======================================================================== Cybernetics in the 3rd Millennium (C3M) -- Volume 4 Number 7, Sep. 2005 Alan B. Scrivener --- www.well.com/~abs --- mailto:abs@well.com ========================================================================

DV 4 Me, C?

(Part One)

The screen is a dim page spread before us, white and silent. The film has broken, or a projector bulb has burned out. It was difficult even for us, old fans who've always been at the movies (haven't we?) to tell which before the darkness swept in. The last image was too immediate for any eye to register. -- Thomas Pynchon, 1973 "Gravity's Rainbow" ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0140188592/hip-20 ) [Note: this issue of C3M is late mostly because of a disk crash. Back up early and often! Also, I'd like to dedicate this issue to Rik Rusovick, who urged me seven years ago to tell this tale.] This column is about Digital Video and the computerization of the film business. It is also about what it was like for me to live in the LA Basin for 12 years, from 1986 to 1998. The two will remain forever entwined in my mind. Ultimately this is a tale of how "digital" is eating everyone in Hollywood's lunches. But to make sense of this story it is necessary to back up a few years, and and look at some of the other lunches that the microcomputer revolution has eaten.


When a visitor to Athens commented that the city's famous democracy existed on the backs of slaves, Plato replied, "When the looms spin by themselves we'll have no need for slaves." -- Ben Bova, 2003 "As Much As We Make Our Tools, We Are Also Made By Them" ( www.marconews.com/03/07/perspective/d944707a.htm ) There is an old story from the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, about a businessman who hired a boy to pump water. The clever boy figured out how to rig a water wheel to pump the water. When the businessman returned, he fired the boy. This story is like a parable with an ink-blot for a moral. Different people see: "Hide your innovations," or "Hire the boy to design pumps" or "Just do the work and stay out of trouble" or "Find a better way for labor and capital to share benefits" in this story. The recent version of the boys and their water wheels are the chip engineers making Moore's Law come true, and the myriad applications for the Digital. As long ago as 1979, pre PC, pre cell phone, pre Web, computer business pioneer -- and casualty -- Adam Osborn wrote his own history of Silicon Valley, "Running Wild: The Next Industrial Revolution" ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0079310281/hip-20 ) in which he told the tale of how the chip makers ate the lunches of the makers of calculators and watches. The steps were: * The chip vendors approached the analog device vendors, explaining they could make a cheaper {calculator/watch}. * The analog vendors didn't get it, thought the demo looked like a "toy," but decided to introduce a "novelty" version anyway in the HIGH end market. (Everybody knows computers and electronics are expensive.) * The chip vendors tried to explain that it was a $1 million set-up charge, and then 1 cent per chip. If you could create a mass market they could be as cheap as disposable items. * After waiting a while for the analog vendors to "get it," the chip vendors got impatient and ate their lunch, producing their own super-cheap {calculator/watch}. Ultimately these were free with magazine subscriptions. Harvard Business School's Clayton M. Christensen revealed in the 1997 book "The Innovator's Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail" how this pattern actually preceded the digital age. ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0066620694/hip-20 ) I have flogged this book before in these pages, and I will again. Understanding Christensen's concept of a "disruptive technology" is vital to survival here in the 21st Century. About the same time Kevin Kelly wrote, in "WIRED" magazine, "New Rules for the New Economy" ( www.fsa.ulaval.ca/personnel/vernag/REF/Textes/Kelly.html ) in which he described how price inversions happen in a "Network Economy." He said: Almost from their birth in 1971, microprocessors have lived in the realm of inverted pricing. Now, telecommunications is about to experience the same kind of plunges that microprocessor chips take -- halving in price, or doubling in power, every 18 months -- but even more drastically. The chip's pricing flip was called Moore's Law. The net's flip is called Gilder's Law, for George Gilder, a radical technotheorist who forecasts that for the foreseeable future (the next 25 years), the total bandwidth of communication systems will triple every 12 months. The conjunction of escalating communication power with shrinking size of ... nodes at collapsing prices leads Gilder to speak of bandwidth becoming free. What he means is that the price per bit transmitted slides down an asymptotic curve toward the free. An asymptotic curve is like Zero's tortoise: with each step forward, the tortoise gets closer to the limit but never actually reaches it. An asymptotic price curve falls toward the free without ever touching it, but its trajectory closely paralleling the free is what becomes important. In the Network Economy, bandwidth is not the only thing headed this way. Mips-per-dollar calculations head toward the free. Transaction costs dive toward the free. Information itself - headlines and stock quotes -- plunges toward the free. Indeed, all items that can be copied, both tangible and intangible, adhere to the law of inverted pricing and become cheaper as they improve. While it is true that automobiles will never be free, the cost per mile will dip toward the free. It is the function per dollar that continues to drop. For consumers, this is heaven. For those hoping to make a buck, this will be a cruel world. Prices will eventually settle down near the free (gulp!), but quality is completely open-ended at the top. For instance, all-you-can-use telephone service someday will be essentially free, but its quality can only continue to ascend, just to keep competitive. Almost as a final insult, the computer industry has begun to cannibalize itself. It turns out one of the easiest things to use digital technology to make obsolete is . . . digital technology! There's an old vulgar joke with the punchline "it's your turn in the barrel." I wont repeat it here -- if you're curious, google it -- but it reminds me that here in the Digital Millennium we all get a turn in the barrel. We'll return to this phenomenon when we get to Computer Generated Images (CGI) and Digital Video (DV).


By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion. -- Psalm 137:1 WHITE ELEPHANTS -- the God of Hollywood wanted white elephants, and white elephants he got -- eight of 'em, plaster mammoths perched on mega-mushroom pedestals, lording it over the colossal court of Belshazzar, pasteboard Babylon built beside the dusty tin-lizzie trail called Sunset Boulevard... -- Kenneth Anger, 1975 "Hollywood Babylon" ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0440153255/hip-20 ) Has there always been a Biblical component to America's love/hate relationship with Hollywood? The Rastafarians see America as the "Great Babylon," but I believe many of the Jews who came from New York to LA around the turn of the last century to found the film industry, fleeing anti-Semitism and Edison's patent-enforcement goons, saw Hollywood as yet another Babylon for the exile of the Hebrews. D. W. Griffith's 1916 silent epic, "Intolerance: Love's Struggle Through the Ages" ( www.answers.com/topic/intolerance-movie ) made the metaphor literal, leaving the giant elephant temple to crumble in the sun on Sunset Blvd. for years afterward. In a bizarre turn of events these elephants have been re-created just recently in a shopping mall at Hollywood and Highland. ( www.keysermarston.com/Expertise/Real_Estate/Hollywood-Highland.htm ) ( www.publicartinla.com/sculptures/hollywood_highland ) The mall includes an art installation called "The Road to Hollywood" (2001) by Erika Rothenberg, ( www.theroadtohollywood.com/rth/rtohwd.shtml ) which combines personal narratives on breaking into showbiz into a giant board-game format, complete with Casting Couch. In my personal mythology Hollywood was like Sodom and Gomorrah. After my family moved from the east to San Diego in 1959, we made one trip to Los Angeles, to visit my newly-arrived uncle in the early 1960s in his apartment there. (I adored him, because he liked practical jokes and taught them to me. But the man was a ne'er-do-well who brought nothing but grief to his relations for his entire life and then some, and somehow my mother figured this out early on and made sure I very nearly never saw him again.) After that we never went to LA. The farthest north we would venture was Disneyland. On a few family vacations in northern California we'd dash through the LA basin in the dead of night. During my senior year of high school some cousins came to visit, and requested a trip to Hollywood. I was embarrassed by all the hookers on street corners. And when I started going to college in 1971 in northern California, and making the trip between San Diego and Santa Cruz frequently, I continued to avoid LA. There were drizzly, foggy days in the redwoods when I walked to the main library of the UCSC campus and read the magazine "American Cinematographer." My favorite issue was about George Lucas and the making of "THX 1138" (movie 1971) ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B0002CHIKG/hip-20 ) He'd done it all in the San Francisco Bay area, working out of Coppola's "American Zoetrope" studios, shooting mostly on location. I was encouraged by the story of a young, brilliant director working OUTSIDE of Hollywood. Also in Santa Cruz I met a genuine "mediafreak" named Doren Kim Levitt. We ended up roommates for a while. He shows up again later in this story. When I lived in a dorm without a TV, and later when I was on a bicycle journey across America, the one TV show I made sure to watch every years was the "Oscars" Every now and then I entertained fantasies about living in L.A. I would read about it. Artists seemed to like it. But I worried I'd have to cut my hair short, become shallow, wear aviator sunglasses and drive a convertible -- I even foresaw the need for a mobile phone. The wanderings of my youth took me to Texas, Florida, Massachusetts, and finally back to my home town of San Diego, California, 120 miles south of Los Angeles.


