the films financiers had hoped for.

How could the UK distributor (Icon) tap into the Drive love for the home entertainment release?

Which brings us to last night’s Tweetalong.

Twitter has been fascinating Hollywood ever since it exploded in popularity back in 2009.

Previously studios had to pay substitutional sums of money to market research firms so they could track release expectations.

Whilst they still do this, a quick search on Twitter over opening weekend (either through a basic search of the film’s title or relevant hashtag) yields valuable data and insights (although one should be careful to treat it as a sample of the wider audience).

That’s why everyone from studio owners (@RupertMurdoch), major actors (@RussellCrowe), producers (@JerryBruckheimer), directors (@edgarwright) are on it.

In terms of reactions to Drive we know that Russell Crowe was upset that Ryan Gosling didn’t get an Oscar nomination and that Albert Brooks (@AlbertBrooks) is an absolute master of 140 characters as they are both regular tweeters.

You can even use it to follow box office numbers (@ercboxoffice), reviews (@reviewintel) and all kinds of related information.

It is basically a useful filter on the web itself.

But Twitter really rises above other social networks in its flexibility.

Not only can you track reactions over a weekend, but it comes into its own during live events broadcast on TV, such as the Superbowl or The Oscars.

This ‘second screen’ phenomenon is much talked about in TV circles.

The average room in which viewers watch television almost certainly includes some kind of web enabled device, whether it is a laptop, tablet or even a basic mobile phone.

Part of Twitter’s strength is that it is accessible across many different kinds of devices.

Using a hashtag related to a specific programme users can tweet their opinion and read and reply to other users.

If you all think this is trivial just remember the role social media played in the disputed Iranian elections of 2009 and the Arab Spring of 2011.

When it comes to home releases of films it is perfect, as it is a very cost effective way of getting the word out about a particular release.

Twitter is particularly powerful as it has a large user base, lots of influential users in the traditional media and messages can be quickly be duplicated and spread (“retweeted”).

Why is this important?

Well, the biggest single challenge any filmmaker faces is getting their work talked about in order to be seen by a larger audience.

This applies to a teenager who has just uploaded his first film to YouTube or the most experienced A-list director.

Like the video made in a bedroom with 4 views, the $100 million film opening on 3,000 locations could always do with a bigger audience.

If you create something good or distinctive, social media can be a powerful ally in building buzz.

Word-of-mouth has always been an elusive but easily recognisable phenomenon in cinema.

Films like Gone With the Wind, The Godfather, Jaws, Star Wars, E.T., Jurassic Park, Titanic, Slumdog Millionaire, Avatar and The King’s Speech all became huge hits because they somehow connected with an audience at the cinema.

Home entertainment sales were a slam dunk because they already had the publicity of being huge hits.

But what about films that initially failed at the box office?

Although they are rarer, films like The Wizard of Oz (1939) and The Shawshank Redemption (1994) took time to build their audience.

But where it can be really effective in the modern era is for quality films that aren’t obviously ‘commercial’.

A black comedy about UK suicide bombers was never going to break box office records but Four Lions (2010) was a quality film that was loved by those who saw it at cinemas (in fact the UK distributor underestimated demand on the opening weekend).

But when it screened on UK television the actor Riz Ahmed (@rizmc) tweeted along to the broadcast.

It was a very useful exercise in audience interaction using simple tools (Twitter and a broadcast channel) and highly effective marketing as other users retweeted him and spread the word.

I’ve already written at length about the role social media played in making Senna such a success at the UK box office, but in the case of the Drive tweetalong you could sense the love for the film.

For the UK distribution people this would provide valuable insights if they decided to put out another edition of the film at a later date, either on another disc or via BD-Live (which up to now has been thoroughly useless).

Time is often the best judge for any film and in the case of tweeting along to Drive last night, it not only reminded me of how good it was but the value of seeing it on Blu-ray.

It was one of the first films to be shot with the Arri Alexa digital camera and even Janusz Kaminski (Steven Spielberg’s DP and a die-hard advocate of film) has admitted he was deeply impressed by the imagery put on screen by Newton Thomas Sigel.

The tweetalong reminded me what of how great the film looked and allowed me to spread the word via a very powerful social platform.

We live in an uncertain age of declining DVD sales and massive commercial pressures on the likes of HMV.

Surely this kind of online activity can only help films of all types find new audiences?

It is certainly preferable to them breaking the web with misguided legislation.

> Original review of Drive
> More on Twitter at Wikipedia
> Social Media and Senna

N.B. Here is the Storify stream of what the comments looked like:

Categories
Interesting Technology

3D Printing

3-D printing seems like science fiction but is a reality that could have a profound effect on our lives.

It is essentially the process of creating real-life three dimensional objects from a digital file on a computer.

There is a long history of movie technology ‘predicting’ the future, such as the tablet computers in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) or the gesture-based UI’s in Minority Report (2002).

If you saw Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol recently, amongst the gadgets the IMF team used was a 3D printer in order to create masks.

Fantasy? Well, Japanese company REAL-f have actually developed a 3-D printer that can make a detailed replica of your face.

This is handy if you want to go to a Halloween party as yourself, but it also illuminates how digital technologies have the potential to literally shape our physical world.

In the same way that the development of the printing press and moveable type galvanised seismic human epochs like the Renaissance and Enlightenment, this has the potential to do the same for our age.

But how exactly does it work?

Lisa Harouni is the co-founder and CEO of Digital Forming, a company that creates the digital software used to run 3D printing processes.

She gave a TED talk explaining how it all works:

Another video that covers this area is Klaus Stadlmann‘s TED talk on how he built the world’s smallest 3D printer.

Technology is often characterised in the mainstream media as ‘geeky’ or the province of nerds.

But the example he uses of the hearing aid is actually a practical example of technology benefitting the ‘real world’.

To use a narrow example from the film industry, could prop companies reduce their costs by using 3D printers and building physical things? (Are there any that already do?)

But aside from the myriad of manufacturing possibilities, 3D printing could solve urgent medical problems.

Surgeon Anthony Atala is involved in a field known as ‘regenerative medicine’ and shows how human organs can physically be created using a 3D printer.

Essentially, the concept is that the printer uses living cells to output transplantable organs.

With people living longer this could have profound implications for the organ-donor problem.

Although a ‘printed’ kidney is years away from medical use, just wait for the end of the video for a moving demonstration of how science and technology can solve human problems.

> Find out more about 3D printing at Wikipedia
> TED

Categories
Technology TV

The Magic Box

Could this be the year of a magic box that simplifies the home entertainment experience?

This week saw the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas where numerous companies display their wares and issue a blizzard of press releases in the hope of creating awareness for their products.

But there is a missing piece of technology that looms large over this year’s CES, mainly because it hasn’t been released yet.

What if a company could unify the TV and Internet experience for the average user?

THE CURRENT LANDSCAPE

Over the past few years the rate of technological change for the consumer has been dizzying.

Not only has there been the introduction of high-definition television but there has also been an explosion in more powerful mobile devices and applications.

However, despite the ability to time-shift and view sharper images the fundamental experience of sitting down in front of your TV and watching a film or show hasn’t actually changed that much.

You still have to juggle at least two remotes, navigate a tricky user interface and occasionally experience your box freezing as it struggles to absorb all the digital information hurled at it.

It can be hard to generalise, but let’s start from the proposition that the vast majority will some form of digital widescreen TV.

If you don’t, then it will be hard to watch anything in the UK from April as that’s when they finally switch off the analogue signal.

Then let us assume most people have some form of digital TV – be it a basic Freeview setup (one off payment for a box or PVR) or premium services like Sky (satellite), Virgin (cable) or BT (digital phone line).

Nearly all of these services have some kind of recording or on-demand capability which allows you to time shift your viewing.

FRAGMENTATION

But if you think the current landscape is by any means straightforward, then you should think again.

The acid test is to go to your main TV and describe the services attached to it.

When you have finished, then compare it with family or friends and you’ll not only be swapping tales of multiple remote controls and horrible user interfaces but you’ll find it hard to keep track of what everyone’s setup is.

The Economist recently quoted a Forrester Research report which found that:

…many people didn’t fully understand the devices they had bought, and only a few had recommended them to their friends

But this confusion only reflects the comparative pace of change in recent years.

Most people just want something to watch, be it regular shows, sporting events or a movie.

INTERACTIVITY

An added factor over the last decade is the whole business of the Internet coming into our living rooms and merging with our televisions.

This process has been gradual starting with red-button services in the late 1990s and really picking up steam in recent times with services like BBC iPlayer available online and via web-connected TVs.

As it stands, various TV manufacturers such as LG, Samsung and Sony have all tried to offer a TV that can blend the world of broadcast and the web.

So far, they haven’t really got there yet.

Partly because it is early days for truly web enabled TVs but it part of it is also down to modern remotes and user interfaces being designed for another era.

Have you ever tried to access YouTube on an LG TV? It is like learning how to type text messages in the late 1990s.

I’m betting that the same is true to a greater or lesser degree for other TVs and services.

Over the last decade a generation of TV viewers has got increasingly used to the web and since 2007 web enabled smartphones.

This brings us to the one company that could truly unite television and the web.

ENTER APPLE

Over the last decade Apple revolutionised the music industry by creating the iPod and have started to make inroads on the laptop market with the iPad.

In Walter Isaacson’s recent biography of Steve Jobs there is this revealing passage:

…he very much wanted to do for television sets what he had done for computers, music players, and phones: make them simple and elegant. “I’d like to create an integrated television set that is completely easy to use” he told me. “It would be seamlessly synced with all of your devices and with iCloud.” No longer would users have to fiddle with complex remotes for DVD players and cable channels. “It will have the simplest user interface you could imagine. I finally cracked it.”

Since 2006 Apple have regarded their current TV efforts as basically an extension of iTunes, with digital downloads of TV shows and movies.

But broadcast TV has proved a much harder proposition.

In June 2010 Jobs gave what was to be his last in-depth interview at the D8 conference.

Right at the end of the session he was asked a fascinating question about reshaping the ‘traditional interface of television’.

Jobs replied:

The problem with innovation in the TV industry is the go-to-market strategy. The TV industry has a subsidized model that gives everyone a set top box for free. So no one wants to buy a box. Ask TiVo, ask Roku, ask us… ask Google in a few months. The television industry fundamentally has a subsidized business model that gives everyone a set-top box, and that pretty much undermines innovation in the sector.

Then came the key bit:

The only way this is going to change is if you start from scratch, tear up the box, redesign and get it to the consumer in a way that they want to buy it. But right now, there’s no way to do that….The TV is going to lose until there’s a viable go-to-market strategy. That’s the fundamental problem with the industry. It’s not a problem with the technology, it’s a problem with the go-to-market strategy….I’m sure smarter people than us will figure this out, but that’s why we say Apple TV is a hobby.

This was a classic Jobs tactic of stating facts and whilst hinting at the future.

Five years previously at the D3 conference in 2005 he talked about the difficulty of getting video displays on iPods just months before Apple unveiled a (yes, you guessed it) video-enabled iPod in October of the year.

