======================================================================== Cybernetics in the 3rd Millennium (C3M) --- Volume 4 Number 8, Nov. 2005 Alan B. Scrivener --- www.well.com/~abs --- mailto:abs@well.com ========================================================================

DV 4 Me, C?

(Part Two)

[If you haven't read part one, see the archives, listed at the end.]


Scientists not only want to analyze data that results from super-computations; they also want to interpret what is happening to the data during super-computations. Researchers want to steer calculations in close-to-real-time; they want to be able to change parameters, resolution or representation, and see the effects. They want to drive the scientific discovery process; they want to interact with their data. The most common mode of visualization today at national supercomputer centers is batch. Batch processing defines a sequential process: compute, generate images and plots, and then record on paper, videotape or film. Interactive visual computing is a process whereby scientists communicate with data by manipulating its visual representation during processing. The more sophisticated process of navigation allows scientists to steer, or dynamically modify computations while they are occurring. These processes are invaluable tools for scientific discovery. -- "Visualization in Scientific Computing -- Report of the NSF Advisory Panel on Graphics, Image Processing and Workstations" (1987) B.H. McCormick, T.A. DeFanti, and M.D. Brown, eds.; ACM Press quoted in "Top Scientific Visualization Research Problems" (2005) by Dr. Christopher R. Johnson ( www.sci.utah.edu/stories/2005/spr_visproblems.html ) I got into scientific computing a year after this NSF report, in 1988, when I went to work for Stellar Computer, a maker of "graphics supercomputers" designed to allow the above-mentioned steering of supercomputing calculations in progress in one convenient box, about the size of a small refrigerator and costing about $100,000. At the exact same moment the Soviet Union vanished, midnight on December 31, 1991, Stellar merged with its biggest competitor, Ardent, to form Stardent (ugh!), and then imploded, setting the second place record for the most Venture Capital (VC) money burned by one start-up company. It spun off its hardware operations to Kubota Pacific Computers (KPC), a California company wholly owned by Stardent's biggest investor, Kubota Corp., a Japanese tractor company also renowned for building giant pipes to carry volatile liquids, like sulfuric acid. (Kubota Japan pulled the plug in 1994, on the last day of SIGGRAPH in Orlando. Booth workers tore up all the lead sheets they'd collected that week for confetti.) The software was spun off to Advanced Visual Systems (AVS) of Waltham, Massachusetts. ( www.avs.com ) I followed the hardware to Kubota but after 6 months jumped to the software company. I was with AVS from 1992 to 1996, working with many of the same customers from the Stellar/Stardent/Kubota days out of an office in Orange County, CA: aerospace companies:
  • Hughes
  • Rockwell
  • Lockheed
  • Boeing
  • TRW
  • McDonnell-Douglas
  • Northrop
  • Grumman
  • Martin-Marietta
  • Aerospace Corporation
national labs with the Department of Energy (DOE):
  • Los Alamos National Laboratory, Los Alamos, NM
  • Sandia National Laboratory, Albuquerque, NM
  • Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Livermore, CA
  • Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Richland, WA
  • INEL Research Center, Idaho Falls, ID
other government labs, at:
  • NASA Dryden, Edwards, CA
  • Naval Weapons Station, China Lake, CA
  • Los Angeles Air Force Base, CA
  • Naval Electronics Command Southwest, San Diego, CA
  • Patrick Airforce Base, Albuquerque, NM
university research labs:
  • UCLA
  • USC
  • Cal-Tech
  • UC San Diego
  • San Diego State
  • New Mexico State
  • Arizona State University, Phoenix
  • University of Arizona, Tucson
  • University of Utah
oil company labs:
  • Chevron Oil Field Research, La Habra, CA
  • Unocal Science Center, Brea, CA
  • Geological Survey of Canada, Calgary
research hospitals:
  • Loma Linda University Medical Center
  • Veteran's Hospital, San Diego
  • Mercy Hospital, San Diego
  • UCLA Medical Center
But by 1996, the end of the cold war had resulted in funding cuts for many of these organizations. The management of AVS decided that their future was in visualization for commercial markets, such as bond trading companies and others in the financial sector. They had one customer, Solomon Brothers, who wouldn't say what they were doing. Because of earthquake faults, major corporations don't like to have their headquarters -- and their "irreplaceable" executives -- in Southern California, so the area I worked in was low on potential for this new "market." The company decided to close the Southern California office. The boom seemed to be in Northern California, with this new internet thingy. I didn't want to move up there. I was offered a position in training and consulting, but it would have involved some multi-month trips to the far east: Japan, Singapore, Taiwan. My daughter was two going on three. I didn't want to be away from her that long. I negotiated a temporary assignment working on technical documentation, and used the time I'd bought to begin investigating a move into graphics for "show biz."


