About 270 miles southwest from Las Vegas, where Intel chief executive Brian Krzanich is at CES unveiling his company’s latest developments, the lights are off in a massive studio space where many of those wonders are waiting to be used by the biggest names in Hollywood entertainment.
Located in soundstage 25 of the MBS Media Campus in Manhattan Beach, Intel’s Immersive Entertainment Labs is taking its first, tentatives steps in a potentially billion-dollar bet on the future of entertainment, and Intel’s move into a leading role under the klieg lights in Tinseltown. And helping it along the way will be studios like Paramount Pictures, which is one of the first to sign on to bring talent there.
The architect of Intel’s immersive entertainment gamble is Diego Prilusky, a visual effects artist and designer who landed at Intel as part of the company’s acquisition of Replay Technologies, where Prilusky served as creative director and vice president of product after a decade long career in Hollywood working on films like Clash of the Titans, Prince of Persia and The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.
Replay Technologies created the 360-degree replay technology system, freeD, and was acquired by Intel in 2016. Since then, Prilusky has been working with Intel on bringing that motion capture technology to a broader audience. A mission that’s culminated in the Entertainment Labs.
“The project evolved post-acquisition as an initiative to expand the type of immersive video we’ve been doing in sports into a broader content creation,” Prilusky tells me. “We were a small startup growing into a big startup. The big thing was to invest in accelerating and scaling this technology. Volumetric and immersive media is a new type of content that we’re exploring.”
Krzanich referred to this in somewhat more simpler terms on stage over at CES: immersive media, he says, is basically a “massive data problem.”
It’s an ambitious project and set in an equally ambitious space. For the demonstration at CES, Intel had built a replica of the exterior of a town square from the mid-to-late 19th century, replete with saloon and jail, and all the tumbleweed and dust that a director would need to evoke the Wild West and Hollywood’s golden age.
While the set design harkens back to days of yore in Western lore, the technology powering the new facility on soundstage 25 is all of the latest and greatest that Intel and its partners had to offer.
Inside the 25,000 square foot studio space, is a 10,000 square foot volumetric capture space (where the Old West town square was built), which Intel claims is the world’s largest. Snaking through and around that volumetric space is 5.1 miles of fiber cables connected to 10 petabytes of onsite storage. It’s capturing information relayed from the movement of objects through 1 billion points of light to capture images recorded in the space.
“One of the key goals is to work directly with the entertainment industry and the community of content creators that would be a key driver of this experience,” Prilusky says. And Intel has already lined up one of Hollywood’s biggest and most celebrated studios as a partner in its new entertainment experiment.
Intel is by no means the first tech company to move in on Hollywood and the content industry. Microsoft has been both building and working with third parties to help film producers develop virtual reality content alongside their more traditional filmmaking; and Amazon has also been investing in building out mixed reality filming facilities and related tech in LA. The idea for these companies is to provide the technology to underpin production company’s multiscreen strategies. As it gets harder for a film to attract audiences into traditional movie theaters, and they view content instead on interactive screens, studios are looking for more ways to leverage that with games, immersive content and more.
Paramount Pictures, the studio behind The Lost Weekend, Psycho, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, The Godfather, Chinatown, Grease, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Forrest Gump and Titanic, is one of the first to sign on with Intel.
According to Paramount’s new resident Futurist Ted Schilowitz (who previously held the same position at 21st Century Fox), it just makes sense for the studio.
“My tack on everything is that it’s all about exploration and experimentation,” Schilowitz tells me. “If you put yourself in the position to be an early learner and an early explorer you end up with a better strategy to position yourself for the future.”
No one is certain what the future of immersive entertainment will look like, and given the anemic numbers immersive storytelling has managed to put up, it’s not even clear that there will be a future for immersive storytelling.
Schilowitz is confident that no matter the stakes, studios need to be experimenting and exploring with the new technologies so they can understand what the future may hold, if only to figure out what the next big business opportunity might be for filmmakers as less and less people consume movies in the traditional way.
“We’re the first big studio to take a stab at ‘What does this mean?’” Schilowitz says of the Paramount partnership with Intel. And that, in itself, is significant.
“There’s this evolution of how people are going to consume media. As we move from displaying and watching things on flat video devices where does the technology take us? In the early days we could force your eyes to believe that it is three dimensional… the next logical step is how do you make video capture responsive in that way,” says Schilowitz. “We’ve done that with CGI graphics which is why the highest end of VR is CGI. What we can’t do yet is demonstrate a pipeline which does the same thing for video content.”
That’s where the Intel studio comes in. Schilowitz tells me that Paramount is planning in the full range of talent that it works with, from J.J. Abrams and Steven Spielberg to first time directors that are coming up to put the Intel studio through its paces.
One director in particular whose work could lend itself to Intel’s new studio space is Neill Blomkamp, whose work is experimental and who has already done projects with UnityVR.