Colonel "Madman" Maddox: To Hollywood... and glory! -- Robert Zemeckis & Bob Gale, 1979 "1941" screenplay ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0783231032/hip-20 ) When my wife and I lived in Massachusetts, Kim Levitt was not too far away in Washington, D.C., learning to program minicomputers on HUD's nickel. We would hang with him now and then. By the time we got back to San Diego, he was living in Hollywood. From around 1983 onward we made frequent trips up to camp on his floor and wander Hollywood with him. We'd lean out of his car window rubbernecking at the old HOLLWOOD(LAND) sign and shouting "Horrywood!" like the Japanese submarine crew in the movie "1941" and he tell us to quit it, we looked like tourists. By 1984 the hookers were gone -- driven out by the LAPD in advance of the Olympics -- and post-modernism was beginning to bring sorely needed neo- Victorian touches and pink neon to Hollywood's run-down Art Deco. Kim worked as a "videotape technician" for ABC LA, because ABC NY (the HQ) had banned computers from California, and they needed Kim to program their illegal VAX, which they called a videotape editing system. I began visiting LA on business, helping to sell pioneering computer graphics equipment to aerospace companies like Hughes, Rockwell, and McDonnell-Douglas. One day I had some extra time so I got Kim to give me a tour of where he worked at ABC Television. One thing that stood out for me was the way TV shows shot in LA were distributed. I believe they were delivered to NY on 1" videotape by courier, and then sent via satellite to all the ABC affiliates, including LA, where they were re-recorded on 1" videotape, simultaneously on two decks. Then when it was time for the show to air, both decks would play: one would send the signal to the antenna for broadcast to the LA TV market, and other was a backup. I noticed that even after these several generations of analog copying, the picture was incredibly sharp and clear. (It was a "Laverne and Shirley" rerun.) I asked Kim what would happen if I pressed the "STOP" button on the primary VCR. "Well, I'd probably lose my job for one thing," he explained. Another thing he showed me was a giant video mixing "board" made of thin rectangular panels of knobs stacked side by side like a picket fence with no gaps. ( www.haywirerecording.com/images/mackie_2408-big.jpg ) Kim explained that some of these modules did "digital effects," but all the interconnects were analog, so each signal was converted A-to-D, digitally modified for some "effect," and converted D-to-A in each module before being passed on to the next one. "That's insane!" I said. Obviously you could get lossless transfer if you passed true digital video signals from module to module and only did A/D and D/A at the ends of the board, if at all. Kim explained that the most popular "digital" format just had an analog scan line (will all its NTSC format baggage) digitized for each row, not a rectangular array of pixels. I was aghast. But what I didn't realized is that when the digital nirvana arrived, the boards themselves would vanish and be replaced by virtual boards on computer monitors. ( www.klemm-music.de/motu/performer/regler5.gif ) It was around this time that I abstracted this pattern, mostly from watching music videos on MTV in the '80s when it was good: "Yesterday's technical difficulties are today's special effects"


The shopping district of Melrose Avenue became known as an underground rock and artist district throughout the '80s, marked by stores such as Poseur, Vinyl Fetish, Soap Plant and Flip. Retail Slut opened in 1983 as one of the first shops to bring punk and gothic styles to Melrose. -- Retail Slut store history page ( retailslut.com/store_hist.html ) Eventually the long-term consulting contract for Rockwell in Downey turned into a permanent position, and I moved there. A few things happened that seemed almost like the "omens" in the novel "Nova" (1968) by Samuel Delaney ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0375706704/hip-20 ) or the movie "The Deer Hunter" (1978) directed by Michael Cimino ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0783225997/hip-20 ) in which an eager adventurer at the very beginning of their journey meets a veteran of a similar journey, who offers a dismal prognosis. In my case I was suddenly spending a lot of time hanging out in Hollywood with Kim, my only friend in the area. U2 came out with a "Hollywood Mix" video of their song "Desire" (1988) ( www.discogs.com/release/194943 ) ( search.ebay.com/search/search.dll?cgiurl=http%3A%2F%2Fcgi.ebay.com%2Fws%2F&fkr=1&from=R8&satitle=u2+desire&category0= ) with what sounded like audio "samples" from LA TV newscasts, saying things like: In Hollywood tonight, Hollywood In Hollywood tonight, Hollywood, Hollywood * * * The suspect reportedly pulled out a .25 caliber Handgun and shot the victim in the shoulder Shot the victim in the shoulder Shot the victim in the shoulder From reading in histories of LA I knew that since at least the 1900s about half the residents of LA County at any point in time had been there less than 5 years. As Alice said, "People come and go so quickly here." A report in the newspaper said people were moving out of the LA basin in record numbers. The top five complaints given were crime, pollution, crowding, traffic and the poor quality of local TV news broadcasts. (!) I was at a party in Hollywood and one guy said he'd been living there a while and felt like he had to leave. He told me that the other day he saw a guy dressed like Jesus, with a crown of thorns and fake blood, carrying a large wooden cross. "I wasn't at all surprised," he said. "That's how I know I've been here too long." Concrete Blonde had a video out of their song "Still In Hollywood" (1987) and I saw it at Kim's one day on MTV. They sang: I was walking down the street, early this morning And the silver tears of rain hung from the leaves And I swear I heard the voices singing to me... Singing to the rhythm of the beat of my feet, I swear I heard the voices singing to me - Keep on, keep on, keep on. Still in Hollywood! Oh Wow! Thought I'd be out of here by now. Still in Hollywood! My, my I'm running on a wheel and I don't know why I don't know why. ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B0002234WM/hip-20 ) The accompanying video showed the members of Concrete Blonde pushing a punked-up, broken-down VW beetle overloaded with luggage through a bad part of Hollywood (gang graffiti on crumbling brick walls of derelict industrial buildings, wrought iron bars over 1920s art deco bungalow windows) trying to get out of Hollywood. It seemed like a lot of people were trying to "Escape From L.A." so to speak...