One who knows the enemy and knows himself will not be in danger in a hundred battles. One who does not know the enemy but knows himself will sometimes win, sometimes lose. One who does not know the enemy and does not know himself will be in danger in every battle. -- Sun Tzu, 400 B.C. "The Art of War" ( www.sonshi.com/learn.html ) ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0486425576/hip-20 ) With my extensive experience in 3D graphics for scientific visualization, I figured there had to be a job for me somewhere in 3D graphics for entertainment, either in special effects or in game programming. Knowing that I had only a few months left with AVS, and that I would have to turn in my spiffy new SGI Indigo 2 workstation sooner than that, my first priority was to preserve some of the work I'd done. I decided it was time to learn HTML, which I began using books such as "HTML Manual of Style" (1994) by Larry Aronson ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1562763008/hip-20 ) and NCSA's tutorial web pages. ( archive.ncsa.uiuc.edu/General/Internet/WWW/HTMLPrimer.html ) I then created my own home page (which still exists in pretty much the same form today -- it's definitely overdue for a "refactoring") ( www.well.com/~abs ) and along with it, a page on my graphics work, ( www.well.com/~abs/graphics.html ) and my resume, which I have continued to update. ( www.well.com/~abs/Resumes/abs_resume_images.html ) I also began more actively researching job opportunities in entertainment. I went to the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) ( www.cesweb.org ) in Las Vegas for the first time, held Jan. 5-8, 1996. I was there mostly to investigate game developers. The sense I got was that the industry was looking for very young and cheap programmers who were gung-ho gamers and didn't realize their own worth. Still, I combed the exhibitor guide for companies in my area and began building a database. (I also learned that the economic driver for CES was big screen TV sales, and most of the buyers wanted them to watch sports. This was before HiDef, so all they were getting was bigger NTSC displays, with bigger pixels at the same resolution.) A collaboration of Silicon Studios and UCLA Extension offered a Saturday class on the "Digital Backlot" (held at the Director's Guild building in Hollywood) and I paid $125 to attend, on Jan. 17, 1996. A moment of clarity came when I was watching a presenter who was a manager at Disney's Buena Vista Visual Effects (BVVE) unit. He told us his background was in managing 2D hand-drawn animation projects, and he'd been at Disney for a long, long time. He explained that Disney executives insisted that BVVE operate like an outside agency, competitively bidding on internal Disney projects against other outside agencies, but also able to shop their services to other studios. (I wondered what Walt would've thought of this plan. He kept his technology advances to himself. This "free agency" plan sounded like it was designed to ensure quality and affordability, but it also made it impossible to for Disney to have any kind of technical "exclusive" in FX.) Then the speaker went on to his tutorial material, in which he explained that "eight bit color" means you have eight colors, like eight crayons in a box. Oh, brother. This guy didn't have a clue. I know teenagers who are better informed about what a "bit" is. (Just for the record, 8 color bits = 2^8 = 256 colors.) I figured Disney was on very shaky ground with this kind of management. Can you imagine Steve Jobs of Pixar, or even George Lucas, making this mistake? A few months later Disney dumped BVVE and bought DreamQuest, the Simi Valley compnay which I mentioned briefly in the last issue. An article from the "VFXHQ" web site (now inactive) entitled "Spotlight: April 1996: Studio Shakeups" ( www.vfxhq.com/spotlight96/9604.html ) tells the tale along with another: There have been a few major shakeups in the effects industry over the past few weeks. DreamWorks SKG, the 'studio' built by Spielberg, Katzenberg and Geffen, have entered into a new partnership with Pacific Data Images; their first project together will be a computer animated full-length motion picture. Oh, by the way, DreamWorks also aquired 40% of PDI. Does this mean that PDI will no longer create effects for films, and concentrate on CG animation, much like Pixar? Only time will tell. PDI also just completed a major move into a larger facility in Palo Alto, California. Also, Disney just bought out Dream Quest Images, the house responsible for effects in such films as CRIMSON TIDE and TOTAL RECALL. Because of this big purchase, Disney is dissolving Buena Vista Visual Effects, the short-lived effects company that worked on THE SANTA CLAUSE, among other films. BVVE's final film will be John Carpenter's ESCAPE FROM L.A., coming this summer. I found it interesting that a few days after this workshop I went to an LA SIGGRAPH meeting, ( la.siggraph.org ) where there was a series of short talks and panel discussions by some technical directors (TDs), and most of them had also been speakers at the Saturday workshop. I found the material they presented to their "peers" at SIGGRAPH to be more technically usefull than the material they presented to the "newbies" who'd signed up for the UCLA Extension course. And it cost only $5 instead of $125! Another very illuminating "seminar" that I took was traffic school (!), held in a little storefront on 2nd Street in Santa Monica. Because of all of my speeding tickets (from racing to appointments around the LA basin) I was a frequent student, at what I THINK was called the "Improv Comedy Traffic School." It was in the vicinity of the 1400 block, just down the street from Silicon Studio (SGI's training facility for digital FX) which was at 1417 2nd Street for many years. I was amazed at the extensive array of showbiz insiders I met in these classes. There were producers, directors, documentary filmmakers, TV executives, and even Edgar Bronfman's personal assistant, back when he was running MCA/Universal. It was a running joke that we should team up and crerate our own sit-com based on the events in class. Those of you who follow this 'zine know that I am a voracious reader, and as I approached this new challenge I began reading up on the FX industry. Here are some of the books I read:
  • "The Making of Jurassic Park" (book 1993) by Don Shay ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/034538122X/hip-20 ) This thin 8.5x11" paperback tells the story of how Industrial Light and Magic (ILM), at first hired only to do the Gallimimus stampede, convinced Spielberg to let them animate ALL of the dinosaurs in the movie, eating the lunch of stop-motion animator Phil Tippett. (Tippett was retained on the movie to train ILM's computer animators on what he knew from his stop-motion work about making animated creatures seem real, but he realized his career path was about to become extinct.)
