The online mien of Benjamin Nowicki

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Art Directors Guild Emerging Technology Expo 2017 recap

I’m pleased to announce that the sessions that were recorded from the Emerging Technologies Expo held in March are now available on the Art Directors Guild Ustream Channel, you can find the links below. Also of note, I attended the VR LA Expo in April, which reinforced my focus on the need to adapt for our craft to survive.

Technology has always been the driver of our industry, and with every epochal advancement, those that adapt to the changes push the craft forward. We are on the cusp of just such a defining moment in all phases of our work.

The design phase is transformed by VR and AR. Any lingering doubts on the efficacy of VR as a design tool might be assuaged by the wholesale buy-in from design titans such as BMW and Gensler. VR technology, while not new, is finally accessible to every production at $600. By contrast, the cost six years ago for directors such as James Cameron and Robert Zemeckis was $100,000 a day in a dedicated facility.

Fabrication of scenery will, without question, begin to catch up with contemporary civilian fabrication techniques – namely automation and robotics. A recent New York Times article provides some perspective.

As built scenery continues to contract ever closer to the camera, to be replaced with chromakeyed set extensions or virtual sets, VFX literacy will gain equal footing with more traditional processes. Are your 3D assets VFX production ready? If so you just saved the producers a mint.

Finally, the methods by which our work is consumed churn in quicksilver cycles that even technophiles have trouble keeping abreast of.

I chose a quote from brother Alex McDowell to introduce the ADG Emerging Technology Expo in our communications, as I found it exquisitely succinct in describing the moment in which we find ourselves. “We are confronting change within our entertainment media platforms at a scale unobserved since the early days of film, more than a hundred years ago. The medium and practice of cinema has evolved beyond recognition. And in parallel we recognize the rapid development of other, more recent, entertainment media and understand that it is essential to examine the impact of these radical changes and their potential influence on one another. There is no longer reasonable justification for considering the crafts of  film, animation, television, interactive media, and post-cinematic media space of mixed, virtual and augmented reality to be distinct and separate.”

What I would like to emphasize from the above quote is the breakneck rapidity. While previous seismic disruptions evolved over a period of years, today’s technological advancements appear weekly, and sometimes daily. The challenge before us is to adapt, or perish. Consider Local No. 6 of the International Typographical Union as a cautionary tale. In the mid 1950’s and ’60’s the powerful New York newspaper union failed to adapt to the adoption of computerized typesetting. The local quickly reduced in size, and the bitter-enders disbanded in 1986.

The time to act is now. We can and should be among the first to explore and define these technologies and get so far ahead that it will be hard for anyone to catch us. Or we can do it along with everyone else and attempt to remain competitive. Or as brother Michael Chambliss of local 600 noted in his presentation linked below, “By the time you know (new technology) is a proverbial bus you should be getting on, it is so far down the road, you’ll never catch it.”

In addition to preserving our traditions through these changes, there is a clear advantage in contract negotiations in understanding the current marketplace for our labor. There are opportunities never available before for those who choose to adapt. My hope is that we will be included in the conversations of young people 40 or 50 years from now – who will still be geeking out over the content we will create in the coming years.

Can’t you hear the conversations? They will probably sound like us geeking out on the newest Star Wars movie today. Something like;  “Man those old school VR environments were so cool!” “When I make my (insert as yet unimagined media consumption experience) I want to pay homage to those early VR guys…” etc.

I have selected some of the highlights from our Emerging Technology Expo: (password required – case sensitive: Local800/ADG)

Michael Chambliss – of the International Cinematographers Guild & IATSE Local 600, who offered a forceful call to arms in his Guild-to-Guild perspective on the changes in technology.

Harrison Ellenshaw – Artist extraordinaire who shared his experiences from the birth of modern visual effects, and posits today’s changes are an evolution, not a revolution. An outlook that highlights adaptability.

Guy Martin – Principal at Guy Martin Design and member of the Association of Robots in Architecture, counts among his clients: SpaceX, Philippe Starck, and many others. Guy shared his design-centric approach to automation.

Greg Brown – Creative Specialist with Foundry, demonstrated the real-time and VR capabilities in the 3D app MODO.

Sean Kennedy – CoSA VFX artist, Sean demonstrates how VFX artists creatively approach their craft. Of special note is Sean’s demonstration of Blender, the free, open source digital content creation app.

Alex Oliver – Principal of Skillwire, an important training partner to the ADG specializing in Sketchup, introduced attendees to Trimble’s Hololens plug-in, Microsoft’s groundbreaking augmented reality headset.

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