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From Bandersnatch to the Shutdown: A Preview of the 2019 HPA Tech Retreat

By Mark Schubin

Main Program

On the last day of the 2018 HPA Tech Retreat, I watched in amazement as I battled a monstrous George Clooney on screen.  The audience roared with laughter.  A presentation with the seemingly dry title of “Virtual Cinematography and Storytelling Engines” came to life as Joachim Zell of EFILM asked for suggestions and assembled a resulting movie in real time.

That’s the HPA Tech Retreat in a nutshell: being surprised and learning things you never expected.  Old timers might remember the time the official from the Department of Defense showed real-time targeting coordinates on Mile High Stadium in Denver.  Or the time a team converted a local movie theater to 3D so quickly that we could still smell the glue behind the silver screen.  Or the time a blind man navigated video menus without difficulty.

So telling what I expect from the 2019 event is both easy and hard.  The easy part is: I expect to be surprised and to learn.  The hard part is: I don’t yet know what.  But, based on the latest schedule. I’ve got some ideas.

Consider “Bandersnatch.”  It’s an episode of the series Black Mirror, and, if you’ve read anything from The Hollywood Reporter to The Jakarta Post in the last month or so, you know it’s interactive—viewers get to make decisions about which way the story goes.  But how does it work?  I expect to learn that from Netflix at the 2019 HPA Tech Retreat.  I also expect to learn about Netflix’s immersive sound, their awesome database and viewing algorithm, how they deal with a cinematographer’s intent on wildly varying TV sets, and even what they’ve been doing with 4K anime.

That’s one company, albeit one of the FANG group dominating the internet (Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, and Google).  But Microsoft’s most-recent growth figures for web services have exceeded Amazon’s; I’m interested in learning more about that.

Meanwhile, Netflix movies have been appearing in cinema auditoriums as well as on home TV screens, and those cinema screens are starting to get as varied as the TV sets.  What happens to sound when viewers watch a solid LED panel instead of a perforated screen?  What happens to motion as brightness increases?  And what happens to high dynamic range in viewing environments with varying ambient lighting?  I expect to learn more about all of those.

As I write this, the U.S. is in a partial government shutdown.  Does that affect movies and television in ways different from everything else?  What else is going on in Washington that affects us?

Got an eight-foot-high ceiling?  Then you can’t fit Samsung’s new 219-inch MicroLED display into your living room.  What else was shown at CES?

Are “deep fakes” indistinguishable from the real thing?  Do we need to start shooting in 8K?  Can AI be used for film restoration?  Is ATSC 3.0 vs. 5G a thing?  Can SMPTE 2110 boil down to a pinky-sized SFP?  What comes after time code?  Is 9:16 more important than 16:9?  Does cheap off-the-shelf hardware really work?  Is intra-file editing a good idea?  Do synthetic shutters work?  What technologies are involved in eSports?  Can drones be used to create point-cloud scenes?  Is subtitling finally getting standardized?  Will machines take over boring jobs?

All of that is relatively new stuff.  There’s also evolution.  What is the state of cloud workflows?  What’s been going on with ACES, and what’s ACESNext?  Is blockchain doing anything for us?  Why has the Academy come up with a software foundation (really, a foundation)?  I expect to keep learning throughout the week.

Why does the Navajo nation have a “strategic digital plan”?  And why is an organization called Meow Wolf, which began as a Santa Fe art collective associated with Game of Thrones author George R. R. Martin, going to do a presentation on a two-ton “intergalactic mech” entailing spatial computing for location-based entertainment?  I’ve visited their House of Eternal Return on multiple occasions, and, when I stepped into the refrigerator in the kitchen—well, that was their older technology.  I want to learn what’s new, and I certainly expect to do so at the 2019 HPA Tech Retreat.

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