  • "How Did They Do It? Computer Illusion in Film & TV" (book 1994) by Christopher W. Baker ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1567614221/hip-20 ) This came out about the time "motion blur" was the Next Big Thing in 3D graphics for film FX.
  • "Industrial Light & Magic: Into the Digital Realm" (book 1996) by Patricia Rose Duignan ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0345381521/hip-20 ) This big, thick, expensive coffee table book chronicles the transitions at ILM as optical compositing, done with 35mm film printers, was replaced with digital compositing, done on graphics workstations. But it barely covers something I'm very curious about: Lucas had a computer R&D group lead by Ed Catmull, of the New York Institute of Technology (NYIT) Computer Graphics Lab (CGL), and he also had a film effects group that was busy cranking out footage for Lucas' movies as well as a bunch of Hollywood customers. Then, around 1992-93, the FX group began using computers and the R&D group was sold off (to Steve Jobs, and it became Pixar). Just what went on here? Lucas has coyly said that the Pixar group created the hardware and software he needed, so he lost interest in further research. Scuttlebutt is that the two groups hated each other. Maybe someday I'll find out the real story.
  • "Working In Hollywood" (book 1991) by Alexandra Brouwer and Thomas Lee Wright ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0380715007/hip-20 ) There is nothing about digital in this book, but it taught me many intricate details about analog filmmaking. It is a series of job desrcriptions and interviews with practioners of those jobs, for an entire movie production crew. I learned what a "negative cutter" is, and figured out why they would become extinct in the digital moviemaking process. ( en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Film_editing )
  • "How to Write a Movie in 21 Days" (book 1993) by Viki King ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0062730665/hip-20 ) This excellent guide attacks screenwriting almost as a humanistic psychology-style inner journey. The bog-down in the middle of the project is analogous to the protagonist's crisis in the second act of the story, and the author must tap their own angst to relate to their character.
  • "How to Make it In Hollywood" (book 1996) by Linda Buzzell ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0062732439/hip-20 ) This career guidance book taught me the concept of being a "nice nudge," and why it so important to schmooze the assistants. It also alerted me to the newbies mistake of thinking they can show up in Hollywood with an "idea." The primary power struggle in moviemaking is "whose movie" is going to be made, i.e., whose ideas are going to be implemented by this super-expensive cottage industry that hand-makes everything. I realized this is why studio execs hate projects they can't claim credit for. When Disney, desperate for a TV hit, acquired the rights to "Golden Girls" (TV show 1985 - 1992) created by Susan Harris, ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B0002W4SX6/hip-20 ) the production company was able to negotiate a contract that gave Disney NO CREATIVE CONTROL. That must've driven Eisner crazy. They could prove he had nothing to do with their success. Today's UPV TV executives must likewise be bothered by the current sleeper "Veronica Mars" (TV show, 2004 - ) created by Rob Thomas, ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B000A59PMO/hip-20 ) because it was a project Thomas did on spec -- i.e., no network ordered it. What executives can't meddle with they can't claim credit for. (UPN's executives ARE meddling currently with "Veronica Mars" -- they said for the fall 2005 season make her "sexier.")
In addition to books there were a number of magazines I studied; most I had first picked up at trade shows; in some cases I would visit my favorite newsstand in Hollywood on Melrose Ave. -- the one in the opening credits for "Melrose Place" -- and buy them.
  • "American Cinematographer" ( www.theasc.com/magazine )
  • "Animated News" ( www.animated-news.com ) Got a lot of scoops.
  • "Buzz Magazine" Insightful LA culture-watching. Occasional features on moviemaking.
  • "Cinefex" ( www.cinefex.com ) This is one of the ones I bought, even though it was expensive. It had hard technical details on how recent major movie FX were done; also it had big vanity ads congratulating various FX companies, from their various partners and vendors. I went through one issue, CINEFEX no. 63 September 1995, ( www.cinefex.com/backissues/issue63.html ) with a pad of Post-It (R) notes, tagging every FX company listed in the LA basin, and then entered them into a list that became the starting point for my jobhunting database.
  • "Computer Video" (now "Computer Video Editing" ?) ( www.computervideo.net/ ) Infomercials and press releases reprinted as "news," but it did cover the growing digital video revolution.
  • "The Hollywood Reporter" ( www.hollywoodreporter.com ) Occasional relevant studio news ("Ovitz new Disney prez," "Ovitz out at Disney," etc.)
  • "IEEE Computer Graphics and Applications" ( www.computer.org/portal/site/cga/index.jsp ) The view from the CGI side looking out at the movie industry.
  • "Vanity Fair" ( www.vanityfair.com ) Occasional features on moviemaking.
  • "Variety" ( www.variety.com ) Very similar to Hollywood Report, headlines more clever, of the "HICKS IN STICKS NIX MIX PIX" variety.