With a big nasty redhead at my side Santa Ana wind blowin' hot from the north And we was born to ride Roll down the window, put down the top Crank up the beach boys, baby Don't let the music stop We're gonna ride it till we just can't ride it no more From the south bay to the valley From the west side to the east side Everybody's very happy 'Cause the sun is shining all the time Looks like another perfect day I love L.A. -- Randy Newman, 1983 "I Love L.A." ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B000002KYN/hip-20 ) A lot of people were trying to escape from L.A., but not me! I was learning to love it. When I first moved to Downey to work for Rockwell International's Space Station Systems Division, my wife had a few months left of college in San Diego to get a degree, so we agreed to live apart. I was able to live a few miles from the plant (in the Polynesian- themed Tahitian Village Motel, and later at the Polynesian-themed Kona Garden Apartments) ( roadsidepeek.com/tiki/index.htm ) ( www.critiki.com/cgi-bin/pictures.cgi?loc_id=48 ) and bicycle to work. So here I was in the LA basin, in what the Firesign Theater calls "the grid" of streets stretching about fifty miles in any direction, with no car. I spent many evenings dining alone, and I began reading guide books to LA and Hollywood checked out of libraries. I took careful notes, later word-processed them and made a notebook full of things I wanted to see and do in LA. I knew I wouldn't stay there all my life, and I looked upon the time I would spend there as being immersed in one giant theme park. (I was in my own way trying to disprove Woody Allen's claim that the only cultural advantage to living in LA is being able to make a right turn on a red light.) One guide book, "Los Angles: The City Observed" (1984) book, by post-modern great Charles Moore, said on the back cover: Looking at most cities involves seeing a lot of buildings. Looking at Los Angeles involves experiencing a lot of RIDES. It is hard to avoid experiencing a ride with your whole body, not just with your eyes. Another book, "Los Angeles" (book 1984) ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/019540601X/hip-20 ) had an introduction by Ray Bradbury -- he called it a "provocation" -- entitled "I Only Do It To Annoy, Because I Know It Teases" (the title being a paraphrase of Lewis Carroll) in which he talked about how he loved loving LA, ands loved to unmercifully tease those who claimed they didn't. It begins: Do what, to annoy and tease whom? Cry 'salaam', 'hallelujah' and 'gloria' to Los Angeles, thereby causing millions of enraged peasants in Chicago, Detroit, New York and Washington, D.C. to throw themselves to the earth, writhing in ecstasies of envy and malice. That has been my business for some years now; to provoke and enrage those mobs who show up on our California doorstep to torch the castle, but stay on for blithe tiffins with the Monster. The Monster is, of course, Los Angeles, and I am a Child of the Beast, its chief critic, but its staunch defender. Before you hurl this book across the room, and then yourself fall frothing to the floor, already tried beyond endurance, let me give you a few examples of how I have intuited Los Angeles and its tourist drop-ins in the past. A New York editor friend, intellectual art critic and part-time snob, arrived here some twenty years ago, to unpack his suitcase of sneers, and paste on his mask of opprobrium. Nothing pleased him. There was no theatre, no food, no city, nothing. In the words of the old 'Two Black Crows' recording, even if it was good he wouldn't like it. 'Corruption,' he cried, 'thy name is Los Angeles!' 'Yes,' I replied, 'and we will, in time, corrupt you. Now hear this: one year from now, you will wake at dawn to find yourself in a Bing Crosby sports shirt, all bleeding hibiscus, as you tool along our palm-lined avenues in an open sports car, wiggling your Mickey Mouse ears.' That dawn, needless to say, came not a year later, but within six months. Hearing a glad shout one day, I glanced up to see my friend, thoroughly corrupted, dyed by the sun, inhabiting both sports shirt and open MG, waving as he rushed by to become part of the Cinerama wallpaper of Hollywood. When Emperor Hirohito arrived in Los Angeles I saw him being driven by limousine into the Beverly Wilshire Hotel courtyard. I waved, and the Emperor waved back, as I muttered: 'Bet you twenty he's just visited Disneyland!' That night, there was the Emperor, on TV, lost in Anaheim, shaking hands with the Mouse. I have a formula for handling Easterners who arrive with rusty starch in their shirts and bloodstreams. I give them the L.A. Tour, but end the day at Disneyland, on the Mark Twain steamboat at nine p.m., with a Dixieland Band marching the Saints as fireworks rebuild the sky. The starch vanishes and a most peculiar smile begins to grow around the mouths of my tourist friends. When Francois Truffaut, the French film director of 400 Blows and Jules and Jim, first arrived here he asked me to give him a brief but brilliant tour. 'What,' I asked my wife in a panic, 'should I show Francois to knock him quiche over cognac?' 'The Hollywood Hills,' my wife replied. 'At night, the view of Los Angeles. Are we or are we not the new City of Light?' We took Truffaut up to stare at 400 square miles of stars strewn in every direction. Those lights, that city, is in this book. ( www.photohype.com/G-X/Quote%20Mulholland%20Falls.jpg ) I took a map of the LA basin and began to stick pins it for the attractions in the guidebook. Aside from the area around Pasadena, the theme parks in Orange County, and the odd marooned curiosity like the Watts Towers or the Oldest Original McDonalds in Downey, all of the attractions were in a thin wedge that stretched from downtown west through Hollywood, West Hollywood, Beverly Hills, West Los Angeles, Westwood, and the Santa Monica and Venice beaches. If downtown was the center of a clock face, this wedge was swept by a hand moving from 9 to 10. After the three month exile my wife joined me in Downey and we got a car and began the sightseeing. That fall, 1986, was the premier of "L.A. Law" (TV show 1986 - 1994) created by Steven Bochco. ( imdb.com/title/tt0090466 ) The hallmark ending of the show was some sort of an emotional "shocker" followed by a cut to a black card with white letters: "executive producer Steven Bochco." We called it the "Bochco blackout" and it became a figure of speech, following any sufficiently pause-worthy "zinger." The beginning of the show included the Mercedes trunk slamming shut with the vanity plate "LA LAW" and the helicopter shots of the downtown modern, brutalist, and post-modern LA skyscrapers. ( 777-team.org/Arkisto/historia/kortit_LA1.jpg ) Starting in 1988 I began to fly all over the US on business, returning home to LA from places like New Mexico, Seattle, Orlando and Dallas. One day after a an early spring trip to Boston, where the streets were still lined with slush and the women wear Laura Ashley dresses and beige or red overcoats (upper-middle class) or jeans and black "heavy metal" band t-shirts and leather jackets (lower-middle class) but hardly ever smile in any case, I was driving through a suburb to evade a freeway logjam while trying to get from LAX to my particular suburb (Lakewood as I recall) when I passed what looked like twin teenage girls wearing matching yellow Sports Walkman headphones, yellow mini-dresses and yellow roller skates, plus yellow-rimmed mirrorshade sunglasses, grinning from ear to ear, and I said aloud, "I love LA!"