When asked at the same session about the possibility of an ‘iPod phone’ he laid out the challenges:

By January 2007 the iPhone was unveiled and effectively reshaped the mobile industry.

If you compare the challenges of Apple producing a phone in 2005 with that of making a TV in 2010 it is easy to feel a sense of deja vu.

Although a secretive company it does leak carefully selected morsels of information to favoured outlets (that was how one editor got in trouble tweeting from his iPad before the official launch).

In recent times the Wall Street Journal has become the place to watch for clues as to where Apple may be headed.

One article in December was of particular note:

Apple Inc. is moving forward with its assault on television, following up on the ambitions of its late co-founder, Steve Jobs. In recent weeks, Apple executives have discussed their vision for the future of TV with media executives at several large companies, according to people familiar with the matter. Apple is also working on its own television that relies on wireless streaming technology to access shows, movies and other content, according to people briefed on the project.

In the recent meetings with media companies, the Apple executives, including Senior Vice President Eddy Cue, have outlined new ways Apple’s technology could recognize users across phones, tablets and TVs, people familiar with the talks said. In at least one meeting, Apple described future television technology that would respond to users’ voices and movements, one of the people said. Such technology, which Apple indicated may take longer than some of its other ideas, might allow users to use their voices to search for a show or change channels.

This basically confirms what many technology writers had long suspected, but until Apple unveil a dedicated TV some fascinating questions remain.

What if they can truly turn apps into what are effectively TV channels?

What if iOS devices can become the remotes that don’t suck and seamlessly integrate with the (future) Apple TV?

Part of Apple’s original strategy for the iPod was to create a ‘digital hub‘ around the home computer which Jobs revealed way back in 2001:

By making the computer the hub around which they built iPods, iPhones and iPads Apple tapped right into a huge market as the halo effect of these mobile devices drove Mac sales and vice versa.

This virtuous circle is precisely what has driven Apple’s phenomenal growth over the last decade.

Although iTunes overtook Walmart as the world’s largest music retailer in 2008 (itself an incredible feat), Apple really make money on the hardware, whilst the digital music and apps are kind of the key gateway drug.

Could a TV be the final part of an overall home hub strategy?

In fact, you could argue it is the last frontier in the home just waiting to be conquered.

Imagine getting rid of all those channels you don’t ever watch and throwing away those clunky remotes.

iOS devices are effectively pre-built remotes and with Siri enabled voice commands it opens up a world of possibilities in the long term.

As for premium programming, the main drivers for pay television are movies and sport.

Apple already have plenty of films on the iTunes store and via apps like Netflix and Lovefilm.

When it comes to the major studios Disney have already put their chips firmly with iTunes, whilst their rivals (Sony, Fox, Warner Bros and Paramount) have signed up to UltraViolet, which is essentially a digital locker strategy.

Apple are rumoured to be working on a similar service for films, which will almost certainly involve iCloud.

Sports is potentially a much trickier area – and it is not clear whether Apple would want to even go there – but it could be a possibility if you extended the ‘app as channel’ model a bit further.

Imagine if the MLB, the NFL or even the Premier League wanted to make a deal with Apple for an exclusive deal to broadcast their games.

It would be a great way of driving sales of the new Apple TV.

The WSJ story highlights the difficult dilemmas traditional TV organisations face:

The pace of change puts media companies that make TV shows and program TV channels in a dilemma. On one hand, they hope that they can increase their profits by selling new services on new devices. But they are worried that a proliferation of new services could undermine the existing TV business, which brings in more than $150 billion a year in the U.S. in advertising and consumer spending on monthly TV subscriptions from cable, satellite and telecommunications companies.

Could 2012 see Apple provide the elusive magic box and disrupt the TV business like they did to the music industry?

> WSJ on Apple’s TV plans
> CNET on the Apple TV
> More on Apple TV at Wikipedia

Categories
News Technology

Hedy Lamarr – Movie Star Inventor

Hedy Lamarr was the one of the most glamourous actress of her day who just happened to pioneer a form of wireless communication that led to Bluetooth and wi-fi.

A new book by Richard Rhodes called Hedy’s Folly charts the incredible story of how a huge Hollywood star helped pave the way wireless technology which we now take for granted.

Sam Kean of Slate makes a good analogy in his review:

“Imagine that, on Sept. 12, 2001, an outraged Angelina Jolie had pulled out a pad of paper and some drafting tools and, all on her own, designed a sophisticated new missile system to attack al-Qaida. Now imagine that the design proved so innovative that it transcended weapons technology, and sparked a revolution in communications technology over the next half-century.”

Slate have also done this video montage:

Rhodes has written a diverse set of non-fiction books, including essays on America, writing itself, the SSJames Audubon and the definitive history The Making of the Atomic Bomb which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1988.

But who was Hedy Lamarr?

She was an Austrian-American actress who became a major star at MGM during their golden age of the 1930s and 1940s.

Her American debut was in Algiers (1938) and amongst her films in this period included Boom Town (1940), White Cargo (1942) and Tortilla Flat (1942).

Incidentally, she bore a remarkable resemblance to Vivien Leigh, the star of arguably MGM’s most iconic film Gone With the Wind (1939).

But it was after leaving MGM in 1945 that she had her biggest success playing Delilah in Cecil B. DeMille’s Samson and Delilah (1949), which was the biggest hit of that year.

But she was more than just a pretty actress and her life reads like the most outlandish of movies.

After growing up in Vienna, she absorbed a lot of information on long walks with her father and his detailed explanations of how – then modern – technologies like printing presses actually worked.

After an unhappy marriage to an arms manufacturer for the Nazis, she escaped to London after learning that Louie B Mayer of MGM was scouting for actresses.

She then turned down his original offer before getting on the same boat as him back to the US and by the time it docked she had secured a better contract.

In what reads like a real-life super hero(ine) story, she then set about inventing things in her spare time rather than drinking or going to night clubs.

She was obsessed with creative ideas throughout her life: sugary cubes that would mix with water and a “skin-tautening technique based on the principles of the accordion” were just some of those she came up with in between takes.

As a Jewish emigre she was deeply affected when in 1940, Nazi U-boats hunted down and sank a cruise ship evacuating British schoolchildren to Canada.

Seventy-seven children were drowned in the attack.

She decided to do something but instead issuing a press release about world peace through the MGM press office, she sketched out a revolutionary radio guidance system for anti-submarine torpedoes.

Her neighbour, the avant garde composer George Antheil, had already experimented with automated control of musical instruments.

Their ideas contributed to the development of frequency hopping: if you could shift around radio frequencies used to guide torpedoes, then it would make it very difficult for the Nazis to detect or jam them.

They got a patent and then promptly gave it to the US Navy, who were interested but perhaps not too receptive to being outsmarted by a Hollywood actress.

Although others had pioneered the concept, such as Polish engineer Leonard Danilewicz, it was still incredible that an A-list actress and her musican neighbour were doing this as a past-time.

Instead Lamarr was encouraged to use her fame to sell war bonds, raising around $25 million, which is $340 million in today’s money.

(If you’ve seen Flags of Our Fathers, there’s a whole sequence devoted to the war bond efforts, only in that film it involved soldiers from the Battle of Iwo Jima)

However, after the war the Navy did revive the idea when they developed a sonar buoy to detect enemy ships: the basic concept was used to disguise radio signals as they were transmitted from the buoy to aircraft overhead.

But perhaps the lasting legacy is the application of frequency hopping in modern computing technologies.

As the computer revolution gathered pace over time, frequency hopping and Lamarr’s ideas came of age.

Gradually engineers discovered that it could be usefully applied for modern computing devices that use radio frequencies in what is termed “spread-spectrum broadcasting“.

Devices such as mobile phones and wi-fi routers all have to avoid intereference when communicating with one another and use a form of frequency hopping.

The original patent had lapsed after the war but in 1997 the Electronic Frontier Foundation gave Lamarr an award for her contribution.

Their press release in March 1997 featured this killer line:

“In 1942 Lamarr, once named the “most beautiful woman in the world” and Antheil, dubbed “the bad boy of music” patented the concept of “frequency-hopping” that is now the basis for the spread spectrum radio systems used in the products of over 40 companies manufacturing items ranging from cell phones to wireless networking systems”

So the next time you use a Bluetooth headset or log on to a wi-fi router, think of the actress and the musician who played a part in making it possible.

> Buy Richard Rhodes’ book on Amazon UK and Amazon US
> Richard Rhodes
> Find out more about Hedy Lamarr and Frequency Hopping at Wikipedia
> EFF press release from March 1997

Categories
Interesting Technology

Martin Scorsese and Grover Crisp on Blu-ray

How far has Blu-ray come as a format since the Martin Scorsese keynote address at the Blu-Con 2.0 conference in 2009?

Two years ago Scorsese joined the event live via satellite from New York City and his 20-minute address was moderated by Grover Crisp, the man in charge of film restoration and digital mastering for Sony Pictures Entertainment.

In the run up to Christmas sales of the home video format will be under renewed scrutiny, but it is worth looking at what was said via video of the event which someone has posted online in three parts:

Part 1: The history of home video, proper aspect ratios, why the Blu-ray format is superior, Bernard Herrman’s score for Taxi Driver (for which Crisp oversaw the recent Blu-ray restoration).

Part 2: They discuss the uncompressed sound of the format, how the rise of DVD drove the restoration of prints and the 4k restoration of Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove.

Part 3: More on the Dr. Strangelove restoration and the dilemmas involved in doing it, Scorsese’s favourite film on Blu-ray, whether he considers the Blu-ray release before shooting a film and the benefits to future generations of filmmakers.

All this is interesting, not just because Scorsese is such a passionate authority on film, but because there is still is some confusion over the Blu-ray format.

The main problems have been: the needless format war which delayed the adoption of the format; mainstream confusion over how it differs from DVD; the costs of upgrading to a player and the recession.

I remember being sceptical about both high-definition disc formats (HD-DVD and Blu-ray) when they were given their first major marketing push in the run up to Christmas of 2007.

Was its introduction too soon after DVD?

I was invited to a screening of The Bourne Ultimatum on HD-DVD (still available on Amazon for some reason), projected in a cinema and the three guys there (publicity people mainly, but also a someone from Microsoft, who were involved in the format) were very bullish about why it would succeed and Blu-ray wouldn’t.

Two months later in February 2008 the HD-DVD format was dead, as Toshiba (the main electrical company behind the format) couldn’t sustain the costs after studios and retailers sided with Blu-ray.

During 2008 the cost of Blu-ray discs and systems was still relatively high, even though television was shifting to the HD era and it became hard to actually buy old-style analogue television sets.

The Dark Knight in late 2008 was perhaps the first truly blockbuster disc in the format, even though – compared to DVD – overall sales were still sluggish and anecdotally even people in the media I spoke to were confused, sceptical or didn’t care.

The main misunderstanding I encountered was the worry that DVDs couldn’t play on a Blu-ray player (they can) and just scepticism about upgrading their equipment.

