SMPTE Gathers in Hollywood for Annual Media Technology Summit, Where 8K Resolution Proves to Be a Contentious Topic

SMPTE Media and Tech Summit 2022

Image via SMPTE/Facebook

Those Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE) convened its annual Media Tech Summit in person for the first time since 2019 late last month at the Loews Hollywood Hotel, where Arizona State University associate professor. Ana Herruzowho works in emerging and computational media, gave the keynote address on “Enhancing Creative Disciplines Through Emerging Computational Tools.”

Director A Lee was awarded an honorary membership, SMPTE’s highest honor, “in recognition of his extensive pioneering innovation in [the] Deployment of New Technologies to Enhance Theatrical Storytelling,” as was Charles H. Jablonski “in recognition of his decades of pushing the cutting edge in entertainment production and distribution, as well as his service to the education and mentorship of young entertainment engineers.”

HPA Women in Post and SMPTE Hollywood join forces to produce a down-to-earth conversation with notable key players at the forefront of technological change in the M&E industry. Moderated by Universal Pictures’ Annie ChangPanelists included Sony Pictures Entertainment’s Emmanuel Borde; Blu Digital Group Paulette PantojaLionsgate Theresa Millerand Blockchain Creative Labs’ Gia Elliott.

Chang first asked what new technologies these executives are looking at, to which Borde, Pantoja and Miller mentioned the cloud and automation, while Elliott mentioned blockchain and the metaverse, of course.

“We’re looking at how to optimize the cloud,” Borde said. “The limitation is the price compared to on-prem.”

Pantoja said her company is focusing on cloud-based post-workflows and, “as much as possible, automation, so we can take advantage of what humans do.”

Miller also mentions “ML/AI in terms of data science on the corporate side, to see what movies bring people to theaters.”

SMPTE Media and Tech Summit 2022

Image via SMPTE/Facebook

All of the executives stressed that staying curious is the key to staying relevant in the industry.

“Technologists like to learn new things,” Miller said, while Borde added that they like to “see how other industries solve problems.”

When Chang asked them what technologies they predicted will affect the future, Borde mentioned virtual production and AR; Miller pointed out that “AI is coming to the workplace,” and Pantoja pointed to AR and the metaverse.

“Blockchain is the wild west right now,” Elliott said. “I see a future where there are actual owners of digital assets and the fan gets closer to the process of creating the content. That means better content, more diversity and more voices.

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Several of the executives started their careers as software developers. Miller started as a developer at MGM and then became involved in technology auditing.

“I also did other types of auditing, so it really taught me the business,” she said. “Then I returned to IT in an executive position.”

Elliott revealed that she never thought she would go into technology. “I thought I must be super good at math,” she said. “I never considered it a creative medium. Now that I do, I can’t believe I ever thought that.

Chang asked them if they had ever experienced “imposter syndrome” as one of the few women in a male-dominated tech sector.

“Constantly questioning yourself is not a bad thing,” Pantoja said. “It’s only a problem if it prevents you from asking for a raise or a different role in the company. Eventually, you find out that no one has all the answers, but I still wonder what keeps me on my toes.”

You have to “fake it till you make it,” Borde advised.

The executives also talked about the different ways they mentor women in their companies, as well as students seeking STEM careers.

“We support local charities that focus on women in underserved communities from elementary school to women who need a second career,” Lionsgate’s Miller said. “I also support STEM Advantage which matches Cal State University students with internships.”

Elliott noted that, as someone who facilitates ideation sessions, she likes to keep track of who’s talking. “I always go back to the people who had a point, but are less vocal, to make sure they have a chance to be heard.”

In another session, data scientists Yves BergquistDirector of USC’s Entertainment Technology Center Project Hedy Blockchain Initiative, spoke about the evolution and promise of blockchain in the M&E industry.

“We found about a dozen use cases,” he revealed. “They include content security, NFTs, the metaverse, community management, and archiving.”

Bergquist added that ETC launched Project Hedy “to create an industry-owned and operated metadata repository on [the] blockchain.” “Right now that’s being monetized by private companies,” he said. “Our goal is to have an industry-wide group to have a repository that can be trusted, resilient and secure.”