“It’s not that we have a specific course of action related to this,” Schilowitz says. “It’s that you better put yourself on the course. That’s why we like to do things early and that’s why when it’s time to talk about this publicly… We think that movies are in a constant state of change and evolution.”
The evolution of the movie industry was at the forefront of Prilusky’s mind when he started working on the project, which is why the first experiment for the studio was set in the Old West Town.
“We took a concerted reference to the first motion pictures recorded in history, which is the Muybridge piece of the horse in motion,” says Prilusky. “We love the analogy of looking into the past and taking that into the future.”
The soundstage isn’t Intel’s only play for immersive entertainment. Late last year the company unveiled an agreement with Turner Broadcasting and the National Basketball Association to bring NBA games into VR. That followed an agreement with the International Olympic Committee to develop technology solutions (including virtual reality applications) for the Olympic Games.
For Intel and rival chip manufacturer AMD success in gaming and entertainment had been elusive as the two were overshadowed by rival manufacturer Nvidia. But a new partnership between the two historic rivals may undo all of that and open the door for greater gains by both against Nvidia’s graphics processing juggernaut.
And as for the future of this immersive content, despite VR’s poor performance, Prilusky is confident that this massive investment will pay off.
“We are looking to the future,” he says. “The way we’re looking to immersive media and interactive content… it requires or looking at different types of approaches or storytelling methodologies… are we looking to creating the next type of feature film… for sure… are they going to look like they look today? Most definitely not.”
MoviePass CEO proudly says the app tracks your location before and after movies
Everyone knew the MoviePass deal is too good to be true — and as is so often the case these days, it turns out you’re not the customer, you’re the product. And in this case they’re not even attempting to camouflage that. Mitch Lowe, the company’s CEO, told an audience at a Hollywood event that “we know all about you.”
Lowe was giving the keynote at the Entertainment Finance Forum; his talk was entitled “Data is the New Oil: How will MoviePass Monetize It?” Media Play News first reported his remarks.
“We get an enormous amount of information,” Lowe continued. “We watch how you drive from home to the movies. We watch where you go afterwards.”
It’s no secret that MoviePass is planning on making hay out of the data collected through its service. But what I imagined, and what I think most people imagined, was that it would be interesting next-generation data about ticket sales, movie browsing, A/B testing on promotions in the app and so on.
I didn’t imagine that the app would be tracking your location before you even left your home, and then follow you while you drive back or head out for a drink afterwards. Did you?
Naturally I contacted MoviePass for comment and will update if I hear back. But it’s pretty hard to misinterpret Lowe’s words.
The startup’s plan is to “build a night at the movies,” perhaps complete with setting up parking or ordering you a car, giving you a deal on dinner before or after, connecting you with like-minded moviegoers, etc. Of course they need data to do that, but one would hope that the collection would be a bit more nuanced than this.
People clearly value the service, because it essentially lets them use someone else’s credit card instead of their own at the movies (and one belonging to a bunch of venture capitalists at that). Who would say no? Some people sure might, if they knew their activities were being tracked at this granularity (and, it has to be said, with such a cavalier attitude) to be packaged up and sold. (Good luck with the GDPR, by the way.)
Hopefully MoviePass can explain exactly what data it collects and what it does with it, so everyone can make an informed choice.
Update: In a statement, a MoviePass representative says:
We are exploring utilizing location-based marketing as a way to help enhance the overall experience by creating more opportunities for our subscribers to enjoy all the various elements of a good movie night. We will not be selling the data that we gather. Rather, we will use it to better inform how to market potential customer benefits including discounts on transportation, coupons for nearby restaurants, and other similar opportunities.
I’ve also asked for information on what location data specifically is collected, for how long before and after a movie users are tracked, and where these policies are disclosed to users.
Aesthetic excellence: how cinematography transformed TV
Directors of photography from Atlanta, Transparent and other top shows discuss how they achieve the sensibility of cinema
Much of the conversation regarding the rise of prestige television has rightfully centered around the showrunners and writers rooms whove energized a medium that was once the province of three-camera sitcoms filmed on studio sets. But less often do we focus on the cinematographers behind the lens, many of whom never saw themselves working in television until, in the last decade or so, the schisms between the small and big screens dwindled. And not merely in the scope of the stories or the quality of scripts: never before has television looked so good, from inventive camerawork to glossy lighting.
Its hard to ascertain exactly when the paradigm shift began, but there have certainly been seminal moments that most boldly bridged the gap between the two: the six-minute tracking shot in True Detective following Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson on a drug bust comes to mind, as do early seasons of Game of Thrones and Boardwalk Empire, ambitious, world-building series that took a sledgehammer to the conventions of episodic television. That the Television Academy split its cinematography honors between one-hour and half-hour series last year also signaled that the Emmys governing body had taken note of the profusion of aesthetic excellence on TV.