Even in 2010 The Guardian were publishing articles by writers who didn’t seem to know what they were talking about, which prompted me to write this response.

At the moment, the adoption of the format is still being hobbled by the resilience of the DVD format (a lot of great titles are still really cheap) and a lingering sense of confusion about Blu-ray outside the home video/cinephile realm.

There is a three-way split between DVD, Blu-ray and digital downloads (if you include Netflix, iTunes etc) but optical discs might be more resilient than people think.

Although there are analogies with where the music industry was ten years ago, the recent problems at Netflix suggest that the adoption of digital downloads and streaming might be slower than you think.

Which brings us back to Scorsese.

His point that Blu-ray offers the best quality and drives the restoration of classic films (a subject very close to his heart) are good ones and in a year of sequels and remakes at the cinema, releases like Apocalypse Now, Taxi Driver, Ben Hur and The Three Colours Trilogy have been most welcome.

Seeing classic films that have been restored with care and attention is a real joy that reminds you of the craft that originally made them so great.

> More on the Blu-ray format at Wikipedia
> Recent DVD & Blu-ray posts
> Taxi Driver on Blu-ray
> Recent Martin Scorsese posts

Categories
Technology Thoughts

Mission Impossible Ghost Protocol at the IMAX

Yesterday I went to a 20 minute preview of the new Mission Impossible film at the BFI London IMAX.

One of the biggest releases this Christmas season, it will only be the third mainstream release to have significant portions shot natively in the IMAX film format.

It appears Paramount see this as a long running franchise in the same way that United Artists saw the Bond series in the early 1970s.

The analogy isn’t precise as we are 15 years on from the first Mission Impossible (one of the big summer blockbusters of 1996) and there had been many more Bonds from 1962 to 1977 (9 to be exact).

But it seems like a flexible enough franchise to incorporate different characters and plot lines.

But if this one is a big hit, Tom Cruise will probably return, but the studio reportedly wanted Jeremy Renner (fresh off his Oscar-nominated turn in The Hurt Locker) as he was an actor could eventually extend the franchise.

Deadline reported last year that he was hired because he:

…potentially carry the series on his own down the line, should Cruise’s Ethan Hunt character not continue to be the emphasis.

This is the first film in the series not to open in the summer, but that’s probably wise as not only do you avoid the logjam of releases but films like Avatar, and Sherlock Holmes have been huge hits during the busy Christmas period.

Its principal rival will be David Fincher’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, but is something of an unknown quantity – despite being based on a massive novel, will the R-rated violence be off-putting to mainstream audiences?

Then there is the choice of Brad Bird as director.

As one of the key key filmmakers at Pixar, he has been part of arguably the most creative and commercially successful movie company of the last decade.

Like his colleague Andrew Stanton, just finshing up on the big-budget John Carter, this will be his first live action film.

Certain people have expressed surprise when I’ve told them that the director The Iron Giant, The Incredibles and Ratatouille (all excellent) is making this.

But if you’ve seen those films or ever heard him talk about movies, this is clearly a talented and experienced pair of hands with a formidable film knowledge (listen to him talk about Dr. Zhivago at the AFI here)

The other fascinating aspect is the decision to shoot certain sequences natively in IMAX as this is only the third major studio release to do so after The Dark Knight and Transformers 3 (which featured 9 mins compared to The Dark Knight’s 28 mins).

Although plenty of films have been shot on 35mm and blown up using IMAX’s proprietary DMR system (Digital Media Remastering), not many films have used the cameras.

The main problem is that the cameras are big and bulky and the actual cost of the film stock is high.

This means at the moment only certain sequences – usually action set-pieces – are shot natively in IMAX.

But the upside is that it looks absolutely extraordinary when you see it projected with the enhanced resolution and sound on the squarer screen of an IMAX cinema.

I remember seeing The Dark Knight inside the BFI IMAX and when the opening helicopter shot of the building came on some audience members gasped at the image that filled the screen.

Some near me also reached out as if they wanted to touch the image, as the resolution was so good, it almost seemed tactile.

When the camera lurches over a window ledge, it also produced a feeling of vertigo.

David Keighley, the IMAX executive who oversaw post-production with Nolan and his team on The Dark Knight, has said that eleven of the prints screened in select cinemas – including London – were OCN’s (original color negatives) and that these were:

“the best projected versions of any film in history”

Maybe this quote deserves to be on the poster for upcoming The Dark Knight Rises?

So the appeal of IMAX is clear to see and for a major action picture it is a seductive alternative to 3D, because the image isn’t dimmed by wearing glasses.

Which brings us to the two preview scenes in Ghost Protocol.

The story sees Ethan Hunt and his IMF team disavowed after a Kremlin bombing and they have to go to Dubai to find out who is behind it.

The first sequence involved the team trying to break in to the world’s tallest building in Dubai – the Burj Khalifa.

Not only was it a treat to see an action sequence shot with amazing clarity in bright sunlight, but it had been carefully planned to make the most out of Cruise doing his own stunts.

The second was a chase sequence set during a sandstorm, which involved Ethan and a mysterious man.

During this sequence a different visual approach was adopted – with the sand making the scene intentionally darker – but it seemed this was to enhance the sound, which is often an overlooked feature of IMAX.

Not only do you really feel the crashes and bumps but the audio texture of the whole film is considerably enhanced by the speakers being behind the actual screen and around the auditorium.

Obviously you can’t judge a whole movie from a preview footage screening but from a technical point of view it was interesting to see another live action film shot and projected in IMAX.

Major studios are perhaps feeling that 3D wasn’t quite the box office saviour they expected in the heady days of early 2010 when Avatar was smashing records in the format.

But even though IMAX versions of movies will only play in selected cities, it increases the resolution for when it comes to mastering the Blu-ray, and also keeps the flame for theatrical exhibition burning.

Mission Impossible – Ghost Protocol is released at cinemas on December 21st

> Mission Impossible – Ghost Protocol official site
> More on IMAX at Wikipedia

Categories
Technology Thoughts

From Celluloid to Digital

The digital revolution in how films are seen and made is currently spelling a slow death for celluloid.

Since the early days of photographic film in the late 19th century, moving pictures have been captured and then projected via some form of celluloid print.

The origin of the name “film” even comes from the process and has been the primary method for recording and displaying motion pictures for over a century.

But with the advent of digital technology over the last decade the days of film-based production and projection are numbered.

This also presents an an interesting paradox: what will we call films once they are no longer shot or projected on film? (Should I rename this very website?)

But whilst we ponder that, it is worth exploring why this is all happening and the differences between the old and new processes.

PROJECTION

From the early days of cinema until very recently light has shone through a piece of celluloid and the resultant moving image was then projected on to a cinema screen.

This video by the Phoenix Cinema in Finchley shows how film projection has traditionally worked:

In the last few years cinemas around the world have been gradually replacing the above method with digital projectors, which essentially replace cans of film with a large hard drive of data which is then projected via a computer system.

This video from the Electric Cinema in Birmingham shows how a local UK cinema is dealing with the transition to digital:

But why is this happening?

Think back to the first four months of 1998 when Titanic was dominating the global box office.

In cinemas around the world 35mm prints of that movie had been delivered in cans and spooled through projectors on to screens.

Although it was a box office phenomenon that played for an unusually long time, James Cameron has since revealed an interesting technical paradox about its success.

At the Cinema Con conference back in April he claimed that the only reason it didn’t play longer was because the prints physically wore out after 16 weeks.

“Titanic played so long that our prints fell apart. We actually only left theaters because our prints [had become] unwatchable. We hit the upper boundary of how long prints can run in theaters, and I can tell you how long that is – its 16 weeks. It’s a good problem to have but for the last half of that [theatrical run] they looked pretty ragged, they were all scratched up… so all that stuff is in the past and we’re really in a brave new world right now.”

The rise of digital cinema projection began in 1999 just when digital optical discs were gaining traction in the home market with the DVD format.

The first major film to be digitally projected was Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, although it was only shown on a limited number of screens in New York and Los Angeles.

Over the next decade, digital projection gradually become a reality: 2002 saw the major studios form a joint initiative to agree on technical standards and by 2007 many multiplex and arthouse screens in the UK began upgrading to digital systems.

But for wide acceptance the new system still needed a boost and in the same way that Star Wars in 1977 convinced cinemas to upgrade their sound systems, Avatar would be a game changer for visuals.

When James Cameron was making his sci-fi epic, he felt that 3D films would ride on the back of digital cinema, only to find out that its staggering commercial success actually drove the digital conversion of the remaining cinemas, as 3D movies can only be shown on digital screens.

So in the heady days of early 2010 as Avatar was overtaking Titanic as the all-time box office champ, many executives in Hollywood were convinced 3D was a magic formula, especially as it was quickly followed by the huge commercial successes of Tim Burton’s 3D version of Alice in Wonderland and Toy Story 3.

You could debate that those films were going to be hits anyway but studios and cinema owners looked at the numbers and felt they would be missing out if they didn’t have digital screens to show 3D movies, even if the quality was poor (as was the case with Clash of the Titans that Easter).

During 2009 there were 650 digital screens in the UK, but just a year later this had nearly trebled to 1400, with 1080 of them 3D enabled. This meant that 80 per cent of all cinema releases in the UK were on digital prints, compared to France where the figure was just 20 per cent.

Another driver has been hugely profitable animated films in 3D, such as the recent Pixar movies (Up, Toy Story 3) and even less acclaimed films like Ice Age 3 and Rio, which have been enormously profitable for studios.

The formula is a seductive one – they aren’t as risky or expensive to make as a big-budget live action film and they have a wide appeal to family audiences who often go more than once and buy their kids related merchandise.

This is why cinemas during school holidays increasingly resemble an animation convention.

But the post-Avatar boom in 3D titles has given way to a dip of sorts, with some questioning just how much it has boosted recent blockbusters, but whether the 3D trend continues or not, digital projection is here to stay.

But how long before film-based projection will effectively end?

It seems the end of 2013 will be a key moment.

Part of what is driving the digital revolution is raw economics and the reduced costs of shipping digital versions of movies to cinemas as opposed to cans of film.

At a movie conference in Australia earlier this year a participant said that major studios have made deals that will effectively end the wide distribution of film prints by 2013.

After that an independent cinema could still rent an old celluloid print, but the rise in costs will make it prohibitive for them, so in a few years this projection method will effectively be over.

At CinemCon earlier this year in Las Vegas, the head of NATO (North American Theater Owners) John Fithian said that almost 16,000 screens out of a total of 39,000 had been converted to digital and confirmed that the end of 2013 was effectively a cut off date.

He essentially urged members who hadn’t made the jump yet to get on board or go out of business:

“For any exhibitor who can hear my voice who hasn’t begun your digital transition, I urge you to get moving. The distribution and exhibition industries achieved history when we agreed to technical standards and a virtual print fee model to enable this transition. But the VPFs won’t last forever. Domestically, you must be installed by the end of 2012 if you want to qualify. Equally significantly, based on our assessment of the roll-out schedule and our conversations with our distribution partners, I believe that film prints could be unavailable as early as the end of 2013. Simply put, if you don’t make the decision to get on the digital train soon, you will be making the decision to get out of the business.”