  • "WIRED" ( www.wired.com ) The view from the internet side looking out at the movie industry.
And of course, I kept going to those LA SIGGRAPH meetings, learning how 3D FX were done in "Twister" (movie, 1996) directed by Jan de Bont, ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00004RFFI/hip-20 ) "Independence Day" (movie, 1996) directed by Roland Emmerich, ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00005V9IK/hip-20 ) and "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" (animated feature, 1996) directed by Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise, ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00005TN8K/hip-20 ) in which the crowd scenes were computer-generated. It was at one of these meetings that I had the "aha!" that the transition from 2D hand-drawn animation to 3D computer animation also meant the transition from union to non-union animators.


The studio cop at the semicircular glassed-in desk put down his telephone and scribbled on a pad. He tore off the sheet and pushed in through the narrow slit not more than three quarters of an inch wide where the glass did not quite meet the top of his desk. His voice coming through the speaking device set into the glass panel had a metallic ring. "Straight through to the end of the corridor" ... he said. I said: "Thanks. Is this bullet-proof glass?" "Sure. Why?" "I just wondered," I said. "I never heard of anybody shooting his way into the picture business." Behind me somebody snickered. I turned to look at a girl in slacks with a red carnation behind her ear. She was grinning. "Oh, brother, if a gun was all it took." -- Raymond Chandler, 1949 "The Little Sister" ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/039475767X/hip-20 ) From all the above research, I had built a database of companies, and I knew what to send them: a resume, a cover letter, and a demo reel. I put together a reel of 3D graphics, most of it REAL TIME and done with programs I WROTE MYSELF, from my aerospace and scientific visualization days. Here ware some of the companies I was targeting: * Angel Studios, Carlsbad * Atlantean Games, Van Nuys * Black Ops Entertainment, Santa Monica * Boss Film Studios, Marina Del Rey * CineSite, Hollywood * Columbia/TrStar Television, Culver City * Cloud 9 Interactive, Santa Monica * Compton's New Media (bought by Keysoft), Carlsbad * The Computer Zone, Carson * Cosmi Software, Rancho Dominguez * The Culver Studios, Culver City * Digital Domain, Venice * Digital Playground, Chatsworth * DreamQuest Images, Simi Valley * Dreamworks SKG, North Hollywood * Electric Dream, Tustin * GRFX/Novacom, Los Angeles * GTE Interactive Media, Carlsbad * Inscape, West Los Angeles * Interplay, Irvine * Iwerks, {unknown} * Knowledge Adventure, La Crescenta * L2 Interactive, Santa Monica * Lightspan Entertainment, Van Nuys * Mattel Digital Studios, El Segundo * MCA/Universal, North Hollywood * Merlin Software, Irvine * MetroLight, Los Angeles * Mr. Film, Venice * Pacific Title, Los Angeles * Paramount Studios, Hollywood * Quantum Works, Sherman Oaks * ReZ.n8 Productions, Hollywood * RFX, Hollywood * Rhythm and Hughes, Los Angeles * RKO, Century City * SEGA Interactive, Diamond Bar * Silicon Studio, Santa Monica * Simgraphics Engineering, South Pasadena * Sony Pictures Imageworks, Culver City * Square LA, Marina Del Rey * Three Space Imagery, Los Angeles * UA/MGM, Santa Monica * USAnimation, Hollywood * VIFX, Marina Del Rey * Virgin Interactive Entertainment, Irvine * Walt Disney Company, Feature Animation Division, Burbank * Walt Disney Imagineering, Glendale * Warner Brothers, Burbank * Xatrix, Los Angeles (An update vintage 1998 of this approximate list is on the web, at: users.rcn.com/fletcher.interport/fx-faq3.html ) It didn't work. My mailings, meet and greets, follow-up calls, etc., resulted in no interviews. Meanwhile, I passed my resume on to a head-hunter, who looked for a position doing what I'd been doing for the last decade plus: Systems Engineer (SE) for a software vendor. He quickly got me a series of interviews with various companies followed by a firm offer from a little Minnesota company doing Geographical Information System (GIS) tools in an object-oriented language (SmallTalk), in their Irvine, CA office. I took it. For six months I helped sell integrated mapping and geo-display tools. "What went wrong?" I wondered. My best guess was this: I was too late. I was looking for a programming position at a point in time when FX companies were eschewing custom programming and transitioning to off-the-shelf software tools. SGI bought Alias|Wavefront, and Microsoft bought SoftImage, and these packages dominated the FX business. Development was done elsewhere: Santa Barbara, Silicon Valley, Canada. The division of labor had quickly calcified, and now modelers were distinct from animators, texture artists, and -- a last vestige of programming -- shader writers. Occasionally a talented animator would write a procedural plug-in for a particle system. Members of the IT staff wrote file format converters to streamline the rendering pipeline. Final rendering was often done by custom programs, based on Pixar's Renderman file format, but these were already written and just needed occasional tweaking. With the collapse of aerospace and many of the university labs, supply of programmer talent exceeded demand. My problem was that I was a "jack of all trades" in 3D graphics, not a specialist. I would've found a niche in 1993, but by 1996 that niche was gone.