Well, that's the picture business! -- Gene Towne & Graham Baker, 1937 "The Stand In" screenplay ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00007ELDZ/hip-20 ) One of the unsettling things about living in LA is that your region is under so much scrutiny. There are so many books, movies and TV shows about LA. There are even songs, magazines, comic books and jokes about LA. You drive down the street and there's that coffee shop from that movie. I had the sad duty to visit Council Bluffs, Iowa to attend the funeral of a co-worker who came to LA to find happiness but ended up taking her own life. Her tight-knit, creepy family didn't want her boyfriend -- who like me had flown in from LA -- to attend her funeral. I ended up delivering the message to him. We were in a hotel room across the river in Omaha, Nebraska (which until then I had only associated with "Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom," and the hot air balloon in "The Wizard of Oz") "Why do they hate me?" he asked, rhetorically. "They don't even know me." There was a cardboard sign on top of the TV advertising in-room movies, and it had a picture of the famous "HOLLYWOOD" sign overlooking LA from the Hollywood Hills. ( www.kmzlinks.com/files/TheHollywoodSign.jpg ) I pointed to it and said, "They don't have cards on the TVs in Hollywood that say Omaha." "Huh?" he replied. "They think they know all about us. LA is famous for its evil ways. They think they have enough information to hate you." It was a weird scene. As I sampled media about media, I began to appreciate how ingrown LA was. I had a book, "Hollywood's Hollywood: The Movies About the Movies" (1975) by Rudy Behlmer & Tony Thomas. ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0806506806/hip-20 ) Movies about moviemaking went back as far as 1937's "Stand In" directed by Tay Garnett ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00007ELDZ/hip-20 ) which dealt with the crucial dynamic of bankers vs. artists -- as did Julia Phillips in her 1991 book confession "You'll Never Eat Lunch In This Town Again." ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0451205332/hip-20 ) There was Francois Truffaut's 1973 "Day For Night" ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00007G1ZE/hip-20 ) that looked at the psychology and sociology of the director's job (and even though it was set in France, Hollywood cast a long shadow over it), and 1980's "The Stunt Man" directed by Richard Rush ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00005OCK7/hip-20 ) that delved into the epistemology and philosophy of filmmaking, and had some great location shots in my hometown of San Diego. "The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles" (TV series, 1992 - 1993) created by George Lucas is noteworthy for two reasons; in the episode "Hollywood Follies" ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0792158415/hip-20 ) it also deals with the bankers vs. artists issue, in a well-done approach, also Lucas used the show as a test-bench for developing many of the digital effects he knew he'd need for episodes 1 to 3 of the "Star Wars" series.


See, this Lebowski, he called himself "The Dude". Now, "Dude" -- there's a name no man would self-apply where I come from. But then there was a lot about the Dude that didn't make a whole lot of sense. And a lot about where he lived, likewise. But then again, maybe that's why I found the place so darned interestin'. See, they call Los Angeles the "City Of Angels"; but I didn't find it to be that, exactly. But I'll allow it as there are some nice folks there. * * * Now this here story I'm about to unfold took place in the early '90s -- just about the time of our conflict with Sad'm and the I-raqis. I only mention it because sometimes there's a man... I won't say a hero, 'cause, what's a hero? Sometimes, there's a man. And I'm talkin' about the Dude here -- the Dude from Los Angeles. Sometimes, there's a man, well, he's the man for his time and place. He fits right in there. -- narrator (played by Sam Sheppard) in "The Big Lebowski" (movie 1998) directed by the Cohen brothers ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00007ELEL/hip-20 ) One day I was driving along a freeway near downtown and noticed that the time was nearing 11 minutes after the hour (or maybe it was 21, 31, 41 or 51 minutes after the hour) when radio station KFWB AM 980 ( www.kfwb.com ) has its traffic reports, and I heard there was an accident up ahead. I switched to another freeway and deftly avoided it, losing perhaps a minute from the slight detour. It was only possible because I knew the freeways so well. I realized I was now an Angeleno; I had adapted. I later came to define an Angeleno as one who could pronounce and locate each of these: Cahuenga, Figueroa, La Cienega and Tujunga. When I visited my friends back in San Diego they marveled that I now said things like "take the 5" instead of "take 5" when talking about the Interstate-5 freeway. But they were even more astounded that I sometimes called freeways by NAMES, such as the Hollywood Freeway and the Pasadena Freeway. Indeed, correlating freeway names and numbers is especially tricky in LA where (for example) in the area known as the "Downtown Quadrangle" you have freeways named the Harbor Freeway, the Pasadena Freeway, the Santa Monica Freeway, the San Bernardino Freeway, the Santa Ana Freeway, the Golden State Freeway, and the Pomona Freeway sharing numberings Interstate 5, Interstate 10, Interstate 110, US Highway 101, California State Route 60, and California State Route 110. There are numerous maps of this area on the internet, ( www.johnnyroadtrip.com/cities/losangeles/maps/map_downtownla.htm ) but none of them captures the complexity in quite the way I want, so I drew my own. ( www.well.com/~abs/Cyb/4.669211660910299067185320382047/la_quad.jpg ) The following tables are keyed off of the map; compare them side-by-side. destinations ============ code name ---- ---- A Hollywood B Santa Monica C Los Angeles Harbor (San Pedro) D Santa Ana E Pomona F San Bernardino G Sacramento H Pasadena interchanges ============ code name ---- ---- V Four Level ( en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Four_Level_Interchange ) W {none} X {none} Y I-10 and I-110 ( www.scvresources.com/highways/i_10.htm ) Z East LA Interchange ( en.wikipedia.org/wiki/East_Los_Angeles_Interchange ) ( www.scvresources.com/highways/east_los_angeles_interchange.htm ) freeway segments ================ key: ---- I = Interstate (United States freeway) SR = State Route (California) US = United Sates highway codes number name ----- ------ ---- A-V US-101 Hollywood Freeway H-V SR-110 Pasadena Freeway (formerly SR-11) V-W US-101 Hollywood Freeway W-X ??? ??? X-G I-5 Golden State Freeway X-F I-10 San Bernardino Freeway Z-W US-101 Hollywood Freeway Z-X I-5 Golden State Freeway Z-E SR-60 Pomona Freeway Z-D I-5 Santa Ana Freeway I never have figured out what they call the piece I've labeled W-X, or who pays for it. It probably has signs that say "I-10" and "San Bernardino Freeway" if you're Eastbound, but "US-101" and "Hollywood Freeway" if you're Westbound, though technically you are on neither. As I continued unconsciously adapting to LA, one day I happened upon a collection of humorous essays by "Buzz magazine" columnist Sandra Tsing Loh, "Depth Takes a Holiday" (1996). ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1573226114/hip-20 ) It spoke to me. In one essay she gushes, IKEA! Cry of a Lost Generation I will never forget the day I saw my first IKEA home furnishings catalog. It was early 1991. At the time, I was living in Canoga Park, in a battered house with yellow ocher carpeting and cottage-cheese ceilings that sparkled as gaily as a mirrored ball. That particular day, I was sitting in the living room, among a medley of neo-Salvation Army and marked-down Pier One furniture -- pockmarked chairs, chipped lamps, and rickety end tables that faced away from each other as if they were enemies. I opened the catalog---and in one epiphanic instant, I saw a door swinging wide and a beautiful white light spilling over a land of knotty pine coffee tables with copies of "The Atlantic" scattered on them, leather couches the color of wonderful old saddles, Turkish "Kelim" carpets, blonde bookcases glowing with track lighting, exotic leafy plants nestling in gently glazed terra-cotta pots. I heard mermaids singing, "Come home! Come home!" Tears stung my eyes. Where had I gone astray? Because this was my true "inner" living room. It was as "me" as if I had decorated it myself. It was IKEA-land. Of course, never in my whole California life had I lived in such a place. My parents, bless their hearts, had been given to things formica, a nonworking fireplace festooned with lawn elves, and nougat-colored couches with giant buckles on them. Now, at twenty-nine, genteel boho poverty had landed me with a passel of male roommates whose chief cultural accomplishment seemed to be an eight-foot-high stack of back issues of the Los Angeles Times on our bathroom. And yet, this dream living room of backlit bookcases, tasteful art, and potted ficuses was utterly familiar to me. I had walked through it often in my mind's eye... My wife and I reacted about the same way to IKEA stores opening in our area. Here at last was furniture for the real us, thirty- something former-hippie-yuppies in the baby boomer generation, rebelling with Swedish Modern against our New Deal linoleum and aquamarine parents. Another phenomenon that Ms. Loh mentioned was how people in LA always stay in the movies until the credits are completely over, in case someone they know is in them. I remember attending an LA SIGGRAPH event where they had a panel of people from various F/X companies talking about the problems they had getting proper credit for their people in the credits of movies. I learned that catering companies were listed before CGI companies because historically they had negotiated their contract terms first. (Later, after we'd moved back to San Diego, we stayed for the whole credits in a theater showing "Adaptation" (2002) directed by Spike Jonze, screenplay by Charlie Kaufman, based on the book by Susan Orlean. ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00005JLRE/hip-20 ) This quasi-autobiographical story of screenwriter Charlie Caufman's attempts to adapt the book "The Orchid Thief" to the screen is full of movie in-jokes, including the fictional character of Charlie's twin brother Donald. At the end of the movie my wife and I were alone in the theater with another group that seemed to be in show biz. There was a fake quote by Donald Kaufman at the very end. "And there was a candy at the end!" one of the blurted out.) I guffawed as I read "Los Angeles: Capital of the Third World" (book 1992) by David Rieff, ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0671792105/hip-20 ) a New Yorker who came to LA briefly in in order to hate LA and write about it, only to stay longer and then find one day that he, too was in a Bing Crosby sports shirt, all bleeding hibiscus, tooling along palm-lined avenues in an open sports car, wiggling his Mickey Mouse ears. Not only did I have to deal with the death of a co-worker in LA, but also of my best friend; Kim Levitt passed away in 1991 from HIV, which was at the time decimating the entertainment business, especially so-called "below-the-line" technicians in Hollywood and West Hollywood. There were also riots, fires and mudslides. One night david Letterman called up the retired Johnny Carson from NY and asked how things were going in LA. "Great!" said Johnny, "The mudslides are putting out the fires." As was often the case in L.A., I no sooner noticed a pattern in L.A. than somebody made a movie about it. In "The Rockford Files: I Still Love L.A" (TV movie 1994) directed by James Whitmore Jr. ( imdb.com/title/tt0111008 ) Detective Jim Rockford (played by James Garner) was trying to sell his trailer in Malibu, but riots, fires and mudslides keep kaboshing the deal. I noticed that I was beginning to see movies about movies about movies. As a surprise my wife took me to see "The Player" (1992) directed by Robert Altman. ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0780618564/hip-20 ) It had a couple of interesting gags. In the opening tracking shot, head of studio security Walter Stuckel (Fred Ward) is walking the lot with mailboy Joel Levison (Brion James) talking about movies, and camera keeps peering in studio windows to hear movie pitches. As a commentary in Internet Movie Database says, ( imdb.com/title/tt0105151/trivia ) The 8 minute sequence includes people talking about famous long tracking shots in other movies. The scene was rehearsed for a day, shot for half a day. Fifteen takes were done, five were printed, and the third one was used in the film. The entire sequence was unscripted, and all the dialogue is improvised. Later a person claiming to be a writer -- who has made several attempts on the life of the movie producer protagonist -- says his name is "Joe Gillis." The producer asks his coworkers if anyone knows a Joe Gillis. "It's the name of the dead writer in 'Sunset Blvd.'" someone replies. ( imdb.com/title/tt0043014 ) Of course "Sunset Blvd." (1950) directed by Billy Wilder ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00003CXCW/hip-20 ) is a classic movie-about-movies. In the late 1990s some extremely ironic billboards for ABC television began appearing in LA. As the "suck.com" web site ( www.suck.com/daily/97/08/19/daily.html ) said in an opinion piece: In the midst of all this tube-bashing, here comes ABC-TV, cool as the Fonz, announcing its new ad campaign mockingly reassuring us "Don't Worry, You've Got Billions of Brain Cells." ABC's new "TV is Good For You" campaign, dreamed up by its new ad team at TBWA Chiat/Day, is popping up on billboards, magazines, and on the idiot box itself. "The Couch is Your Friend," screams one black-on-carefully-chosen-hue-of-yellow billboard. Didn't take long for the tut-tutters of the world (Times op-ed columnists, for example) to sound the alarm that they don't get the joke. I wondered, did the folks in Podunk get the joke? Was this LA getting so ingrown that is had gone, as Zappa once said, "beyond the point of audience comprehension?" Or were they all watching "Entertainment Tonight" -- or E! if they had cable -- and becoming "media hip" as they watch LA watch itself? And what did it say about me that I did get these jokes? Had I become the short-haired, shallow guy with a cell phone I'd imagined in Santa Cruz? I did realize that as I had adapted to LA I came to better understand the LA mentality. It seemed like I was inside a labyrinth, both in freeways and sociological constructs. If I'd had a job in show biz that would have been one more layer of the labyrinth to learn. I think this contributes to the feelings in entertainment of both alienation and entitlement. You are separate from the folks in "flyover country" and you have "paid your dues" to gain whatever "media power" you have. I keep remembering that when performance artist Andy Kaufman wanted to make audiences HATE him, as quickly as possible, he would shout "I'm from Hollywood!"