Is this a sad development or the start of a new and exciting era?

There is a lot of misplaced nostalgia about a print being lovingly threaded through a projector by a dedicated projectionist and that there is something inherently special in 35 mm.

It is true that a good print in a decent cinema looks great, but if you ventured outside of the premium cinemas that critics and filmmakers view films on, there was a different story.

Back in 2007 I saw Ocean’s Thirteen projected digitally at Warner Bros in London and it looked and sounded great – colours popped and the image was stable.

When I saw an analogue equivalent a few weeks later at a multiplex in East London, the image was dim, the print was scratched and the whole experience was less than satisfactory.

During 2009 I saw major releases such as Funny People and Sherlock Holmes on opening night at a suburban multiplex and not only were the celluloid prints degraded but it was also shown in the wrong aspect ratio (i.e. the widescreen image was clipped at the sides).

Part of the reason you don’t often hear about poor projection in the media is that most audiences don’t know any better (and who would they complain to if they did?) whilst journalists writing about films tend to see them at preview screenings at decent cinemas.

Hence you hear a lot about the decline of the projectionist as opposed to how poor the image and sound quality could be for most people who weren’t able to get to a decent cinema.

But with digital projection there are issues that still need to be addressed such as the brightness levels of 3D films and the wrong projector lenses being left on for 2D films.

As with any new technology, there will be teething problems. During a press screening at last month’s London film festival at the Odeon Leicester Square (probably the most high profile cinema in the country) faulty audio issues meant that the film had to be paused (as it was digitally projected, the image held on screen just like a DVD player)

But this isn’t primarily a technical issue, but a human one – if cinemas employed the right people to make the necessary checks then issues like this wouldn’t happen.

Multiplexes should actually continue to employ projectionists to oversee what the audience sees – cutting costs here is damaging to the long term health of the cinema experience.

In an age where it is much cheaper for audiences to rent or download a wide range of high quality films in the home, this is something they should be wary of.

As for the art-house chains in the UK, such as Picturehouse and Curzon, you could argue digital has been a success: not only is there a reduced cost for distributor and cinema but a film like Senna definitely benefited.

Watching Asif Kapadia’s documentary this summer at the HMV Curzon cinema in Wimbledon was an eye-opening experience: not only were the sound and audio excellent, but it was a good example of how digital can benefit lower budget films, as well as the big tent pole releases.

Although distributed by the UK arm of a major studio (Universal) it was a specialist release at selected cinemas which needed careful planning and the reduced costs in digital distribution almost certainly helped it become the highest grossing documentary so far this year.

It is also worth noting that digital has reduced costs for documentary filmmakers, which is perhaps why we are seeing a resurgence this year with films shot in the format from such heavy hitters such as Errol Morris (Tabloid) and Werner Herzog (Into the Abyss), along with directors newer to the genre like Kapadia.

CAPTURE

The death of celluloid as a projection medium is only two years away, but arguably has a longer life as a tool to capture the action we end up seeing on screen.

But the long term future is less assured.

Last month the world’s leading film camera manufacturers – Arri, Panavision and Aaton – confirmed that they would cease production on traditional cameras and now focus entirely on digital models.

Arri’s VP for cameras Bill Russell said to Creative Cow recently:

“The demand for film cameras on a global basis has all but disappeared. There are still some markets – not in the U.S. – where film cameras are still sold, but those numbers are far fewer than they used to be. If you talk to the people in camera rentals, the amount of film camera utilization in the overall schedule is probably between 30 to 40 percent. In two or three years, it could be 85 percent digital and 15 percent film. But the date of the complete disappearance of film? No one knows.”

Although there will still be plenty of older camera bodies available for some time to come, it did seem to mark the end of an era: what would the medium of film be without film stock?

That question would seem to lie with Kodak and Fujifilm, the two main suppliers to the film industry.

But with the proliferation of consumer digital cameras in the home, 2011 is not a great time to be manufacturing celluloid – back in September the Wall Street Journal reported that Kodak’s share price had dropped to an all-time low as it hired lawyers to help restructure its business.

Ominously for fans of the older process, the large service companies that print and distribute celluloid for the major studios, principally Technicolor and Deluxe, have been hit by the rise of digital and are moving their processes in accordance with the times.

Technicolor recently shut their film labs in Hollywood and Montreal whilst Deluxe ceased processing 35mm and 16mm negatives at two UK facilities.

In preparation for a recent exhibition, artist Tacita Dean was shocked to discover that Deluxe had stopped processing 16mm film stock altogether.

Her latest work is simply called ‘Film’ and is essentially a love letter to the declining medium – a silent 35mm looped film projected onto a monolith standing 13 metres tall inside the Turbine Hall of the Tate Modern in London.

In the Creative Cow article, Deluxe executive Gray Ainsworth basically admitted that they were preparing for a digital future:

“From the lab side, obviously film as a distribution medium is changing from the physical print world to file-based delivery and Digital Cinema. The big factories are absolutely in decline. Part of the planning for this has been significant investments and acquisitions to bolster the non-photochemical lab part of our business.”

With Technicolor also making investments in visual effects and 2D-to-3D conversion it seems that that two pillars of the old order are preparing for a future without celluloid.

However, film capture will remain for a few years to come with high profile directors like Steven Spielberg and Christopher Nolan staying loyal to the traditional photochemical process.

But there is no doubt that over the last decade digital has gradually found favour with filmmakers such as Michael Mann, David Fincher and James Cameron.

If you take A-list directors as a group they are at something of a crossroads, with the film side claiming that digital is still visually inferior, whilst the digital camp say that cameras have not only caught up, but will get better and that a digital work flow saves money and time.

This split was best seen in early 2010 at a panel during the Santa Barbara Film Festival in the run up to last year’s Oscars when Quentin Tarantino declared that he would rather burn his LA repertory cinema down rather than show a digital print there [beginning at 5.20].

Whilst the crowd are laughing and applauding at Quentin for his defence of 35mm film prints, fellow panellist James Cameron can be seen shaking his head slightly as if he couldn’t disagree more, given his advocacy for digital capture and projection as the future of cinema.

Only a couple of months ago he was unveiling a new 3D rig for Arri’s Alexa M camera and said:

“People are welcoming that they can finally drive a stake through the heart of film”

From Cameron’s point of view the hurdle has been two-fold: to get filmmakers conditioned to using celluloid to embrace digital cameras and 3D.

Part of the reason is that film-based processes don’t work if you are shooting natively in 3D (as opposed to post-converting) as you need to sync both stereo channels with precision, which can’t really be achieved using conventional film cameras.

Whilst the jury may be out on 3D, it seems that the last 18 months have marked a tipping point for sceptical directors and cinematographers.

Arri were instrumental in shaping the film camera throughout the twentieth century, inventing the world’s first reflex shutter camera in 1937 – the Arri 35 – and then its successor the Arri 35 II, which is amongst the most influential 35mm cameras ever built, with its portable and durable design gracing numerous features and documentaries.

The Arri Alexa could be to the digital era what the 35 II was for the age of celluloid, with world class cinematographers like Roger Deakins and Robert Richardson using it, with Deakins saying in a recent interview with the British Society of Cinematographers:

“I was surprised how quickly I became comfortable shooting with a digital camera”

Richardson shot the new Martin Scorsese film Hugo in 3D using the aforementioned Alexa M camera and films such as Melancholia, Drive and Anonymous were all shot using the camera and the quality of the images appears to have won over many digital sceptics.

Anna Foerster, the DP on Roland Emmerich’s new film Anonymous, has said of the camera:

“It was interesting because so far I have always shot on 35 mm and I kind of felt lucky that I had escaped digital for so long. I think that the moment I was confronted with digital was the moment we reached a level that is absolutely amazing and incomparable to what has come before”

The pioneering company in the digital realm were RED whose cameras were embraced by Steven Soderbergh, Doug Liman and David Fincher and with the new Hobbit films being shot on them it would appear Peter Jackson has fully signed up to the digital revolution.

Soderbergh has shot all of his recent films on the RED camera (starting with Che in 2008) and talks here about what it means for directors:

Interestingly, the biggest release of next year will buck the digital trend – The Dark Knight Rises will be shot on a combination of IMAX and 35mm film stock, which will provide resolutions higher than any current digital camera can muster.

But even Christopher Nolan has admitted that the bulk of camera research and development over the last decade has gone into digital, so he represents an exception rather than the rule.

However, Nolan and his DP Wally Pfister are stout defenders of film-based cameras for a reason – the image captured on them can look phenomenal if done correctly.

At this year’s Cine Gear Expo 2011 Rob Hummel gave a talk as to why film is still a superior capture format:

Again at the recent London film festival I saw back-to-back press screenings of Like Crazy and Pariah on the NFT screen at the BFI Southbank, which is one of the best cinema screens in the country.

There was no question that Like Crazy (shot on Canon DSLR cameras) looked inferior to Pariah (shot using 35mm on an Arri Camlite), which demonstrates that film stock still has a place as a capture medium.

Cinematographer John Bailey spoke earlier this year about why he still shoots on film and the dilemma facing movie archives if we eventually move in to an all digital world:

But what does this march towards digital capture and projection mean for the industry and the average cinema goer?

Whilst some audience members won’t immediately notice the difference, digital projection means greater stability of image and perhaps an opportunity for lower budget films to make a greater mark, as it reduces distribution costs in the long run.

For many filmmakers, it represents the dawn of a new era in which workflows and resolutions will improve as sensors, lenses and on-set data systems (such as those used on Hugo) allow greater flexibility once they have adapted to the possibilities afforded to them by newer and ever improving technology.

For celluloid though the end has already begun, as the photochemical process which sustained cinema for over a century slowly fades into an oncoming digital reality.

> More on film stock at Wikipedia
> Matt Zoeller Seitz at Salon on the death of film
> WSJ on Kodak’s problems
> DLP cinema
> Time Out on the decline of projectionists

Categories
Interesting Technology TV

The Machine That Changed The World

Back in 1992 PBS aired a series on the history of computers called The Machine That Changed the World.

Produced by WGBH Television, it was written and directed by Nancy Linde and was also shown in the UK on the BBC.

You can watch all the episodes below, courtesy of Waxy.

Episode 1: Great Brains

Explores the earliest forms of computing, from Charles Babbage in the 1800s to the first working computers of the 1940s.

Episode 2: Inventing the Future

The second part picks up the story of ENIAC and the first commercial computer company, culminates with the moon landing in 1969 and the rise of Silicon Valley.

Episode 3: The Paperback Computer

Explores the rise of the modern personal computer, the development of the graphical user interface, the Apple II and Macintosh, along with some early 90s predictions of the future.

Episode 4: The Thinking Machine

The history of artificial intelligence and the possibility of teaching computers to think and learn like human beings.

Episode 5: The World at Your Fingertips

The final episode explores the rise of information networks including the Internet and the world wide web.

WGBH Boston
> IMDb entry

Categories
Interesting Technology

Steve Jobs PBS Interview from 1990

PBS have posted a a rare 1990 video interview with Steve Jobs.