Earlier this year the big news was about Steven Speilberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg, and David Geffen, founding Dreamworks S-K-G. That's Dreamworks S-K-G, not Dreamworks E-T-C, Dreamworks Etcetera, that's a place in the valley that sells water beds. -- David Letterman, 1995 hosting the Oscars for the first and last time But I hadn't given up on the FX industry. The company I was working for was named "ObjectF|X" which sounded like it had to do with the visual effects industry, but it didn't. Every time I looked at that logo I pined for the FX world. So I revised my plan. I needed better information and more contacts to find the right fit. I would go to work for a vendor that SOLD into the movie business, and make contacts that way. By November 1996 my chance came. A saleswoman I had previously worked with at AVS (I'll call her MC) recruited me to join NeXT, Steve Jobs' software company, and I ended up spending a year calling on major movie studios and production houses: * AnimationUK * Boss Films * Dreamworks * Digital Domain * Disney * Home Box Office (HBO) * Paramount * Rhythm and Hughes * Universal * Warner Music Group For the most part I didn't get close to the FX groups, working instead with corporate IT folks. We were selling WebObjects, an early, yet quite advanced, web development software toolkit, and it seemed every customer wanted to do the same thing: access daily production records in one database to get hours worked by each person on a film or video crew, access the personnel records in another database to get each person's hourly rate, and present a daily budget calculation on an intranet web site for executives to monitor costs. There was was operation that was small enough that the IT folks for the bean counters were the same as the IT folks for the FX crew, and that was Digital Domain. I met a very talented network administrator I'll call Joseph, and he showed me three amazing things. Digital Domain, or D2 as insiders called it, had just finished FX work for "Strange Days" (movie, 1995) directed by Kathryn Bigelow, ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00000JSJC/hip-20 ) "Apollo 13" (movie, 1995) directed by Ron Howard, ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0783219695/hip-20 ) and "T2 3-D: Battle Across Time" (theme park ride, 1996) directed by James Cameron, ( en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T2_3-D:_Battle_Across_Time ) and was gearing up to do the FX work for` "Dante's Peak" (movie, 1997) directed by Roger Donaldson, ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0783225547/hip-20 ) "The Fifth Element" (movie, 1997) directed by Luc Besson, ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B0006GVJE4/hip-20 ) and "Titanic" (movie, 1997) directed by James Cameron. ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B000ANVQ0K/hip-20 ) I had visited this facility a year before, for an LA SIGGRAPH event, the week of our FX tour (see last issue). At that time the interior spaces were mostly free-form constructs of plywood and 2x4s which had been designed -- if memory serves -- by LA's premier deconstructivist sculptor/architect Frank Gehry, including a whale-like conference room and cute, spacious work cubicles. All of that was gone. "We butchered the Gehry interiors pretty early on," said Joseph. "We needed the space." Now the place was packed to the gills with more traditional cubicles. As he took me on a grand tour, Joseph showed me the 3 amazing things:
  1. A closet was stacked to the ceiling with bankers boxes, and each box was filled with Digital Audio Tapes (DATs) used to back up data on hard drives. "These are all the finished frames for 'Apollo 13' in digital form, before they were printed to film," he explained. "How are these organized?" I asked. "they aren't," he said. "No time, no budget for it." I began a question, "So if you have to find a certain frame..." He finished my thought: "We have to look through every box."
  2. He'd been operating two film scanners in a special temperature and humidity-controlled room. To scan film at 3K by 4K resolution at film speeds (24 frames per second) required extremely precise placement of the film in the scanner with pins tightly gripping the sprocket holes. He said it took him weeks to get the humidity in the room to stabilize -- he was tracking it with a big strip chart recorder. Then he had to send one of the scanners back to the factory and the humidity in the room went nuts. Nothing he tried would stabilize it; it was a cybernetic system in a chaotic mode. Finally he put a heater in the room, at the exact spot where the second scanner used to be, putting out the same Wattage of heat. The humidity finally stabilized, and he didn't mess with it after that.
  3. After the tour, Joseph took me to his office. His biggest responsibility was keeping the network of servers up that did the final "rendering" of footage, from 3D down to 2D, combining geometry definitions, textures, lighting models, light sources and obscurants (smoke, fog, etc.) plus any refraction, reflection and various types of environment mapping to produce the pixels that would composited with live action to produce the finished results. That took a lot of number crunching, and he had the biggest iron he could get, SGI parallel processor systems with Cray supercomputer software, plus all available cycles on other UNIX workstations and PCs on the network, which would all run 24/7 for weeks rendering a big FX movie like "The Fifth Element." That whole time Joseph would be babysitting the network. He pointed under his desk. There was a sleeping bag and a foam pad rolled up there.