David Stump, Bruce Markoe, Kylee Pena, Josh Limor, and Joachim Zell/SMPTE/Debra Kaufman

Later, SMPTE Hollywood produced a discussion on “Leading technologies and their effects on creative decisions.” Moderated (and co-produced with Belinda Merritt) by Marvel Studios’ Mark ZornPanelists included cinematographer David Stump, ASC; SMPTE Hollywood Region Governor Kyle Pena; Marvel Studios’ Daniel Costa; IMAX and Bruce Markoe; Paramount Global Josh Limorand the boat Joachim Zell.

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Zorn first envisioned extended reality/virtual production stages as an emerging technology influencing creativity.

“It’s actually gone from being a novel and tremendous new technology to just being another tool in the box,” Stump said. “And it has changed some paradigms. We are used to leaving decisions to post-production and thinking to ourselves at the last minute, but XR does not allow you that luxury: Now you have to commit to something when you go on stage.

Markoe added that “using these tools in a live environment, there is a wide variation of knowledge and skills to produce this type of content.” “We’ve done a lot of virtual set tests in IMAX and some of them look really bad,” he said, emphasizing the need for training.

Pena agrees, adding that “the vocabulary isn’t there … and there’s a domino effect of bad creative choices.”

Finally, Stump revealed that ASC is “just getting started” on a master glossary of relevant terms.

Limor went on to point out that there have been “many iterations” of virtual production, starting with greenscreen and bluescreen. “It’s about the foreground space as well as the background space that we have to pay attention to,” he said.

Zell said that “we always have to mix real shots with XR production shots – the trick is to make it the same, that’s where the color scientist comes in.”

Stump agreed that “color management is very difficult in LED wall production,” and Limor insisted that the “LED [screen] was never designed to be a lighting source. “We know we need to add additional lights,” Limor said. “When you step into a volume, the bulbs will lean different colors on each side of the volume.”

Costa revealed that Marvel Studios has used LED walls for three movies, two of which have yet to be released. “The only thing we’ve found to be very successful is what we’ve done with the poor man’s trial,” she said. But, she added, although LED monitors add a lot of cost, it can be an ideal method to create, for example, a 12-hour magic hour or for productions that cannot afford to go on location.

SMPTE Media and Tech Summit 2022

Image via SMPTE/Facebook

Emerging 8K resolution quickly became a controversial topic at the end of the panel.

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“We did endless tests to compare HDR at 2K vs 4K and, yes, you can see the differences in different types of shots,” said Costa. “But it’s rare, and generally you don’t always want things that crisp. Sometimes less is more.” She reminded the audience that “all VFX shots are done in 2K” and upscaled to 4K when needed. “No one has an interest in 8K, but everyone is very excited about HDR,” Costa added.

Stump notes that “among cinematographers, the discussion always comes back to lenses.” “A very small percentage of the time, you’re talking about getting most of the resolution,” he said. “But most of the time they’ll talk about lenses from the 1950s or 1960s and the great look they got.”

Pena — recently employed at Netflix and in the process of moving to Adobe — made the strongest statement. “I mainly think 8K is a waste of time,” she said. “It has validity in sports, but as a post-production person I don’t want you shooting in 8K and dumping all that footage on the editor to finish in HD or 2K. The benefit-to-suffering ratio is not worth it to me.”

Instead, Pena mentioned the potential power of Web 3.0 to “change the notion of ownership and the creator/fan relationship” as well as generative AI.

“The production tools don’t suppress creativity,” Stump concluded. “Creativity is what pushes the tools of production and it should always be that way.” He added that he “wants to see technology in the hands of kids for whom technology has always been there.”

A group of young people attended a speed-networking event organized by SMPTE and SMPTE’s Hollywood section for students in the M&E sector. At a dozen round tables, each dedicated to a topic such as broadcasting, editing, and sound, among others, two industry experts answered the questions of students who moved from table to table in a “speed-dating” format.

Judging by the robust presence of young people, the animated conversation, and the networking, future technologies will be in good hands.

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