With news that another interview with late Apple boss has surfaced in a garage in London, it makes for fascinating viewing.

Filmed during his time at NeXT, he talks about his early experiences with computers at NASA, network computing, the desktop publishing revolution of the 1980s and his vision for the future (which, as we now know, was prescient).

Although regarded as a costly failure at the time, in hindsight NeXT was essentially research and development for Jobs’ second stint at Apple.

Watch An Interview With Steve Jobs on PBS. See more from NOVA.

A transcript of the interview is here.

The video is taken from unedited rushes for the PBS series The Machine That Changed the World, which aired in five parts in 1992.

> Steve Jobs 1955-2011
> More about computing at Wikipedia

Categories
Interesting News Technology

James Cameron Accepts Popular Mechanics Award

James Cameron recently accepted the Popular Mechanics award for Breakthrough Leadership in 2011 where he discussed technology, filmmaking and the Avatar sequels.

Here is video of Popular Mechanics Editor-in-Chief Jim Meigs and Sigourney Weaver presenting the award to Cameron and his subsequent speech:

Earlier in the day he spoke at length to Meigs, where they discussed his early sci-fi influences, the importance of 2001: A Space Odyssey, why filmmakers should embrace technology, deep-sea exploration and the real-world influences on Avatar:

Here is the subsequent audience Q&A where he discusses higher frame rates, how the US can get its innovative edge back, the presentation of scientists on film and the experience of 3D in cinemas and the home.

> Popular Mechanics Archives
> Q&A print interview at Popular Mechanics
> Lengthy 2009 video interview where Cameron talks about the visual effects of Avatar
> More on James Cameron at Wikipedia
> Voice Cameos of James Cameron

Categories
Interesting Technology

Walter Isaacson on 60 Mins

Walter Isaacson’s new biography of Steve Jobs came out today and 60 Mins did a recent interview with the author, which included sound clips of the late Apple boss.

I’ve already started reading the book and although some of it has been leaked, there are some incredible insights and details.

Here is Part 1:

Part 2:

Overtime segment:

> Buy the Walter Isaacson book in Hardback or Kindle
> Steve Jobs 1955-2011
> More on the history of Pixar

Categories
News Technology

Steve Jobs 1955-2011

The co-founder and former CEO of Apple died yesterday at the age of 56.

It says much about the impact of Steve Jobs on technology and culture that news of his death made headlines around the world.

Last night as the news broke my Twitter feed lit up with tributes (including the above logo by designer Jonathan Mak) and perhaps his true legacy lies in the fact that many of those tributes were written on devices made by his company.

When he stood down as CEO in August, Apple lost an inspirational leader who helped create it in the 1970s, save it in the late 1990s and then engineer one of the most remarkable corporate turnarounds in history.

As one of the key players in the computer revolution of the last forty years, he has played an instrumental role in how we use technical devices, listen to music and watch entertainment.

His first period at Apple (1976-1985) saw him co-found a company which helped introduce the idea of graphics based computing into the mainstream.

The three-part PBS documentary Triumph of the Nerds: The Rise of Accidental Empires (1996) gives some background to the revolutionary industry of which Apple was a part:

After being fired by the man he hired to run the company, he founded NeXT, a company which aimed to produce workstations for businesses and higher education.

This demo video featuring Jobs from 1987 shows how it pioneered many things we now take for granted:

Most significantly, a NeXT Computer was used by Tim Berners-Lee in the early 1990s to create the first web browser and web server.

Around the same then bought part of the computer division of Lucasfilm and relaunched it as Pixar in 1986.

One of the most significant entertainment companies to emerge in the modern era, they used computers to make animated blockbusters such as Toy Story (1995) and Finding Nemo (2003).

In 1996 Jobs and John Lasseter described the history of Pixar on the Charlie Rose show and what they were trying to do with the company:

This profile of Jobs from the same year focuses on his career up to that point and features a particularly obnoxious news presenter (note the key quote from Jobs when he says: “Apple still has a future”):

After paying Lucas $5m for it in the mid 1980s, he eventually sold it to Disney for $7.4 billion after an unprecedented run of critical and commercial hits.

This alone would have made him a key figure in the entertainment and technology worlds, but in 1997 he made a dramatic return to Apple, which was then in dire trouble.

Restoring the core computing products to their former glories he made bold moves into the music and film industries with the iTunes store, revolutionised how we listen to music with the iPod and reshaped mobile computing with the iPhone and iPad.

Since 2005, Apple’s revenues have grown enormously, to the point where this summer it surpassed oil giant Exxon Mobil as the most valuable company in the world.

In recent years health issues have cast a shadow over Jobs, as he survived pancreatic cancer in 2004 and a liver transplant in 2009.

After his first bout of cancer he gave this memorable commencement speech to Stanford University in 2005:

In January of this year he embarked on an extended leave of absence, despite making key public announcements and being involved in key strategic decisions.

His last public appearence was this proposal to his local city council for a new Apple Campus on Tuesday, June 7th:

When the news was announced back in August about Jobs resigning, it made headlines around the world and was the end of an era.

Obituaries have been published at the New York Times and Wired, whilst Laughing Squid and Walt Mossberg have nice tributes.

> Steve Jobs at Wikipedia
> Details on the forthcoming authorised biography of Jobs
> Bloomberg video profile of Jobs (48 mins)

Categories
Technology

Amazon Kindle Fire Launches

Amazon launched their new tablet computers yesterday with the Kindle Fire and Kindle Touch.

So far only Apple and Amazon have managed to make serious inroads into tablet computing.

They have done it through being very good at different approaches to the form.

Apple has built the best mobile browsing experience with the iPad out of the touch-based operating system they established with iPhone and iPod Touch.

With the iTunes store they have mastered the art of making online media consumption easy for the mainstream user by encasing it in attractive, premium hardware.

A more cost-effective option has been created by Amazon with the eBook device called the Kindle, which has quietly become a serious rival to the iPad.

The hardware isn’t as expensive and its E Ink display means it is easier on the eye and a better device for reading longer form articles in newspapers and magazines.

Until now they have served relatively different markets – iPad users browse and consume content on relatively expensive hardware, whilst Kindle users read text on a relatively cheaper alternative.

But with the launch of the Kindle Fire it seems that Amazon want to cut into the iPad’s territory in a big way.

Part of the reason Android tablets have failed so far is that they haven’t been as good as the iPad and Apple’s head start (remember Steve Jobs admitted the iPad concept actually predates the iPhone) has meant that rivals manufacturers been unable to price their devices competitively.

Who is the only company in the world who has created a best-selling tablet device and has a customer base to rival the iTunes store?

Step forward Amazon.

They recently announced the Kindle Fire in New York which went on sale for $199 and featured the following features:

  • Amazon’s version of the appstore
  • New cloud-accelerated web browser
  • Over 18 million movies, TV shows, songs, magazines, and books etc,
  • Free cloud storage for all your Amazon content
  • Color touchscreen display
  • Powerful dual-core processor
  • Amazon Prime members will get enjoy unlimited, instant streaming of over 10,000 popular movies and TV shows

TWiT covered the launch event with this in-depth special:

The Fire got most of the media attention, partly because the mainstream media are addicted to Apple and want to write about ‘the iPad rival’.

There is some truth in this as Amazon, with their vast library of content, pose the first serious threat to the iPad and it marks another evolution in how we buy and experience movies, music, games and other forms of media.

Apple and Amazon’s stores really have no equal in terms of registered users with paying credit credit cards.

(Quick aside: who do you think has more registered customers? I say Amazon, even if Apple make more money per user).

Both have innovated in the technology of mobile computing.

We all know about Apple’s touch interface but Amazon’s cloud-powered browser looks like it will be making effective use of both their web services and vast customer data.

But is the Kindle Touch the bigger deal?

It is an improved model at a cheaper price and features the following:

  • 30% lighter weight
  • 18% smaller body, with the same 6″ screen size
  • More advanced E Ink display
  • Built-in Wi-Fi
  • Faster page turns

It doesn’t have 3G but, apart from web browsing on the go, I don’t see that being a problem for most users.

The price of the earlier versions of the Kindle were competitive but now they have an improved device (no more keyboard) which sells at $89.

More importantly it represents a cheaper version of the kind of device which will replace dead tree print.

The model for daily print newspapers is essentially over unless you want them bankrolled by rich owners who want to sink more money on outdated distribution costs.

Weekly magazines that are smart with good content and metered paywalls – like The Economist – will survive but the march to digital will only intensify.

The Kindle model represents the most compelling publsihing ecosystem yet for the digital age – it offers a wide variety of articles for readers and a publishing platform for writers.

Even though the current Kindle isn’t perfect, it is the best e-Reader so far and it will be interesting to gauge sales in the run up to Christmas.

The question is who is going to break the duopoly that Amazon and Apple have on tablet computing?

> Engadget and Techcrunch on the Amazon Fire
> Mashable on the Kindle Touch
> More on the Amazon Kindle at Wikipedia

Categories
News Technology

Steve Jobs resigns as Apple CEO

It says a lot about Steve Jobs that his resignation from Apple has sent waves throughout the worlds of technology and entertainment.

As one of the key players in the computer revolution of the last forty years, he has played an instrumental role in how we use technical devices, listen to music and watch entertainment.

His first period at Apple (1976-1985) saw him co-found a company which helped introduce the idea of graphics based computing into the mainstream.

The three-part PBS documentary Triumph of the Nerds: The Rise of Accidental Empires (1996) gives some background to the revolutionary industry of which Apple was a part:

After being fired by the man he hired to run the company, he founded NeXT, a company which aimed to produce workstations for businesses and higher education.

This demo video featuring Jobs from 1987 shows how it pioneered many things we now take for granted:

Most significantly, a NeXT Computer was used by Tim Berners-Lee in the early 1990s to create the first web browser and web server.

Around the same then bought part of the computer division of Lucasfilm and relaunched it as Pixar in 1986.

One of the most significant entertainment companies to emerge in the modern era, they used computers to make animated blockbusters such as Toy Story (1995) and Finding Nemo (2003).

In 1996 Jobs and John Lasseter described the history of Pixar on the Charlie Rose show and what they were trying to do with the company:

This profile of Jobs from the same year focuses on his career up to that point and features a particularly obnoxious news presenter (note the key quote from Jobs when he says: “Apple still has a future”):

After paying Lucas $5m for it in the mid 1980s, he eventually sold it to Disney for $7.4 billion after an unprecedented run of critical and commercial hits.

This alone would have made him a key figure in the entertainment and technology worlds, but in 1997 he made a dramatic return to Apple, which was then in dire trouble.

Restoring the core computing products to their former glories he made bold moves into the music and film industries with the iTunes store, revolutionised how we listen to music with the iPod and reshaped mobile computing with the iPhone and iPad.

Since 2005, Apple’s revenues have grown enormously, to the point where this month it surpassed oil giant Exxon Mobil as the most valuable company in the world.