On the surface, the word storytelling seems oddly out of place in the high-tech swirl of MITRE research and development. However, just beneath the surface, nestled right in there with the likes of information technology and systems engineering, storytelling, an integral aspect of the relatively new field of information visualization, is on a quick and dramatic rise into prominence. The brain's prodigious capacity for multisensory information fusion -- when data is presented to it in story form -- is under intense scrutiny by both industry and government. With over 4 million years of development in nature's R&D lab of evolution, the inner workings of the brain's storytelling capabilities are only now slowly revealing themselves to scientific inquiry. The findings are as important as they are startling -- so much so they may profoundly affect the entirety of information technology. -- "The Oldest Art Helps New Science" 2002 MITRE Corp. ( www.mitre.org/news/digest/archives/2002/storytelling.html ) That reminds me of a story. -- Gregory Bateson, 1979 "Mind and Nature -- A Necessary Unity" ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1572734345/hip-20 ) ( www.oikos.org/mind&nature.htm ) In the 1970s somebody told me that the secret of success in mass entertainment was "promise them sex, and then don't give it to them." I mentioned this to an off-Broadway playwright I met once, and he said, "in the theater, it's 'promise them socialism, and then don't give it to them.'" In the 1990s I noticed it had become "promise them interactivity, and then don't give it to them." Every company I dealt with had some "interactivity strategy" for "personalized web experiences" (buying stuff and getting to pick the color, or else video-on-demand) or some kind of "location based entertainment" (sportsbar with air hockey games) or "virtual reality attraction" (3D stereo movie with a motion base). There was a lot of attention on this hype, and to be frank, I paid it a lot of attention myself. In sifting through the boxes of material I kept from this quest, I found a couple of interesting items. The 1995 "Digital Hollywood" conference had these nominations for best Virtual Reality (Location-Based Entertainment, Video & Computer Game, Interactive Movie): 1. Iwerks Centropolis, Foxwoods Resort/Casino & Chiryu, Japan 2. Sega, VirtuaLand, Luxor Hotel, Las Vegas 3. Interfilm, Interactive Movie Experience 4. Peter Gabriel's Mind Bender 5. Virtual World, Battle Tech 6. CyberMind (Virtual Reality Center) 7. Universal Studios, CineMania, Showscan Corp. 8. The Life Stage: Virtual House, Panasonic Software 9. Visions of Reality, San Francisco 10. Trilogy, Luxor Hotel, Las Vegas, IMAX/D. Trumbull 11. Aladdin Magic Carpet Ride, EPCOT Center, Walt Disney Imagineering The other was this list of sessions from the "Electronic Entertainment Expo" (E3) May 16-18, 1996: o DVD: Managing the Transition o The Vision of On-Line Gaming o Game Platforms: The Battleground for the Next Generation o Dividing the Digital Dollar o Entertainment Hardware: What's Next? o The Next Motherlode in the Game Market: Networked Multiplayer Games? My own fascination with interactivity, I concluded, dated from my childhood fascination with puppets. Some of my favorite examples of "interactive experiences" in the 1990s were low-tech, based on 1930s vintage electronics: * the "Kitt car" at Universal Studios Hollywood, ( www.axelmenke.de/images/usa95/kitt.jpg ) ( www.axelmenke.de/fotos1995.html ) which was from the TV show "Knight Rider" (1982-1986) ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00005JLG4/hip-20 ) about a superintelligent car used for top secret spy missions, with David Hasselhoff as "Michael" the driver (why did a smart car need a driver?) and character actor William Daniels (the uptight sociologist in "A Thousand Clowns") as the voice of the car; guests at Universal could wait in line to sit in the car and talk with "it" -- I once met a comic (teaching traffic school) who claimed that his first job in Hollywood was the voice of Kitt; he said the guests all asked, "Where's Michael?" all day long * "Sad Eyed Joe" in the Ghost Town Jail at Knott's Berry Farm, ( thenostalgialeague.com/expedition/knotts/knotts2.html ) a dummy who could talk and knew kids' names! (while kids waited in line parents were accosted by a Knott's employee who used a wireless mike to pass on names to the voice of Joe) * the various animated characters at the Adventurer's Club on Pleasure Island at Walt Disney World, Florida: ( www.mechnoir.com/KDA/KDA.html ) ( www.islandofpleasure.net/images/ac-entrance-14nov2004.jpg ) the Goddess Babylonia, ( www.barbandgreg.com/images/disney2004/pages/disney2004%20069.htm ) Colonel Critchlow Suchbench, ( www.barbandgreg.com/images/disney2004/pages/disney2004%20076.htm ) Fingers the ghost who inhabits the organ, ( www.mechnoir.com/KDA/fingers.gif ) the Goat Head masks, ( www.i5nomads.com/radp/radp5/celebrationac/hathaway16.jpg ) and the rest of them, all tele-operated puppets for creating interactive entertainment In the 1990s some interviewer got around to asking George Lucas what he thought of "interactive entertainment." He pointed out that good old fashioned storytelling -- what humans have done by the fire for hundreds of millennia -- has the potential to be interactive. Sometimes small children enjoy this kind of story- telling: "What did the rabbit find in the bramble?" Asking the child questions, and incorporating the answers into the narrative. But out great stories are NOT interactive, the tales of Beowulf and Ulysses, we want them told "just so," as Kipling said, each time. But Lucas went on to point out that we do have interactive forms of entertainment: we call them games. Lucasfilms makes stories as movies, and games for arcades, PCs and game consoles. For a while my muse took me in the direction of crafting "interactive fiction," a CD-ROM game called "The Big Heat" that I spent several years on in the late 1990s. You're welcome to poke through a labyrinth of files I created in this process. ( www.well.com/~abs/Writing/Fiction/TBH/design.htm ) My latest idea for an "interactive experience" is the perfect date movie: a combination action movie and chick flick, with one visual track but two audio tracks, for him and her. A couple runs around tossing grenades together; in his version, they talk about where to toss the grenades, in her version, they talk about their relationship. But I realized, this is a one bit channel from the viewer back to the entertainment source: not much real interactivity.


