Grandiose.

Friday, January 31st, 2020

It was a cold and rainy day in Atlanta, and, judging from my sampling of YouTube live cameras (hey, who isn’t fascinated by a railroad crossing in a tiny town in northwest Ohio—LIVE!) it was a fairly scuzzy day for lots of folks across North America.

So we went up to Lenox Square and walked around some. Strolled…nah, briskly walked past open portals of commerce, all with a faintly desperate “won’t you PLEASE come in and SPEND some money” vibe that really doesn’t do much for me.

And then there’s the Lenox Apple Store, where I watched one hipstery sales person (there’s probably an Apple-approved term that sounds a lot better, but that’s what I have at this hour) leaning casually on the very very expensive new Mac Pro, discussing it with folks who had a bit of an interest in video production, but who were clearly not jaded ex-professionals like me.

An image I created displayed on the $4999 Pro Display XDR, ($1000 stand extra.)

I kind of wanted to say “Hey dude, don’t lean on the equipment”, but it was his shop, not mine.

Then I heard another employee behind me discussing the pricing of a MacBook Pro plus a fancy monitor as being “about 70 grand.” The customer started to wilt and I wheeled around and interjected “You mean 7 grand. 7 thousand dollars.”

Uh, yeah, whatever. If you have to ask. And as the leaning guy said, “we’re backordered on all of these anyway.”

Unaccountable.

Thursday, January 30th, 2020

Sorry to keep diving into the news of political Washington, but let’s face it, the President has been impeached and is on trial, and we are being dragged through what I’m increasingly seeing as a deeply flawed system that allows our executive branch to tilt alarmingly and semi-permanently toward one that is absolute, monarchical, and, sadly, incapable of being counterposed or corrected by the other two branches.

Will we figure out how to fix this? Sure is hard to say.

Russia, if you’re listening…

Wednesday, January 29th, 2020

if you’re listening to the President’s representatives in the well of the Senate…well, they’re trying to put forth a theory of a President being immune, immune, immune because committing criminal acts as a way of adding to his power or getting re-elected is good for the country as a whole.

Because…why? He’s the sun king? He’s the state writ golden?

Nah, he’s a hoodlum.

Dissenting on the wall.

Tuesday, January 28th, 2020

We had something to pick up from the library next door (our branch is being rebuilt so we’re on a tour of neighboring Atlanta Fulton Library branches.) And I read that an exhibition based on a book by Milton Glaser and Mirko Ilić called The Design of Dissent was in its last weeks at MODA—the Museum of Design Atlanta, check it out when you’re in town.

So we went in and breathed deeply and enjoyed the energy and I daresay it cleansed the palette a bit. No wait, That’s cleansed the palate, right? A palette is something that…designers and artists use. Hmmm.

The ‘expanded edition’ of their book has this subtitle: Greed, Nationalism, Alternative Facts, and the Resistance.

There was some powerful work and some powerful inspiration here. Ironically, the images with George W. or Reagan seemed like cries for help from another era. Eh, I guess that’s about right.

More recalibration is called for.

Uncalibrated.

Monday, January 27th, 2020

The news cycle the past 48 hours was dominated by the death of basketball star Kobe Bryant, his daughter, and the still fairly anonymous “others.” Very sad that they died in that way (as sad as when anyone perishes in a flying machine that for whatever reasons, is being operated out of its safety zone.)

But how the event was reported is a sign of how the American press seems to struggle with calibration. Somehow the emotional component of the story (and certainly, there is one) overwhelms the story itself. In this age of internet-transmitted misinformation, the story of the crash has to somehow transcend the inaccurate reporting that seems to be flung automatically and simultaneously now when, well, when anything happens.

So the young reporters, raised in a more fragile age with a toolkit seemingly sorely lacking in nuance and quiet nouns and adjectives, pull out all the stops, declaring Bryant iconic (because they don’t seem to have any words for “really really really significant in modern American culture.” So he of course is iconic, and, because they like to turn “impact” into a clumsy adjective, his effect on the world was super impactful. They try to communicate profound impact, but they struggle, since the real impact has not really come into focus yet. This is a big story, yes. And it’s vying for pixels and airtime admidst impeachment and coronavirus and a national election and grammy awards and since reporters only have a limited toolbox, and they’re feeling emotional, they communicate those emotions, leaving the sparser facts (at this point) somewhat muffled in their wake.