Boom! -- last thing my grandfather ever said to me When the movie F/X industry got its turn in the barrel it was amazing how fast it happened. Early demos looked like "toys" to the analog folks. Computer pioneers may have looked at movies like Disney's "Tron" (1982) ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00005OCMR/hip-20 ) and saw potential, but the rest of Hollywood saw a joke. It wasn't even as good as cartoons! They didn't understand how digital's secret weapon -- Moore's Law -- solves all quality problems with brute force. Two years later, programmers with a Cray were able to smooth-shade millions of polygons to make space ships for "The Last Starfighter" (movie 1984) directed by Nick Castle ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00000IQW3/hip-20 ) and the public assumed they were model shots. Photorealism had been attained, and with it CGI became invisible. The company that accomplished this was Digital Productions. ( www.imdb.com/company/co0053192 ) I worked with a guy named Hambleton Lord who got an inside tour about that time. "Ham" told how he was picked up at the airport by a limo, and taken to this gleaming, new, deco-industrial retro-style building that was extremely hip, with giant silver letters that said "DIGITAL PRODUCTIONS." Inside everything was lux. He said they were living the high life. At the National Computer Graphics Association (NCGA) conference in Anaheim in 1986 Roy E. Disney (Walt's nephew) delivered a speech in which he said the greatest invention for animators was the Xerox machine, and second was the computer. He showed some footage and some stills from Disney Studio's latest animated feature, "The Great Mouse Detective" (movie 1986) directed by Ron Clements & John Musker. ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00005T7H5/hip-20 ) He explained that the gears in the Big Ben scene were computer- generated wire-frame, Xeroxed onto cells and then hand-painted to make animated backgrounds, and then hand-drawn mice on other cells in front were added. ( www.laughingplace.com/files/columns/toon20020805/pic1.jpg ) Meanwhile, from elsewhere in Disney, a group calling itself "The Disney Late Night Animation Group" volunteered their own time to make an unauthorized test film called "Oilspot and Lipstick" (short subject 1986) directed by Michael Cedeno. ( www.bcdb.com/cartoon/36631-Oilspot_and_Lipstick.html ) ( disneyshorts.toonzone.net/years/1986/oilspotandlipstick.html ) It was a complete computer-generated cartoon short subject, and way ahead of its time. Disney ignored its potential. The mid-1980s saw the growth of a CGI "conglomerate" called Omnibus which, lead by John Pennie and investors, ended up assuming Robert Able and Associates and Digital Productions in hostile takeovers. Omni ultimately collapsed itself, as did competitor Cranston-Surry. Everybody always had the same problem: making the mortgage payments on the supercomputer while your competitors -- younger startups -- have bought smaller, cheaper computers that are just as fast. (There's that nasty Moore's Law again.) I remember "Ham" telling me how in the late 1980s he flew into LA, rented a car and promptly got lost. He was driving around in what looked like a bad neighborhood: razor wire, abandoned industrial buildings. He saw a sign that said "ITAL PRO." Was this Italian Professionals? Maybe hit men? Then he realized the scene looked familiar. It was all that was left of "DIGITAL PRODUCTIONS," that building he been taken to by limo just a few years earlier. SO it tuned out the CGI pioneers got their turn in the barrel BEFORE the analog F/X folk. But soon their turn came. Robert Abel sprang back with a new company. At another conference -- I think it was SIGGRAPH 1987 in Anaheim -- he gave a talk about using an Evans and Sutherland PS-300 "vector graphics" system ( www.science.uva.nl/faculteit/museum/evanssuth_fs.html ) to do "pre-visualization" of commercials that were shot on film with real actors and composited using standard optical techniques. In other words, only the pre-visualization was CGI. But it saved so much on re-dos, getting the customer to sign off on the wire- frame animation before doing the expensive live-action and optical effects, that it was worth the high price of the primitive real-time CGI system. Abel believed the day might come soon when you could make money consistently doing CGI visual effects for movies. Six years later George Lucas' Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) doing dinosaurs for Steven Speilberg's "Jurassic Park" (movie 1993) ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00003CXAT/hip-20 ) would prove him right.