He was talking about how all his life these movies of history had been getting better and better looking. How they'd started out jumpy and black and white, with the soldiers running around like they had ants in their pants, and this terrible grain to them, and the sky all full of scratches. How gradually they'd slowed down to how people really moved, and then they'd been colorized, the grain getting finer and finer, and even the scratches went away. And it was bullshit, he said, because every other bit of it was an approximation, somebody's idea of how it might have looked, the result of a particular decision, a particular button being pushed. But it was still a hit, he said, like the first time you heard Billie Holiday without all that crackle and tin. -- William Gibson, 1993 "Virtual Light" ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0553566067/hip-20 ) I mused on the fundamental nature of animation back in e-Zine volume 3 number 8: the dictionary definitions of "animate" say it means both "to give motion to" (like a puppet) and "to give life to" (like a zombie). It went on to point out: In terms of scholarship, animation is the least theorized area of film. In neglecting animation, film theorists -- when they have thought about it at all --- have regarded animation as either the 'step-child' of cinema or as not belonging to cinema at all, belonging rather to the graphic arts... If one may think of animation as a form of film, its neglect would be both extraordinary and predictable. It would be extraordinary insofar as a claim can be made that animation film not only preceded the advent of cinema but engendered it; that the development of all those nineteenth century technologies -- optical toys, studies in persistence of vision, the projector, the celluloid strip, etc. --- BUT FOR PHOTOGRAPHY was to result in their combination/synthesizing in the animatic apparatus of Emile Reynaud's Theatre Optique of 1892; that, inverting the conventional wisdom, cinema might then be thought of as animation's 'step-child'. Aha! Of course! Animation is a SUPERSET of cinema! This was so in the very beginning, and it is becoming even more so in the world of computer effects, with George Lucas striving to make "Star Wars" episode III shot on high-def video and digitally projected, so that it is untouched by film. In the animated/live action hybrid movie "The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle" (2000), ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00003CXJA/hip-20 ) our heroes from Frostbite Falls are given a ray gun that only destroys cartoons. At one point Rocky uses it to disintegrate what appears to be a live-action helicopter, explaining afterwards that it was a "CGI element" (Computer Generated Image). Starting around 1997 computer effects in films really began to vanish in plain sight, like the "purloined letter." The effects got so good, so photo-realistic, that nobody noticed them. It just looked like a very expensive practical shot. In the "electronic theater" at the annual SIGGRAPH international conference, FX houses began splitting their models and making one half wire-frame and the other photo- realistic, just to prove they were CGI. In showing the effects from "Saving Private Ryan" (movie 1998) directed by Steven Spielberg, ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00001ZWUS/hip-20 ) they showed the layering on a beach at Normandy, first a real beach, then fake ships, fake vehicles, fake soldiers, fake explosions, fake smoke, etc., "wiping" in one layer at a time. An on-line article about rock-n-roll movie "Almost Famous" (2000) directed by Cameron Crowe, ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00003CXMG/hip-20 ) called "The VFX of Almost Famous" ( theuncool.com/news/articles/vfxpro.htm ) begins: Pause to view the list of 50 songs that appear at the end of writer-director Cameron Crowe's critically acclaimed DreamWorks film Almost Famous and you may glimpse the captions listing "special visual effects," "additional digital effects" and "special effects." Earlier in the roll call, you also may have noticed "visual effects supervisor Ed Jones," raising the question: What visual effects? The answer is: Hollywood in the 1970s, rock concert crowd scenes. These were cheaper to do in CGI than practical. I sometimes wonder if the neo style shot that follows the bullet isn't a show-off opportunity for the beleaguered FX animator, whose work at that moment is recognized as a creation, and not really shot on film live. But since the revolution, it seems like all the documentaries are wrong, all the "making of" movies, all the matte painting demos in the studio tours. Just like the museum at the Palomar Observatory shows the astronomer on a ladder peering through an eyepiece, and hasn't been updated to talk about Charged Coupled Devices (CCDs) going directly into computers as digital data, the Animation Exhibit at Disney's California Adventure and the Animation Tour at Disney-MGM are all wrong. Grab a book from 1992, such as "Film Animation Techniques: A Beginner's Guide and Handbook" by Lafe Locke. ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1558702369/hip-20 ) It's all obsolete. (Of course, the techniques still work -- most obsolete technologies do.) I for one find myself missing the old Animation Tour at Disney-MGM, Walt Disney World, Florida. It was a little film called "The Magic of Disney Animation" ("Back to Neverland") with Robin Williams and Walter Cronkite. ( www.rondias.com/disneyimagineering/diframe.html ) ( members.aol.com/_ht_a/diziago/animation.html ) And I thought it was so very ironic when it was announced, at 6:42 AM on Valentine's Day, 2002, that there would be a new major award category in the Oscars: Best Animated Feature, and the nominees were: * "Shrek" (which won) ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00003CXXJ/hip-20 ) * "Monsters, Inc." ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00005JKDR/hip-20 ) * "Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius" ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B000065U37/hip-20 ) all of them pure CGI! And presenter Nathan Lane (the voice of Timon in "The Lion King") dutifully came out and talked about how they draw pencil sketches, then in-between, ink and paint the cells, and combine with water-color backgrounds; it was all a fairy tale.