In recent years health issues have cast a shadow over Jobs, as he survived pancreatic cancer in 2004 and a liver transplant in 2009.

After his first bout of cancer he gave this memorable commencement speech to Stanford University in 2005:

In January of this year he embarked on an extended leave of absence, despite making key public announcements and being involved in key strategic decisions.

His last public appearence was this proposal to his local city council for a new Apple Campus on Tuesday, June 7th:

When the news was announced earlier today about Jobs resigning, it made headlines around the world.

> Steve Jobs at Wikipedia
> Details on the forthcoming authorised biography of Jobs
> Bloomberg video profile of Jobs (48 mins)

Categories
Interesting Technology

Everything is a Remix, Part 3

The third video essay by Kirby Ferguson in his Everything is a Remix series explores how innovations truly happen.

Titled The Elements of Creativity, it traces the evolution of the home computer and features, amongst other things, Thomas Edison, Xerox, Apple and Synecdoche, New York.

For his previous videos, check out Part 1 and Part 2.

> Kirby Ferguson at Vimeo
> Donate to the EIAR project
> Buy the music featured in this video

Categories
Technology video

Google Videos to end on April 29th

Google are closing the video site which they developed before acquiring YouTube in 2006.

At the end of this month the millions of videos on Google Videos (formerly Google Video) will no longer be available to watch.

In a recent statement quoted by Techcrunch, Google said:

On April 29, 2011, videos that have been uploaded to Google Video will no longer be available for playback. We’ve added a Download button to the video status page, so you can download any video content you want to save. If you don’t want to download your content, you don’t need to do anything. (The Download feature will be disabled after May 13, 2011.) We encourage you to move to your content to YouTube if you haven’t done so already.

If you have videos on there, you can still download them until May 13th but after that the site will just become a search engine for video content but will cease to exist in its current form.

Although YouTube has outgrown and come to dominate video on the web, there were some useful things about it, notably the ability to upload long-form video.

Metafilter recently posted a list of the interesting video content on the site that will no longer be available after April 29th:

2005

2006

2007

2008

Although they are trying to back up as much as they can, some of it is well worth watching before hosted video is gone from the site.

> Google Videos
> More on the history of the site at Wikipedia

Categories
News Technology Thoughts

The End of the Cinema Experience?

Last week some major questions about the cinema experience were raised at Cinema Con, the annual convention of American theater owners in Las Vegas.

Previously known as ShoWest, the convention has been relaunched and gathers the National Association of Theatre Owners, who represent over 30,000 movie screens in the US and additional cinema chains from around the world.

Studios go there to preview their big summer blockbusters and get exhibitors excited for upcoming titles like Super 8 and Real Steel.

It is an important place to spot industry trends this year two of the big ones were: higher frame rates and a controversial video on demand scheme backed by four of the major studios.

HIGHER FRAME-RATES

One of the fundamentals of cinema is that films are shown at 24 frames per second, as light is projected through a print on to a screen.

Even with the rise of digital projection systems, this has essentially stayed the same as audiences have got used to this particular look.

One major panel at Cinema Con saw James Cameron, George Lucas and Jeffrey Katzenberg discuss higher framerates for how films are projected.

Cameron was advocating that films in cinemas should be projected at 48 fps or 60fps and that the current generation of digital projectors could easily adopt this with a software upgrade.

But what would films screened at higher frame rates actually look like?

Visual effects maestro Douglas Trumbull has long been advocating higher frame rates with his Showscan cinematic process.

After his pioneering work on films such as 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) and Blade Runner (1982), Trumbull came up with the idea for projecting higher quality images at 60fps on bigger cinema screens.

This NBC news clip in 1984 shows Trumbull promoting Showscan:

For various reasons, it never took off even though in 1993, Trumbull, Geoffrey Williamson, Robert Auguste and Edmund DiGiulio were awarded a Scientific and Engineering Academy Award for devloping the system.

Trumbull persisted with a digital version of Showscan, which he thinks has a place in modern cinemas and can improve regular movies as well as those shot on 3D.

In this 2010 video, Trumbull demonstrates Showscan Digital:

Back at CinemaCon, Cameron indicated that he plans to shoot his upcoming Avatar sequels using a technique similar to Showscan.

He unveiled a series of basic scenes shot by Russell Carpenter (his DP on True Lies and Titanic) which involved a medieval set.

They included a lot of camera movements such as pans and sweeps that often cause “strobing” or the appearance of flicker.

The scenes involved included a banquet and a sword fight and part of the presentation was to compare them at different framerates: 24, 48 and 60, as well as 3D.

He spoke earlier this year of his desire for higher frame rates in a talk with former Google CEO Eric Schmidt:

Part of the argument against higher frame rates is that 24fps is the established look of film and to mess with it is unwise and will make films look weird.

It could also be argued that it would tend to benefit the action spectaculars Cameron specialises in.

But given how much money the director has generated for cinema owners with Terminator 2 (1991), Titanic (1997) and Avatar (2009), the audience would have given serious consideration to his idea.

As studios struggle to deal with declining DVD profits and cinema owners struggle to adapt to shifting audience expectations, it is a development worth watching over the next couple of years.

But that wasn’t the biggest news story to come out of Cinema Con as four of the major studios dropped a major bombshell regarding how films are distributed.

VIDEO ON DEMAND or STUDIOS vs EXHIBITORS

One of the hot topics for the film industry that has been smouldering for a number of years is the issue of the release window.

Since the advent of home video in the early 1980s, there was an established pattern of release for a movie which allowed it to be screened first at cinemas, then on video a few months later and eventually on TV platforms.

Each stage made money for the studios and it was important that one didn’t cannibalise the other.

But over the years the window has gradually shortened to the point that films hit DVD and Blu-ray around 3 months after they have opened in cinemas.

There is a now a growing movement of people that feel the release window is outdated and that audiences should be able to legally access films via download or pay-per-view at the same time as they are released in cinemas.

Obviously, the exhibitors are dead against this.

Not only would it potentially cut into their profits but could be the beginning of a slippery slope where the cinema experience would be badly damaged, perhaps fatally.

So when the news broke during CinemaCon that four of the major studios (Warner Bros., Fox, Sony and Universal) had signed up to a premium VOD service with satellite company DirectTV, it was a major slap in the face to exhibitors.

The details are that DirecTV will allow users to stream titles to their home from April, beginning with titles such as Unknown (the Liam Neeson thriller which came out in the US on February 18th) and Just Go With It (the Adam Sandler comedy which had a February 11th release in the US).

Wide theatrical releases will become available on this service just 60 days after they open at cinemas, at a cost of $30.

This means that the window of release has been shortened even further and NATO (National Association of Theater Owners) issued a swift statement, expressing “surprise and strong disappointment” at the move.

Firstly, they were pissed at the basic idea:

On March 30, it was reported that Warner Bros., Fox, Sony and Universal planned to release a certain number of their films to the home 60 days after their theatrical release in “premium” Video on Demand at a price point of $30. On behalf of its members, the National Association of Theater Owners (NATO) expresses our surprise and strong disappointment.

Then there was the timing (although I guess the studios plan was to ruffle feathers and get attention):

Theater operators were not consulted or informed of the substance, details or timing of this announcement. It’s particularly disappointing to confront this issue today, while we are celebrating our industry partnerships at our annual convention – CinemaCon – in Las Vegas. NATO has repeatedly, publicly and privately, raised concerns and questions about the wisdom of shortening the theatrical release window to address the studios’ difficulties in the home market.

Then there was the risks of ‘early-to-the-home VoD’:

We have pointed out the strength of theatrical exhibition — revenues have grown in four of the last five years — and that early-to-the-home VoD will import the problems of the home entertainment market into the theatrical market without fixing those problems. The studios have not managed to maintain a price point in the home market and we expect that they will be unable to do so with early VoD. They risk accelerating the already intense need to maximize revenues on every screen opening weekend and driving out films that need time to develop—like many of the recent Academy Award-nominated pictures.

Piracy also got a mention:

They risk exacerbating the scourge of movie theft by delivering a pristine, high definition, digital copy to pirates months earlier than they had previously been available.

Interestingly, Paramount is mentioned as being a hold out. (Could this be because Viacom boss Sumner Redstone has a background in movie exhibition?):

Paramount has explicitly cited piracy as a reason they will not pursue early VoD. Further, they risk damaging theatrical revenues without actually delivering what the home consumer seems to want, which is flexibility, portability and a low price.

Then the big guns really came out:

These plans fundamentally alter the economic relationship between exhibitors, filmmakers and producers, and the studios taking part in this misguided venture. We would expect cinema owners to respond to such a fundamental change and to reevaluate all aspects of their relationships with these four studios. As NATO’s Executive Board noted in their open letter of June 16, 2010, the length of a movie’s release window is an important economic consideration for theater owners in whether, how widely and under what terms they book a film.

Additionally, cinema owners devote countless hours of screen time each year to trailers promoting the movies that will play on their screens. With those trailers now arguably promoting movies that will appear shortly in the home market to the detriment of theater admissions, we can expect theater owners to calculate just how much that valuable screen time is worth to their bottom lines and to the studios that have collapsed the release window. The same consideration will no doubt be given to the acres of wall and floor space devoted to posters and standees.

And to finish there was what appeared to be a thinly veiled threat:

In the end, the entire motion picture community will have a say in how the industry moves forward. These studios have made their decision in what they no doubt perceive to be their best interests. Theater owners will do the same.

The above words could be read as: “You want to put Liam Neeson thrillers and Adam Sandler comedies on to VOD? Fine, we just won’t show them”.

Exhibitors still have this powerful weapon.

If they choose not to promote or even screen films, then that would almost certainly turn an expensively assembled theatrical release into a straight-to-DVD leper.

Earlier this year, the UK’s three big cinema chains – Odeon, Vue and Cineworld – threatened to boycott Alice in Wonderland in protest against Disney’s plan to shorten the theatrical run by bringing forward the DVD release date.

Eventually, agreements were reached but it highlighted the fact that big studios also have a powerful bargaining chip: they have the hit films cinemas need in order to survive.

But is it conceivable that in the future they could make a major film available on home platforms and bypass cinemas?

It would appear that established filmmakers are on the side of the cinemas.

During a Warner Bros presentation for The Hangover Part II, director Todd Phillips got wild applause for pledging his support for exhibitors.

Even futurists like Cameron and Lucas are still big believers in the theatrical experience.

But if you are on the studio side advocating the VOD argument, you might think that this is a bridge that should be crossed sooner rather than later.

The costs of digital distribution are lower and VOD potentially reaches the audiences who can’t make it to a cinema.

With lower-budget films dependent of word of mouth such as 127 Hours or Win Win, a studio like Fox Searchlight might argue that a mixed model of theatrical and VOD might benefit those films, as they would get more people watching and paying for them than is currently the case.

Strangely, it could be the more specialised films with lower marketing budgets that benefit more from the current plans.

But there are also those arguing that folding the release window is a suicidal move that would kill profits.