And now, in day two, the system churns as it does, and we see tweets like “BBB Warns of Clickbait Scams After Kobe Bryant Tragedy.” “NBA: Petition to Change The NBA Logo.” “The Mossad Killed Kobe Bryant.” WHAT!?

This is how news and its toxic byproducts arrive now, screaming and overinflated and far far away from telling a real sober story of the deceased, among them the extremely famous dad, his daughter, a baseball coach, his wife and daughter, an assistant girls basketball coach, a mother and daughter…who came along for a tragic ride. Oh, and the pilot. They all were real people, with flaws and inspiring characteristics I’m sure, but we probably won’t get a calibrated look at all of that for quite a while while the noise settles down.

The San Antonio Spurs just tweeted “There are no words that can describe how everybody feels.” Well, yeah, exactly. So maybe we should just be quiet for a bit and let those emotions and feelings wash over people individually…and silently.

When the modern journalistic toolbox fails you, go back to first principles. What happened? To Who? When? Where? and when we know, Why?

@jcburns January 26, 2020 at 8:08 pm

Utility pole playing hide and seek.

Television, the miracle explained.

Saturday, January 25th, 2020

We watched an old (a 13 year old!) episode of 30 Rock tonight where Jack Donaghy complimented Kenneth, the NBC Page: “I wish I had your passion for television.”

I think my passion for television is more than a half-century out-of-date and focused in the technical nooks and crannies, far from the spotlights and stars. TV for me was science blended with design and entertainment, with just a touch of magic and good luck.

In recent days I came across these two parts of a stunningly old documentary that attempts to explain the technical side of ‘The Miracle of Television,’ set at Portland station KPTV in the mid 1960s. It was uploaded to YouTube by ‘doggies2009‘, ask for him? her? by name.

Here’s part one. Here’s part two.

It’s…best experienced under the influence of…something strong. From the perky fake needle-drop music to the authoritative narration of Blaine Hanks, this documentary…well, it’s not awful. It is accurate, and it most definitely is of a time. A time when I was less than 10 years old. A time when I thought the idea of live television entering the huge turrets of a gigantic camera and pouring out into our living room was miraculous indeed.

The Parallax View.

Friday, January 24th, 2020

I spent a while this afternoon listening to this podcast (caution, very geeky and behind-the-scenes) that discussed new techniques for shooting that involve environments that are projected on really big, really high res, all-but-cycloramic LED panels that encircle the actors, casting enough light that if the scene on the screen is “outdoors”, the bounce and fill and reflections and all of that stuff are just as they should be. Sunlight is sunlight, casting shadows! An overcast day is diffuse and low-key.

But the thing with flat cycs is that when you move the camera closer, higher, lower, or any which way in relation to the backdrop, it doesn’t change the way the world really does when you look out the window of your house. Move a foot to the right, and you see parts of what was behind your car, and the house across the street shifts to show you just a tad more of the tree that’s behind it.

So, with the help of massive GPU units reminiscent of the highest-end video games, this system tracks the position of the camera within “the volume” along with all kinds of lens data and changes perspective and parallax correctly on the fly. You get closer to the wall, you “see” more peeking out from around the foreground. That is some very, very sophisticated math to handle in real time.

The production which is the latest to make use (extensive use) of this approach is Disney’s The Mandalorian, and the podcast above is an interview with Baz Idoine, one of the show’s cinematographers—the directors of photography.

Two images from a tweet by the CBC (@THECBCYT)

The cinematographer works with the 3d modelers and “lights” the scene that is then displayed on the LED cyclorama, and that’s a lot of the work done right there. Set-up is (ultimately) faster, the results can be seamless, and when you’re shooting a series about a bounty hunter in a reflective helmet, getting “real” reflections is a big bonus too.

This is an evolution of technology that started with the films Gravity, Rogue One, and First Man, but we’re reaching the point where it’s not novel, it’s (almost?) convenient.

You can read a lot more about this new tech here, and I’m looking forward to the latest? next? issue of American Cinematographer, which apparently examines this in great detail.

[UPDATE: No, the article is in ICG Magazine’s Feb-Mar 2020 issue. ICG is the journal of the International Cinematographer’s Guild. Great article.]

Clearly, I’m fascinated by this. I would love to spend an afternoon on a ladder in a studio watching these folks make this work.