It is five A.M., and you are going to Reseda, to make love to a model from Ohio whose real name you don't know... ...And the radio is on and the radio man is speaking and the radio man says "Women were a curse. So men built Paramount studios and men built Columbia studios and men built Los Angeles. It is five A.M. and you are listening to Los Angeles." -- Soul Coughing "Screenwriter's Blues" "Ruby Vroom" (album 1994) ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B000002MUG/hip-20 ) I grew weary of life on the grid. I did some calculations and realized I hadn't had more than 5 workdays off in a row in 11 years. When Apple bought NeXT I went from working to a 500-person startup to a Fortune 500 with a huge bureaucracy. Apple had just given up an old, well-loved policy of giving employees 3-month paid sabbaticals every seven years. The first round of my NeXT stock option vested at the end of 1997 and it was about 3 months of our current living expenses. I decided to buy myself a sabbatical. I quit Apple with no new job lined up. (Hey, it was the go-go dot-com nineties!) I spent three months being a dad to my 4 year old daughter, learning to ice skate with her, visiting parks and libraries together, hiking in the Santa Ana Mountains, going to Disneyland together; also I researched Southern California history for the "Big Heat" project, visiting many local historical sites, such as old dams and the first Sunkist building. I also wrote some science fiction. I had managed to get involved with San Diego SIGGRAPH, and I volunteered, ending up driving down to San Diego every month or two for planning meetings as well as club events. Mostly I had to think, about "the big picture" and how I wanted my life to proceed. I concluded it was time to move back to my home town of San Diego. My exile was over. It was the year our daughter was due to start kindergarten, and a teacher friend of ours was opening up a small K-3 school in Santee, a suburb of San Diego. We also had some mutual friends moving there at the same time, with a daughter the same age who would attend the same school. I was sitting at a neighbor's apartment one day when a mutual friend, who I'd known from aerospace dropped in. I told him I wanted to move to San Diego. He said he just had, and was working for a real-time data acquisition company there. He ended up offering me a job, and paid to move me too. It was time. As Mason Williams said when he moved back home to Oregon from LA, "I gave up my place in line."


With a mighty voice he shouted: "Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great! She has become a home for demons and a haunt for every evil spirit..." -- Revelation 18:2 When we'd arrived in the LA basin 12 years earlier, we'd go to Hollywood and hang out with Kim. My wife and I decided to go hang out in Hollywood one more time, to sort of say goodbye to the dream. That particular day we happened upon the corner of Hollywood and Vine to discover actor/director Jackie Chan and his crew, making the movie "Rush Hour" (1998), ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0780625145/hip-20 ) shooting a stunt with the HOLLYWOOD & VINE sign. But of course there is no such sign -- if there was people would steal it -- so Jackie's prop guys had made their own, and were hanging it from a crane as Jackie tried to swing from it and jump into the back of a truck. (Always does his own stunts, natch'.) Finally he said, "No, we're losing our light, we'll get it tomorrow," and they packed up their lights and their catering truck and security guards in velvet "Rush Hour" jackets, and left. It was a glorious day. DISSOLVE TO: EXT. HOLLYWOOD BLVD., LATE 1990S, SUNSET Pink and purple neon signs begin to wink on in the orange and gold dusk. Lights reflect in the wet pavement, even though it hasn't been raining. The author and is wife walk towards the camera, in a long shot. Brownstone buildings line the avenue. CUT TO: Middle shot: we both appear lost in thought as we walk. Music swells. ("Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" by Elton John?) Faces appear in the clouds behind us, like the obligatory scene in a noir detective movie when the voices are heard of people who warned to him to stay out of police business, etc. VOICE OVER, ANIMATOR What the studios want is coolies. I've heard an executive use those exact words. Give me a room full of coolies, working cheap... VOICE OVER, IT MANAGER I keep my sleeping bag here, under my desk. VOICE OVER, ME READING ALOUD ... if the big studios are laying off animators, and Disney dropped most animator salaries by one third last year, are we really doing a good thing by encouraging more and more people to learn these skills and enter this field? ( san-diego.siggraph.org/articles/SG2003/sg2003.html ) A co-worker gave me a book to read, "Wannabe : A Would-Be Player's Misadventures In Hollywood" (1995) by Everett Weinberger. ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0312157088/hip-20 ) I wasn't able to finish reading it, because it was so painful, but I got the gist -- trying to make it in Hollywood can be a humiliating experience, especially for the well-qualified. It seemed like everyone in showbiz lost out at some point or another, except the studios, which tightened their winches of control slowly. I realized there was only one job in the movie industry I wanted any more: "studio owner." 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