I feel like I'm wasting a fortune just standing here! -- 3D graphics version of Homer Simpson in the "Homer ^3" segment of "Treehouse of Horror VI" Simpsons Halloween espisode ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00009N80Z/hip-20 ) ( thecia.com.au/reviews/c/images/cyberworld-in-3d-9.jpg ) ( www.mathsci.appstate.edu/~sjg/math/mathsimpsonstext.html ) To my eyes these are the problems that had to be solved to come up with a total digital solution to visual effects in "the movies" (formerly called "films"). * "hidden line problem" When I began studying computer graphics this problem was unsolved. We students were assured fame and fortune if any of us could find a fast algorithm for removing "hidden lines" in a wire-frame drawing. ( www.dm.unibo.it/~casciola/html/research_rtr.html ) ( www.dm.unibo.it/~casciola/html/images/Wmannequin.gif ) * cheap memory (Z buffer) It turned out that the simplest solution to the "hidden line problem" was to throw away vectors, use polygons instead, and solve the "hidden surface problem" which everybody knew how to solve using a technique called a "Z buffer"; it just took way too much memory. But memory got cheaper and the solution became practical and vector-only 3D graphics hardware (like Evans and Sutherland and Megatek made so well) became extinct. ( www.dm.unibo.it/~casciola/html/images/Fmannequin.gif ) * photorealism Once polygons began to dominate 3D graphics, the holy grail of photorealism was approached by: adding more polygons, smooth shading polygons by interpolating between corners, improving the interpolation, improving the lighting models, texture mapping, bump mapping, environment mapping, and the thing that everybody knew was the right answer but took too much CPU time and memory: ray tracing. Of course, as always, memory became cheaper, and so on... ( images.google.com/images?q=photorealism&ie=ISO-8859-1&hl=en ) * simulation Once the shapes looked realistic (think of the spaceships in "The Last Starfighter") directors wanted them to move in a realistic manner (think of the dinosaurs in "Jurassic Park.") at first these effects were accomplished by hand, using the digital equivalent of stop-motion (think "Gumby"), but then spline-based animation and motion capture were thrown at the problem. The right answer was physical-based simulation, which was once too CPU-intensive to use, but thanks to Moore's Law it was applied first to vehicles, then to creatures, and finally to complicated stuff like cloth, jello, hair and flames. * cheaper computers During the nineties studios transitioned from doing effects "optically" (with analog film tricks) and "practically" (with models and stunts) to using Silicon Graphics, Inc. (SGI) workstations and 3D software running on a UNIX operating system. Effects work at this point cost on the order of $1000 per second of finished footage. Then they transitioned to using Intel-based PC computers running different (but similar) 3D software on a Windows operating system (95 and later NT), at a cost of about $1000 per minute. The next transition was to the free Linux operating system running on the same hardware, and different but similar 3D software, which reduced costs less dramatically. (Anything that comes in a full sized 19 inch rack floor to ceiling, from minicomputers in the 1970s to blocks of blade servers and RAIDS today, seems to eternally cost around $100,000.) * object and camera position algorithms A key software technology developed in the late '90s is the family of techniques that allow automatic (or even human-assisted) calculation of 3D coordinates -- of objects in a scene and of the camera itself -- from 2D film images. This is vital for digital moving mattes and other 3D effects combining real and CG elements. ( www.fxguide.com/fxtips-233.html ) * film scanners Things were in this hybrid mode for a while, when the live footage was all shot on film but the effects were computer- generated images. To combine film and CGI required high quality, high-resolution film scanners. At one time (around 1995) it was reported that twelve different companies were working on film scanners, with Kodak's spinoff Cineon being the odds-on favorite. ( www.kodak.com/US/en/motion/support/dlad ) An early triumph was the digital restoration of Walt Disney's "Snow White" (1938), the first feature-length cartoon. ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00003CXCQ/hip-20 ) When the work was performed in 1993, they could only fit three minutes of film on their disks, so they would scan three minutes, digitally restore them (removing scratches and discolorations), and print back to film, then repeat. * Redundant Arrays of Inexpensive Disks (RAIDs) Which brings us to disk storage. The next bottleneck the film industry needed to widen was the disk capacity, speed and cost. Once again Moore's Law delivered. Many vendors scrambled to give film studios and F/X houses the bigger, faster, cheaper disks they wanted, and some went broke trying. Quality rose, as fiberoptic connections became the high-speed option thanks to the "fiber channel" (ANSI X3.230-1994) standard emerging. ( www.interfacebus.com/Design_Connector_FiberChannel.html ) * FireWire For cheap, fast transfer from cameras to disks without going through film, a fast serial transfer protocol was needed, and FireWire (also known as IEEE-1394) filled the bill. I remember around 1997 everyone was waiting for FireWire, because it was the last barrier to doing video digitally. ( www.faculty.iu-bremen.de/birk/lectures/PC101-2003/13firewire/history.htm ) * DV The Digital Video (DV) standard emerged, and expensive DV cameras became consumer gear with prices falling towards free. A revolution really began at this point, because this stuff was cheap enough for amateurs, yet good enough for pros. A camera that cost $800 in 2001 produced better quality images than most TV stations' big pro cameras could. And the editing at the low end was with iMovie, a program that came free with every Mac. (More on this later.) Next came the push to High Definition (HD) consumer grade cameras, coming soon now. Last year the price dropped below $3000. George Lucas has lead this charge. (More on this later too.) * digital projectors The "last" piece of the puzzle for end-to-end digital movie production and screening is the theater-grade digital projector. The studios stand to make millions in saved optical print costs if these become widespread, and they've finally realized they need to provide funding to make it happen. See "Disney Says It Will Help Finance Digital Cinema" by Alex Pham, Claudia Eller, Julie Tamaki, Los Angeles Times, Friday, September 16, 2005. ( www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2005/09/16/MNG8HEOOTT1.DTL )