Former Twentieth Century Fox chief Bill Mechanic said to Bloomberg:

Every time [a film] plays the studios are earning back more money. If you eliminate all that to one window, it is completely destructive to the overall film business. This is myopic …very short-sighted and a very bad idea.

An anonymous columnist posted on The Wrap warning of a cinema apocalypse:

Film studios seem determined to kill the movie business completely. After putting video stores out of business by authorizing Redbox to rent videos for $1 per day from what amounts to a Coke machine, now they want to put movie theaters in a coma by authorizing a new at-home video-on-demand release during what has until now been the exclusive first-run theater window. As for the impact on theatrical attendance, I believe it will be devastating. However, among studio execs the best case quoted to me was a 10 percent drop in attendance with the executives insisting that, “Some theaters will close, others will raise prices … it’s all good.” The reality is that a 10 percent drop in total attendance, across the board and permanent, will cause 2/3 of all the theaters in the U.S. to close their doors and never open again.

Perhaps the uncomfortable truth is that there is a larger cultural change going on.

Although large numbers of the general public enjoy going to the cinema, the pace of technological change in devices (TVs, computers) and the distribution of films has made a key section of the audience impatient as to what, when and where the see something.

Major studios can gauge this and are willing to burn bridges with exhibitors in order to satisfy this demand and reduce their distribution costs.

I don’t think anyone film fan wants to see the theatrical experience go away, as it remains the best way to experience the medium.

But this move by the big studios makes it feel like major changes are just over the horizon.

Categories
Technology

Vimeo Launch Free iPhone App

Vimeo have just launched a iPhone app which allows users to upload and edit videos.

Since launching in 2004, the video-sharing site has become popular with filmmakers and currently has over 3 million members.

They also launched a festival and awards last year with M.I.A., David Lynch, Ted Hope, Lucy Walker and Morgan Spurlock among the judges.

Part of the site’s growth was down to the fact that it was an early adopter of HD and in 2009 Engadget reported that around 10% of uploads were in high definition.

The interface for the new app is pretty slick and the combination of the site and mobile editor make it very handy indeed.

It is a free download which you can use on newer iOS devices including the iPhone (3GS or 4), iPod touch (4th generation), or the iPad 2.

After a quick play around, it seems easier to use than the iMovie app (which costs £2.99 in the UK app store and $4.99 in the US) and the fact that its free is also a major bonus.

You can download the app from iTunes or via Vimeo.

> More information on the Vimeo blog
> Find out more about Vimeo at Wikipedia
> Filmmaker Magazine on the 2010 Vimeo Festival and Awards

Categories
Behind The Scenes Interesting Technology

A Brief History of the Steadicam

When Garrett Brown invented the Steadicam in the 1970s it had an immediate impact on how films were shot.

Before his invention if filmmakers wanted tracking shots (i.e. ones where the camera moves), they were limited to using a dolly track or hand-held work.

After shooting a demo reel with a prototype rig, he caught the attention of Hollywood and it led to work on such films as Bound for Glory (1976), Rocky (1976) and The Shining (1980) as well as an Academy Award of Merit.

Last year at the EG conference Brown gave a talk where he described how he came up with the idea for his revolutionary camera rig and its subsequent application in movies, sports broadcasting and industry.

Among the things worth noting are:

  • His father Rodney G Brown invented the ‘hot melt’ glue used in paperback books
  • He was once a folk singer
  • Kubrick’s desire for multiple takes on The Shining helped him become a better operator
  • He teaches Steadicam operators to have a calm demeanor
  • Working on Return of the Jedi (1983) and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) helped inspire the SkyCam
  • His work on beer commercials helped fund the SkyCam
  • The original demo for the Steadicam prototype was filmed on the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which directly inspired the famous scene in Rocky

> Garrett Brown
> How Steadicams Work at HowStuffWorks
> Steadicam Forum
> Garrett Brown interview with ICG Magazine

Categories
Technology

Twitter @ 5

The social networking and microblogging service Twitter is five years old today.

Since launching in 2006 it gradually exploded in popularity and now has an estimated 190 million users around the world who generate millions of tweets a day.

Like Facebook and YouTube it has become a massive extension of the web as people exchange all kinds of information

This presentation by co-founder Jack Dorsey is a fascinating insight into what inspired the site and how it began:

Like any other area of life, the film world has its share of people using the service ranging from filmmakers to automated services.

Obviously a lot of users are talking about their lives or plugging projects, but here are a few I like:

DIRECTORS / WRITERS

  • Errol Morris: The famed documentarian seems to enjoy the brevity of Twitter and regularly posts his thoughts on life.
  • David Lynch: He started by posting weather reports but his feed is now as unpredictable and wonderful as his films.
  • Armando Iannucci: The director of In the Loop regularly posts sharp insights on politics and culture.
  • John August: The screenwriter runs a very useful website and runs an active twitter feed.

USEFUL

  • The Daily Mubi: Absolutely essential feed that curates the best film links online.
  • Review Intel: Amazingly comprehensive feed with regular quotes and updates from film critics.
  • Nikki Finke: Widely read feed of Deadline Hollywood site which regularly breaks stories from the film and TV industry.
  • Metacritic: The best movie review aggregating site posts update on what the critics think of films.
  • Roger Ebert: The venerable Chicago film critic posts all manner of interesting links on a daily basis.
  • Anne Thompson: Experienced film journalist who regularly tweets and retweets stories of interest.
  • DVD Beaver: Get regular updates from one of the best DVD and Blu-ray sites.
  • Criterion: Regular links of interest from the vintage US film label.
  • Box Office: Regular updates on the US charts from BoxOffice.com
  • Charles Gant: Detailed analysis of the UK box office from the film editor of Heat.
  • IMDb 250: See updates of what’s in and out of the IMDb’s list of the top 250 films of all time.

> Find out more about Twitter at Wikipedia
> Links to film related people on Twitter at Listorious

Categories
Interesting Technology

A Conversation with Ari Emanuel

Last November Hollywood super-agent Ari Emanuel sat down for a chat with CNBC’s Julia Boorstin at the Web 2.0 summit.

As the CEO of William Morris Endeavor Entertainment he is one of the key players in the industry and the 45 minute discussion focuses on the economics of the entertainment business and the challenges of the digital age.

Some key points from the discussion are:

  • Why “There’s no one answer anymore”
  • How talent is monetised in the digital world
  • WME’s deal with LinkedIn
  • The ‘painful’ negotiations with Fox over Seth MacFarlane’s deal
  • Tensions between Silicon Valley and Hollywood
  • Google TV and the established TV networks
  • The importance of cost and worth
  • Should stars use social networks to broadcast themselves?
  • A possible deal with Facebook to fund a movie
  • Why he isn’t sure yet about signing YouTube stars
  • Why the music labels probably regret making the pricing deals with Apple a few years ago
  • His concerns about piracy
  • How Ari have advised a young Mark Zuckerberg
  • What he thinks of Ari Gold, the fictional agent in Entourage that was based on him
  • There is also a flash of his famous temper around the 30 minute mark in a question about piracy.

    > Ari Emanuel at Wikipedia
    > Web 2.0 Summit

    Categories
    Amusing Technology

    Conan O’Brien iPad 2 Spoof

    Conan O’Brien recently did this spoof of those Apple videos about the iPad 2.

    > More on iPad 2 at Wikipedia
    > Team Coco

    Categories
    Amusing Technology Viral Video

    Tron Legacy 8-bit version

    Animator Pierre Manry has re-imagined Tron: Legacy as an 8-bit videogame, complete with a converted Daft Punk score.

    [via Gizmodo]

    > Tron: Legacy review
    > The Legacy of Tron
    > 8 bit at Wikipedia

    Categories
    Interesting Technology

    Kinect meets Minority Report

    A group at MIT has created a hand-detection system using Microsoft’s Kinect sensor device.

    Researchers at the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at MIT have modified it so that it resembles the hand gesture interface imagined in Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report (2002).

    Based around a camera, Kinect allows users to control and interact with the Xbox 360 console without the need to touch a controller using gestures, spoken commands, or presented objects and images.

    The team at MIT created a hand detection system using the Kinect camera, which recognises the position of the palms and fingers of the users.

    Systems Robotics Engineer Garratt Gallagher has released this video:

    Minority Report is about a “precrimes” unit (led by Tom Cruise), who prevent murders before they occur in Washington 2054.

    One of the ways they do this is through an interface which allows them to see details of crimes about to be committed:

    Part of the reason it has proved so prescient is that Spielberg consulted several experts for a three-day think-tank back in 1999.

    He was keen to depict plausible ideas for the futuristic setting and one of the advisors was John Underkoffler, who designed the interface used in the film.

    Back in February he spoke at TED about his work on the film and the influence it continues to have on user interface design.

    Among the other things ‘predicted’ by the film include personalised ads (Facebook, Adsense), 3D video (CNN hologram) and even insect robots (micro-robotic systems).

    [Via Engadget]

    > MIT Computer Science and AI Lab
    > The Guardian on Why Minority Report was spot on
    > The technology in Minority Report at Wikipedia

    Categories
    Interesting Technology

    Free films on YouTube

    YouTube has several movies you can legally watch for free, but what  are the best of the bunch?

    There is obviously a lot of film related content on the world’s largest video site, including a lot of ‘unofficial’ clips and even full length films chopped up into 10 minute chunks.

    Recent reports suggest Google (who own the site) have been in talks with Hollywood studios to launch a global pay-per-view video section by the end of this year.

    Although it hasn’t got a great deal of press, they already have a dedicated movie section (www.youtube.com/movies) where users can legally stream films.

    At the moment, these are often titles which have fallen out of copyright or been sanctioned by their owners.

    Because of this, some of the films vary in quality so below is a list of the best ones currently there.

    (Just click on the title for the YouTube link).

    • The General (Dir. Clyde Bruckman & Buster Keaton, 1927): Classic silent comedy starring Buster Keaton as a train engineer during the US Civil War.
    • Metropolis (Dir. Fritz Lang): The classic German expressionist film set in a futuristic city depicted the tensions between workers and bosses.
    • Carnival of Souls (Dir. Herk Harvey, 1962): Cult horror film about a woman who is involved in a car accident and becomes drawn to a mysterious, abandoned carnival.
    • Cathy Come Home (Dir. Ken Loach, 1966): A landmark BBC drama about a family in 1960s Britain struggling to deal with unemployment and homelessness.
    • Night of the Living Dead (Dir. George A Romero, 1968): The classic independent zombie movie, which influenced a generation of filmmakers.
    • Salaam Bombay! (Dir. Mira Nair, 1988): A Hindi film which chronicles the life of children living on the streets of Mumbai (then known as Bombay).
    • Land and Freedom (Dir. Ken Loach, 1995): A drama about a young man from Liverpool (Ian Hart) who goes off to fight facism in the Spanish Civil War.
    • The Funeral (Dir. Abel Ferrara): Gangster film centered around a family of New York gangsters in the 1930s, starring Christopher Walken and Chris Penn and Annabella Sciorra.
    • Bob Dylan 1966 World Tour, The Home Movies: Through the Camera of Mickey Jones (Dir. Joel Gilbert, 2003): Documentary that features rare footage of Dylan touring at his peak, when he traded in his acoustic guitar for an electric sound.
    • Undertow (Dir. David Gordon Green, 2004): Indie drama set in Georgia about two bothers (Jamie Bell and Devon Alan) who go on the run from their dangerous uncle (Josh Lucas). Look out for a pre-Twilight Kristen Stewart.
    • Hannah Takes The Stairs (Dir. Joe Swanberg, 2007): An archetypal ‘mumblecore’ film typical of the genre, featuring regulars like Greta Gerwig, Andrew Bujalski and Mark Duplass.

