Valentine’s Day With Nerds in the Desert: HPA Tech Retreat, Day 1

HPA discusses the workflow of Fincher's "Girl With the Dragon Tattoo"

There was lots of “love” going on in the room today at the Hollywood Post Alliance 11th Annual Tech Retreat, held at the Hyatt Grand Champions Conference Center in Indian Wells, CA. Drawing from the entertainment industry’s top technologists, visionaries and creators, the Tech Retreat is a forum to gather and exchange knowledge, ideas and cutting edge information and trends in post production. This was my first time attending the retreat, and despite the fact that it is Valentine’s Day and that I had to leave the love notes and chocolates at home (um, date night rescheduled for Friday), I woke up at 5am this morning in Los Angeles to drive to the desert and check out the panels and demos with a bunch of other super nerdy geeks.

Opening remarks were given by Leon Silverman, President of the HPA and coiner of the phrase, “Snowflake Workflows,” that poignantly describes the fact that — whether it be in television or in commercials or feature films — no two workflows are precisely alike, every production follows a very unique path. “Each of these workflows are beautiful and pristine, truly a work of art… but no matter how beautiful the workflow, these snowflakes will drift to the ground and will turn to slush because the next projects will get ultimately get tweaked.”

But Silverman’s message was clearly a cautionary tale about legacy, history, and archiving content into the future. Almost speaking in riddles, Silverman asks, “How do we create a new permanence, if we destroy what we’ve done today, after that generation that does not worry about tomorrow is in charge of all this stuff, tomorrow?”

Next up, Silverman introduced the “spokesman for generation flux,” Michael Cioni, CEO of Light Iron, who gave the keynote. He focused on how to shake up the “status quo,” and explained how that’s already occurring quite rapidly in our industry because clients are smarter and demand more, and like to push the boundaries of filmmaking.  “It’s no longer about ‘who you know,’ but rather ‘what you know,'”says Cioni. He also stressed that proprietary knowledge isn’t the way for a brand to expand, but sharing knowledge can lead to success. Cioni further presented several of his personal theories that he believes would improve upon challenges in the post world, including his concept of “totalcode” (vs. timecode) which modifies the timecode amount of characters to an unlimited amount, and “atomic multiplexing” which I could barely understand but had something to do with molecular capture and transmission of data using stratoscopic pressure to transform the earth’s atmosphere into an antenna. Concepts such as these make me excited to be a geek working in this field of technology. Literally, anything’s possible.

The rest of the afternoon included a fascinating panel called “The Girl with the 4K Panel” about the workflow of David Fincher’s “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” with DI Producer Katie Fellion, Post Supervisor Peter Mavromates, and DI Colorist Ian Vertovec. Panelists discussed shooting 5K for 4K, details about the film’s VFX, how they arrived at the flashback look, and the fact that Fincher shoots a lot of takes, but is very disciplined and is ‘about the details’. Mavromates confessed that he actually counted the seconds in between the time Fincher calls cut and roll (that would be 7 seconds), illustrating the fact that even if Fincher shoots a lot, he’s a man of efficiency and decisiveness.

Phil Squyers of Sony Pictures Television presented “TV Workflows Update,” which gave examples of a handful of ways TV studios are handling color management, data management, dailies processing, codecs and compression, conforming and archiving.

Ron Burdett of Technicolor moderated the panel, “Film Restoration in the New Millennium,” which included a fascinating first look at the restoration work done on “Lawrence of Arabia,” as it’s the 50th year anniversary.  Sara Duran, VP Studio Operations at Disney talked about the process of having to categorize titles in the Disney library in order to figure out what are the most urgent titles to advocate for re-mastering.  Looking at some of the images from the faded negative from “Polyanna,” it became clear that time is of the essence to save films in the collection — the more time they wait with titles, the harder they will be to restore.

The panel, “The Impact of Workflow on VFX” took a look at virtual set production and the pressures of turning around 150-450 shots per episode in a matter of weeks for most TV episodic schedules.

The day wrapped up with time set aside for cocktails and demos from companies doing some incredibly pioneering work.  Strong messages that I left with: the Sony F65 is yet another “game changer” in the ever-evolving world of cameras and sensor sizes, Dolby has added image displays to their brand (a company adapting into the future) that are pretty lovely, and Codex products are trying to make it easy for people in the camera crew to handle file downloading, copying, encoding, etc., with their Codex Vault 5 series.  “The tools should enable, not encumber,” said Silverman at the beginning of the day, which stayed with me as I made the rounds in the demo room.  The smart companies that can adapt to user’s demands in this ever-changing time and the vendors that will not only enable, but encourage snowflake workflows, will move us into the future of entertainment.