An awful lot of our work lately is catering truck removal. They say, "Why bother moving the truck? We'll just fix it in post." -- an effects supervisor at an LA SIGGRAPH event mid-1990s When I was still at Rockwell I saw a poster for an event, I think sponsored by IEEE, which was bringing together designers of spacecraft in aerospace and entertainment, to find out what they could learn from each other. Why not? Both were in LA. I still kick myself for not making it to that meeting. As my curiosity about the world of 3D computer effects for movies grew, I began finding ways to learn more about it. I bought a little glossary, "The Language of Visual Effects" (1993) by Michael J. McAlister, ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0943728479/hip-20 ) and began learning how optical effects had been done. Ideas like "rotoscope" had analogs in the digital realm. Since 1988, before the F/X folks ever had to learn how to restore a crashed hard drive from backups, I was began working in scientific visualization, helping people solve problems in space-station assembly, medical imaging, planetary science, organic chemistry, plasma physics, radiation oncology, weather prediction and environmental science using 3D computer graphics. I was at a company called "AVS" helping to sell software called AVS (Application Visualization System) created by a team of programmers including Jeff Vroom, Dave Kamins, Larry Gelberg and Ham Lord. Providing product design feedback was visualization expert Craig Upson. He was later hired away by Silicon Graphics Inc. (SGI) to guide the design of their competitor to AVS, Data Explorer (DX). After the Berlin wall fell in 1989 and the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, most of the well-funded customers for sci viz, like the Department of Defense (DoD) and the Department of Energy (DOE), and the university researchers who got grants from them, began spending a lot less money. I reacted at AVS by working to steer the company into medical imaging, which is another story. SGI decided film effects were their "next big thing," so they founded "Silicon Studios" and put Craig Upson in charge of some new tools for that market. (I never found out what happened to this initiative. Given what I know about eerie silences in this field, I would imagine that something went very wrong.) AVS's one brush with F/X came when a copy was bought by Digital Productions co-founder and Oscar-winner John Whitney, Jr., ( theoscarsite.com/whoswho6/whitney_jo.htm ) for his new 2D company, USAnimation. They were down the street from Kim's old place in Hollywood, in a cruddy old cinderblock building from the 1950s, but they did have a Connection Machine (a massively parallel supercomputer from a trendy company in the go-go 1980s which was now gone). One thing that amused me about the place was a picture frame hanging in a conference room in which a number of samples of breakfast cereals were mounted on black drape under glass. It seems the company was paying the bills by doing children's breakfast cereal commercials, like Cap'n Crunch, and these were all the grains they'd worked for. Another thing was that they'd gotten a contract from MTV to do the "compositing" phase of animating the new hit show "Beavis and Butthead," and were using AVS to do the work. The AVS system is programmed by users who "wire" together on-screen modules; users can easily add custom modules. ( www.ncsa.uiuc.edu/VR/cs419/Lectures/Images/storm_simp_fig.jpg ) ( www.ncsa.uiuc.edu/VR/cs419/Lectures/visproc.html ) There at USAnimation were modules named "Beavis" and "Butthead" combining scanned images of pencil sketches, inking instructions, and backgrounds, according to "timing sheet" animation scripts to produce finished digitally-composited 2D hand-drawn cartoons. But the buttheads running AVS didn't think the money was green enough, and thought the customer was too pushy when he insisted the product work right, and they annoyed Whitney until he gave up on AVS. My work kept sending me to the one conference where scientific computing and F/X overlapped: SIGGRAPH (the Association for Computing Machinery's Special Interest Group on Graphics). I was at seven SIGGRAPH conferences in a row: 1989 Boston 1990 Dallas 1991 Las Vegas (the year I was technical coordinator of the Tomorrow's Realities Gallery, a juried VR exhibition) 1992 Chicago 1993 Anaheim 1994 Orlando (the year I moderated a session on Virtual Actors and was co-author of a "technical sketch") 1995 Los Angeles There were other conferences as well; from 1990 there was a "Digital Hollywood" conference, which started pretty small, in a few exhibition rooms at the Beverly Hills Hotel, ( www.digitalhollywood.com ) The International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA) had their 1993 conference in LA. I went, mostly to see the "VR Aisle" they'd added just that year, but was also quite taken by the popcorn machines, water park pool chemicals, Skee-Ball prizes, and liability insurance booths. In 1996 I was invited to attend a VR "SIG" called VeRGe in San Francisco. There it was pointed out that if you measure a pair of VR glasses against the metrics for human vision, someone in "cybersapce" is legally blind. But without a doubt the most informative meetings I went to were for the LOCAL chapter of SIGGRAPH in Los Angeles. In the early 1990s, before the meetings grew huge, they were often held at FX companies themselves, in their lunch rooms, with offshoot tours through labs, screening their demo reel, and talks by Technical Directors (TDs). One such meeting was at Pacific Data Images in 1994, long before they moved to San Jose and Dreamworks ate them. Here are some of my notes: Tim Johnson, Animation Supervisor Principles of Character Animation 1. The computer is your Enemy. 2. The computer is your Best Friend. 3. How much does it Weigh? 4. Perform to the Camera. 5. Big Simple Gestures. 6. Think, Sketch, Block. 7. Layer your motion: Broad to Specific. 8. Test it on Tape 9. Not just good movement, but good character. 10. Define the gesture, then drive the character. 11. Lost? Try a new spine. LA SIGGRAPH frequently had panel discussions that included TDs and FX programmers. These were smart people right in the middle of the 3D CGI revolution, and they had some interesting predictions. One person said that in the future what we call "movie cameras" will take 3D range information (with radar or lasers perhaps) and video for textures, and then reconstruct a scene from almost any view using 3D texture mapped polygons. Another said that in the future we wouldn't use polygons; all 3D rendering would be done using a very fine grain array of "voxels" (3D volume elements) and all 3D graphics would be volume rendering. Of course, everyone knows that's the "right" answer, but there's nowhere near enough CPU and memory to do it... On the way to Orlando for the 1994 SIGGRAPH conference there was someone on the plane with me who looked very familiar. "Are you John Whitney?" I asked him. "No," he said, "I'm Stan Winston." "Are you on the way to SIGGRAPH?" I continued. "No," he replied, "I'm on my way to see a customer." (Stan Winston had in fact just founded Digital Domain along with James Cameron and Scott Ross.) This event helped boost my feeling that I was well-networked in the CGI FX world. I wasn't, but I felt like I was.