Nowadays, changes to TVs visual orthodoxy is reflected everywhere, and more diversely, too: in the sprawling, noir-ish science fiction of Netflixs new series Altered Carbon; in the shabby surrealism of FXs Atlanta; in the bright, California sheen of HBOs Insecure; and in the hyper-naturalism of Amazon shows like Transparent and I Love Dick. In these shows, and several others, environment comes alive as much as the characters do and, unsurprisingly, the directors of photography behind them were inspired by the world of film, approaching the work less like fragmented installments of a serialized story than like marathon movies, constructed piecemeal.
None of the creatives involved in this project saw this as a TV show, says Martin Ahlgren, who shot half of Altered Carbons first season and several episodes of House of Cards. We all imagined it as a 10-hour movie, and thats the approach we took to creating not only story arcs but visual arcs.
Snoke Screens: Designing the User Interfaces In The Last Jedi
You’ll find no touch screens in Star Wars: The Last Jedi—not even when you can watch it at home next month (March 13 for digital, two weeks later for physical). Same goes for mice and keyboards. They’re all too familiar, too of-this-world, to appear in a galaxy so far, far away. What you’ll find instead are interface displays, and lots of them. Whether in an X-wing’s cockpit or the bridge of a Star Destroyer, every display in The Last Jedi exists to support the story—to provide a graphical complement to the film’s action and dialogue.
And it started with the film’s director. “Whenever possible, Rian [Johnson] wanted us to use practical graphics to enforce the narrative,” says creative director Andrew Booth, who oversaw the creation of TLJ’s assorted instrument clusters, targeting systems, medical readouts, and tactical displays. “It would actually appear in the script that you look at a screen and gain a deeper understanding of what’s happening. The challenge was always, what can we do in-camera to create something that feels real and believable?”
What’s impressive about the interfaces in The Last Jedi is that they feel believable not just to the audience, but to the film’s dramatis personae. In the real world, designers design for one person: the user. But creatives like Booth—whose design agency, BLIND LTD, has been behind the look and feel of some of this century’s biggest blockbusters, including every Star Wars film from TFA onward—designed the practical displays in The Last Jedi with at least three groups of people in mind: the characters, the actors depicting those characters, and the folks watching along in theaters.
Consider the film’s opening scene, in which (fair warning: plot points and spoilers from here on out) Commander Poe Dameron calls General Hux. The point of Poe’s call is to buy time; he’s charging the engines on his X-wing so he can stage a surprise attack on the First Order Dreadnought that’s poised to obliterate his Resistance buddies planetside. It’s a plan the audience comes to understand when the camera cuts to a display inside Poe’s starfighter that shows the status of his boosters.
“For us, that’s a perfect piece of storytelling,” Booth says. “Now you’ve got exposition, drama, and tension all wrapped up in this close-up of a progress bar.” And because it’s a practical effect, that tension is experienced by audience, actor, and character alike. In fact, every single display in Poe’s cockpit pulls triple duty: The top one depicts the tower Poe is attacking; the middle one shows the status bar for his X-wing’s engines; and the bottom one, which is all wonky, visualizes his spaceship’s damaged targeting system, which BB-8 spends much of the sequence trying to repair.
These kinds of details don’t always make it into the final cut of a film, and even when they do, audiences don’t always notice them. Not explicitly, anyway. “For us, these graphics are more about shape and form than they are about spelling things out—but they do allow people to feel what’s going on in a scene, and they help support the actor’s performance,” Booth says.
The WIRED Guide to Star Wars
Similar details abound inside the spacecraft from Canto Bight, the opulent casino city. The graphics aboard the ship that DJ and BB-8 steal are shiny. Slinky. Sumptuous. A striking contrast to the First Order’s stark, militaristic vibes and the ragtag aesthetics of the Resistance. “This was us trying to evoke a different world,” Booth says.
But even the film’s familiar spaces brim with visual information. Toward the end of the film, on the chalk-dusted mining planet Crait, the audience gets multiple glimpses inside Kylo Ren’s shuttle, from which he has orchestrated the First Order’s assault on what remains of the Resistance. “The aesthetic is sharp, clean, systematic—just like the First Order, itself, and the color palette is all red, grey, black and white,” Booth says.
These are classic, higher-order stylistic cues, many of which date back to the original trilogy. During pre-production on The Force Awakens BLIND LTD researched the original designs closely, and collaborated with production designers Rick Carter and Darren Gilford to get the look and feel just right. The graphics continued to evolve with Lucasfilm design supervisor Kevin Jenkins and production designer Rick Heinrichs on The Last Jedi. They immediately help viewers understand where they are and whose ship it is. (The Resistance’s aesthetic, by contrast, is analog and unstructured—its color palette dominated by orange, green, brown, and other earth colors.)
But look closely, and you’ll see that the screens inside the shuttle are loaded with details. Crait’s topography, the blast door separating the Resistance from the First Order, the line of AT-ATs—they’re all depicted on screens, often for the briefest of moments. “It gives you an idea of the level of detail that we put into these interfaces,” Booth says. “It’s one of the things we pride ourselves on: You don’t necessarily always see it, but you sure as hell feel it.”