    > Official YouTube Movies section
    > CNET on Google’s possible pay-per-view plans

    Categories
    Interesting Technology

    FFlick

    Fflick is a new website which filters and organises what people are saying about films on Twitter.

    If you use the popular micro-blogging servce then Fflick lets you see what your followers are saying about certain films, whether it is Roger Ebert, Oprah Winfrey, Jon Favreau or yourself.

    In addition it uses the data publicly available on Twitter to help arrange tweets into interesting, positive, negative and interesting links about films that are trending on the site (e.g. Inception, Toy Story 3).

    Although it has just launched, it looks promising so far.

    > Fflick
    > More about Fflick at AppMarket

    Categories
    Amusing Technology

    Steve Jobs introduces the Death Star

    If Steve Jobs introduced the Death Star, then it really would sound like this video mash up.

    The George Lucas connection here is that Jobs bought the computer animation division of Lucasfilm’s Industrial Light and Magic in 1986, renamed the new company Pixar and the rest is history.

    [Link via Adam Buxton]

    Categories
    Amusing Technology

    iPad + Velcro

    Who knew that the iPad and velcro would make such a winning combination?

    Categories
    Interesting Technology

    Marc Andreessen on Charlie Rose

    This interview with Netscape founder and Silicon Valley investor Marc Andreessen from last year is fascinating.

    As the author of the first widely-used web browser (Mosaic), a serial investor (in companies like Digg and Twitter) and a board member in key web companies (Facebook and eBay) he is in a good position to comment on how the web is changing the world in which we live.

    A few interesting snippets include:

    • The stupidity of Viacom suing Google
    • The potential of Twitter
    • How he is responsible for both Firefox (which came out of Netscape) and Internet Explorer (which came from Mosaic)
    • Why The New York Times should cancel its print operations as soon as possible
    • Why kids living on their laptops (figuratively speaking) is ‘fantastic’
    • Why Andy Grove of Intel is one of the most important figures in the history of modern tech
    • Google was the first search engine that really worked and once they unlocked ‘the advertising problem‘ it became a ‘magic business’
    • At 42.45 he basically predicts the iPad
    • Why the economic crisis of 2008 didn’t affect Silicon Valley in the same way as the 2001 slump did (although the ongoing recession will have a long term effect)
    • A possible solution to the banking crisis

    [Link via Anne Thompson]

    Categories
    Interesting Technology TV

    Tim Berners-Lee on the web he invented

    The BBC series The Virtual Revolution aired on BBC2 over the last four weeks and explored the past, present and future of the world wide web.

    If you are in the UK, you can watch all four episodes on iPlayer at the links below:

    1. The Great Levelling
    2. Enemy of the State
    3. The Cost of Free
    4. Homo Interneticus

    The inventor of the web Tim Berners-Lee was interviewed for the series and in a neat touch the BBC has made available the raw interviews (or ‘rushes’ in film and TV speak) on their website.

    Here is some of the interview which covers how people think when using the web; the ‘spirit of the web’; the impact of the web on nation states and web censorship.

    Presenter Aleks Krotoski has also compiled a Flickr album of photos from filming the series:

    Categories
    Interesting Technology

    iPad discussion on Charlie Rose

    Charlie Rose recently had a discussion about the Apple iPad on his show recently with Walt Mossberg of the WSJ, David Carr of the NYT and Michael Arrington of TechCrunch.

    Several good points are made, which makes a change from the complaints about it being a big iPhone and having no Flash (the latter hasn’t affected sales of the iPhone and iPod touch has it?).

    Whilst I don’t think it will change how people watch long form films or TV (there’s still cinemas and large TVs for that) my gut feeling is that that it will revolutionise how we casually browse and experience the web.

    When it comes to newspapers, magazines and regular content that we read, like RSS feeds, blogs and shorter form media, I think advanced touch tablets are the future.

    It could be the iPad, the Google’s upcoming device (which apparently launches this autumn), or succeeding versions, but after years of desktops and laptops sticking to the same keyboard and operating systems, this feels like a new era.

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    Interesting Technology

    Ken Auletta speaks to C-SPAN about Google

    Above is a lengthy and highly informative C-SPAN interview with Ken Auletta of The New Yorker about his new book on Google, which is called Googled: The End of the World As We Know It.

    Here are some quotes and facts raised that particularly struck me:

    • “Google is a surrogate (in many ways) for the Internet”
    • “Google is a miraculous service for consumers but the problem is that it hurts businesses, especially media companies”
    • “The Google founders start from the assumption that most things are inefficient”
    • “The engineer is the content creator at Google”
    • Every minute 15 hours of video is uploaded to YouTube (which includes the above interview)
    • Google’s initial funding was $25 million from 7 key investors
    • Adsense is essentially a Vickrey auction system and made Google $21 billion last year
    • A Google data center looks like this
    • Part of the reason Google are so secretive is because co-founder Larry Page once read a book about Nikolai Tesla (one of the pioneers of electricity and radio) and felt he died poor and bitter because he was too open about his inventions and secrets.
    • Jeff Bezos of Amazon was an early investor in Google but this wasn’t widely known for quite a long time. His GOOG stock (if he held on to it) would be worth a $1 billion today.
    • Sergey Brin suggested to Auletta that he put his book up for ‘free on the Internet’ because more people would read it that way.
    • Auletta uses DropBox, which came in handy last week when his computer died.

    Anyway, the whole thing is worth watching.

    Categories
    Interesting Technology Useful Links

    What the Trend

    What the Trend

    What the Trend is a useful website that tracks what’s trending on Twitter and why.

    For each trend, it gives you a quick explanation of why a #tag is trending (the blurbs are edited by users) and you can see the latest tweets and related Flickr photos and news stories.

    * You can follow me on Twitter here (@filmdetail) *

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    Interesting Technology

    Walt Mossberg on C-SPAN with Brian Lamb

    Technology journalist Walt Mossberg recently appeared on C-SPAN‘s Q&A interview series with the great Brian Lamb.

    It is fascinating because Lamb always asks the direct questions, which – when applied to Mossberg’s career – reveal a fascinating period of technological change.

    Among other things, they discuss ISPs in 1994, charges at the Wall Street Journal, Twitter, Silicon Valley, the near-death of Apple in the mid-90s, netbooks and iPhone apps.

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    Interesting Technology

    Steve Jobs unveils the iPod in 2001

    This interesting video shows Steve Jobs unveiling the first ever iPod in 2001.

    Notice the giggles when he says the word iPod for the first time 😉

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    News Technology

    And we’re back

    Mogwai on keyboard

    If you have been visiting this site over the last couple of weeks you may have noticed that Google has flagged it as being ‘unsafe’ and being ‘harmful to your computer!’

    To cut a long story short, someone (possibly) hacked part of my part of my site and infected it with malware which caused Google to flag it as being unsafe.

    If you use IE you might have got this warning:

    Google IE Warning

    If you were browing in Firefox you would have seen this hysterical warning:

    Firefox warning

    It appeared to be a couple of archive pages from this year that were causing problems although you could be forgiven for thinking from the above warning that I was planning to blow up the entire Internet with help from Russian spammers and Al-Qaeda’s IT department.

    The basic deal is that sites like mine can be compromised without owners knowing about it until you get flagged.

    It’s a bit of Catch 22 – you don’t know there is a problem until it is pointed out to you and then it takes a while to a) figure out what is wrong, b) fix the problem and c) get Google to see if it is fixed.

    For more information just visit www.stopbadware.org (especially this bit) which explains all of this in more detail.

    In the meantime I’ve made a few technical changes to the backend of the site and tightened up the security which should mean that in a few days Google will unflag it.

    [Photo via Flickr user Stefan]

    Categories
    News Technology

    Boxee now available on Windows

    The open source media centre program Boxee was made available to Windows users this week.

    If you haven’t heard of it before then check out this video.

    In a nutshell it is an application that allows you to stream content from the web and also convert the existing media on your computer so you can watch it on a monitor or TV.

    Previously only available for Mac and Linux users, it will be interesting to see how many people sign up for it.

    The latest version streamlines the left-hand interface, so that you can choose between web-based sources (‘Applications’) and the files on your hard drive (‘Local Files’).

    It is all very slick and I don’t think it is too much to suggest that programs like this are the future of home entertainment.

    As it stands the current distribution models are split between optical discs (DVD and Blu-ray), pay TV (satellite or cable) and online (iTunes & Amazon etc).

    I’ve long felt that the killer app would be the piece of software that allows you to easily find and download what you want to watch on either your TV or computer.

    There have already been well-documented problems with media companies like Hulu, who are concerned about rights and platforms.

    Despite these issues, Boxee still looks like the most promising step towards what watching films and TV at home will be like in the not-too-distant future.

    > Official site for Boxee
    > More at Lifehacker on Boxee

    Categories
    News Technology

    Pre-roll Ads on YouTube

    YouTube logoDifferent UK broadcasters are going to test pre-roll ads on YouTube just weeks after the fiasco of ITV somehow not making any money out of the Susan Boyle viral video.

    PaidContent report:

    Separately to the renewal of its partnership with BBC Worldwide today, YouTube has agreed to trial pre-roll ads, and not just the usual display banners, on short-form UK TV clips offered by it BBCWW, Channel 4, National Geographic, ITN and Discovery partners.

    Partners are able to place their own inventory, but the extent to which each is doing so varies.

    Ads can last up to 30 seconds, at broadcasters’ discretion, but 15 seconds is the guideline and clips with ads must last at least one minute, YouTube told paidContent:UK.

    Initial advertisers include Warner Bros, Match.com, Activision, Renault and Nissan. It kicks off with C4 running ads for WB’s The Hangover movie – but embedding of these clips is disabled.

    ITV – surprise, surprise – doesn’t have a UK YouTube partnership and isn’t part of the trial (maybe not surprising given that outgoing chairman Michael Grade thinks it a ‘parasite’)

    YouTube had been reluctant to use pre-rolls as they annoy users but apparently is going to test them again.

    Perhaps short pre-rolls could work, but the length is debatable.

    I tend to think ads around the video are a better option (from a user’s perspective) but advertisers obviously want more impact.

    But can someone tell me why embedding is disabled?

    This video from Channel 4, plugging a TV series called Embarrassing Illnesses, has a pre-roll ad for a new Warner Bros movie called The Hangover. (Again it can’t be embedded, so you’ll have to click through on the link). 

    It is about 19 seconds long. Is that too much? Will it become the norm?

    I’ll be surprised if it does.