Information wants to be free -- because it is now so easy to copy and distribute casually -- and information wants to be expensive -- because in an Information Age, nothing is so valuable as the right information at the right time. -- Stewart Brand ( www.anu.edu.au/people/Roger.Clarke/II/IWtbF.html ) My friends Tony Bove and Cheryl Rhodes, living in redwood country on the Northern California coast, published an expensive newsletter for media-savvy-hungry corporations in the 1990s called "The Bove/Rhodes Inside report." They were kind enough to give me free subscription, which I carefully read. This is how I kept track of which cable TV networks, newly-deregulated phone companies, movie studios and computer companies were teaming up to sell me expensive set-top boxes that would force me to buy only their digital content. (America said "no thank you" and connected to the free Internet instead -- free as in speech, not beer.) I also was able to track the antics of the tech community, spearheaded by SGI, trying to get the attention of broadcasters and cable companies at the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) conference in Las Vegas. If I remember correctly, in 1993 SGI couldn't get in the door, so they rented a tent in the parking lot to show off new digital technologies relevant to broadcasting. (I think the broadcasters were still hoping for HDTV to go away.) In 1994 they were invited inside, and had their own "digital zone." During all this an important and influential voice pushing FLEXIBILITY was Nicholas Negroponte, director of the MIT Media Lab, and a regular "back page" columnist for WIRED. Addressing the issue of HDTV standards, ( web.media.mit.edu/~nicholas/Wired/WIRED1-01.html ) he wrote on 1/1/93: During the late sixties, a few visionary Japanese asked themselves what the next evolutionary step in television would be. They reached a very logical conclusion: higher resolution. They postulated that the move from black-and-white to color would be followed by filmic-quality TV, which in turn would be followed by 3-D TV. They proceeded, in their inimitable style, to develop something called Hi-Vision by scaling up TV as we know it in the analog domain. Around 1986, Europe awoke to the prospect of Japanese dominance of a new generation of television. For totally protectionist reasons, Europe developed its own analog HDTV system, HD-MAC, making it impossible for Hi-Vision, which the United States officially backed at the time, to become a world standard. More recently, the US, like a sleeping giant, awoke from its cryogenic state of mind and attacked the HDTV problem with the same analog abandon as the rest of the world. However, this awakening occurred at a time when it was possible to think about television in the digital domain. The perseverance of a few has resulted in our nation being the sole official proponent of a purely digital process. That's the good news. The bad news is we blew it. We made the same mistake as Japan and Europe when we decided to root our thinking in high definition. Despite a great deal of hand waving, the truth is that all these systems (currently under consideration for a national standard by the Federal Communications Commission -- which President Clinton could then change) were constructed on the premise that achieving increased image quality is the relevant course to be pursuing. This is not the case, and there is no proof to support the premise. * * * The biggest reason to be optimistic is that the digital world carries with it a great deal of tolerance for change. We will not be stuck with NTSC, PAL, and SECAM, but we will command a bit stream that can be easily translated from one format to another, scaled from one resolution to another, transcoded from one frame rate to another -- independent of aspect ratio. Digital signals will carry information about themselves and tell your intelligent TV what to do with them. If your TV does not speak a particular dialect, you may have to visit your local bookstore and buy a digital decoder, just like you buy software for your PC today. Regarding the newly-emerging DVD format, ( web.media.mit.edu/~nicholas/Wired/WIRED3-06.html ) he wrote on 06/01/95: It's crucial to get this new CD right and not lock it into old-fashioned thinking. Why? Because it will probably be the last CD format we will ever see. Package media of all kinds are slowly dying out, for two important reasons. First, we are approaching costless bandwidth. Shipping all those CD atoms will be too difficult and expensive in comparison with delivering the bits electronically. Think of the Net as a giant CD with limitless capacity. Economic models may justify CDs for music and children's stories, making them last longer because they are played over and over again. But for the most part, CDs and all sorts of other package media (like books and magazines) will wither during the next millennium. Second, solid-state memory will catch up to the capacity of CDs. Today, it seems outrageous to store a feature-length film in computer memory, but it won't be outrageous tomorrow. Solid-state memory offers the important feature of no moving parts. In fact, 100 years from now, people will find it odd that their ancestors used any moving parts to store bits! So please, Sony, Philips, Toshiba, Matsushita, and all your partners in Hollywood, don't give us a digital videodisc. Give us a new medium to store as many bits as possible. Learn from CD-ROM and let the market invent the new applications and new entertainment customers want. We'll be much better off. In both cases Negroponte prevailed. We got digital HDTV, not analog, and resolution is malleable (and we can turn off interlacing -- yay!); we also got DVD to stand for digital VERSATILE disks, not video, and they have a free-form mode for computer use.


Going to Hollywood, gonna be a big shot? That town's gonna suck you up and spit you out! You ain't gonna have a pot to piss in. Donnnnn't come back to me for a job! You made your bed, now sleep in it! -- Concrete Blonde, 1987 "Chew You Up and Spit You Out" (an alternative version of "Still In Hollywood") ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B0002234WM/hip-20 ) I overheard someone at a SIGGRAPH events talking about the future of 3D graphics: "What the studios want is coolies. I've heard an executive use those exact words. Give me a room full of coolies, working cheap, replacing expensive effects." Steve Jobs gave a speech, which I wish I could find, in which he claimed the movie business never had invested in technology, and it never would. It was a feudal system, and technology designers were just another kind of peasant. I think that's one reason Jobs liked having his companies, NeXT and Pixar, in the San Francisco Bay Area of Northern California -- because there was a "Silicon Valley" culture there of respect for the professions of computer hardware and software engineering. (It may also be why PDI moved.) Undeterred, I organized a trip for my family and friends that we called the "F/X Tour" in 1995. Over a period of several days we managed to take in: * the 1896 Cecil B. deMille movie barn in Hollywood ( www.seeing-stars.com/Museums/StudioMuseum.shtml ) * the exclusive Warner Brothers Studio tour ( www2.warnerbros.com/vipstudiotour ) * the Samuel French Bookstore on Ventura Blvd., which has an excellent selection of books on moviemaking, as well as scripts and plays (which is how they started out) ( samuelfrench.com ) * the Showbiz Expo 1995 ( www.showbizexpo.com ) (By the way, this show seems to have just imploded.) * an LA SIGGRAPH meeting at the headquarters of Digital Domain in Venice, in their newly-designed Frank Gehry workspace ( www.digitaldomain.com ) * a personal tour of DreamQuest Images in Simi Valley by a former student of a former professor of Will A., one of our group (they have since been eaten by Disney, more later) * watching a video of "The Abyss" (movie 1989) directed by James Cameron ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00005V9IL/hip-20 ) When I got back I gushed about it all to a co-worker, until she said, "If you're so passionate about this, why don't you change careers?"


How many times have you gotten to a restaurant and instead of a waitress you got an actress? -- blurb for movie "Waitress!" (1982) directed by Michael Herz and Lloyd Kaufman ( www.troma.com/movies/waitress ) ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00005MKN7/hip-20 ) After holding the entertainment industry at arm's length for about seven years, I finally decided to "go for it" in 1995. One day I was in Samuel French and I saw t-shirts saying, "What I Really Want To Do Is Act," "What I Really Want To Do Is Direct," "What I Really Want To Do Is Produce," etc. (Of course all were black with white letters, the Hollywood creative individual's uniform.) I guess the full comedy effect would be achieved if everyone in a production coveted someone else's job. It got me thinking, what do I REALLY want to do? I came up with "Technical Director" (TD). But I figured I'd have to start out as some sort of effects programmer, given by background of skills, and work my way up. I began to hatch a plan. TO BE CONTINUED... ======================================================================== newsletter archives: www.well.com/~abs/Cyb/4.669211660910299067185320382047 ======================================================================== Privacy Promise: Your email address will never be sold or given to others. You will receive only the e-Zine C3M from me, Alan Scrivener, at most once month. It may contain commercial offers from me. To cancel the e-Zine send the subject line "unsubscribe" to me. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ I receive a commission on everything you purchase from Amazon.com after following one of my links, which helps to support my research. ======================================================================== Copyright 2005 by Alan B. Scrivener