This issue’s TechnoPop features two technology items that effect our daily, popular culture driven lives with out our even noticing. Both are also receiving various levels of awards from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences at this year’s Scientific and Technical Awards in March. With the first one, the Dolby Loudness Meter, we would certainly notice if it was not there. The second item, RenderMan from Pixar Studios, we notice when its obvious, but don’t when it’s not. Figure that one out.
On a side note, all you techno artists and animators should be aware that SIGGRAPH 2001 is coming to LA. If you don’t know what that is, click here.
Here are some of the unique art opportunities that SIGGRAPH 2001 will showcase and the deadline for entry: The CREATIVE APPLICATION LAB, where attendees can play with computer and other creative technologies, has an entry deadline of May 2, 2001. The COMPUTER ANIMATION FESTIVAL which showcases computer graphics, has a deadline of March 21, 2001. And finally, THE STUDIO, which features cutting edge 2D and 3D out put equipment used for any application the artist can dream up, has a deadline of March 28, 2001.
All the information you will need can be found at: www.siggraph.org/s2001.
SIGGRAPH also needs student volunteers to help convention goers get around as well as help out with all the cool stuff that is going on.
Those of you who aren’t interested in submitting materials for the convention, might want to check it out anyway. There is a lot of fascinating stuff to be seen including the Electronic Theatre, which features the latest animation shorts and usually includes a preview of Pixar’s Academy Award ® entry.
Think of it as an art gallery of the future with art you can actually touch. The exhibition is August 14-16, 2001 at the LA Convention Center.
DOLBY’S SOUNDTRACK LOUDNESS METER
Making the world safer for theater goers
Three weeks before the star studded event that is the Academy Awards , the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences presents an entirely different type of award to an entirely different type of star. At a banquet dinner in Beverly Hills the technical geniuses that make films possible rent tuxedos and limos and come out for the Scientific and Technical Awards. These particular awards don’t just have a single form of award, they have three. In addition to the Oscar Statuette that everyone knows so well, there is also a Technical Achievement Award, in the form of a certificate, and a Scientific and Engineering Award, in the form of a plaque.
The committee that selects these awards gives them on the basis of the originality of the invention and the long-term impact it has had on the industry. Once in a while a device is so unique that it doesn’t fall within the award description for any of these levels, yet it has had such an impact on the film industry that it demands attention. Such a device is the Dolby Soundtrack Loudness Meter. I know what you’re thinking. The films aren’t too loud, the trailers are. To which I say, exactly.
In 1997 the problem of trailer loudness was so universal that cinema sound engineers, exhibitors and the major studios formed the Trailer Audio Standards Agreement (TASA) to deal with the problem. Enter Dolby Laboratories, who technically were partially to blame for the loudness problem in the first place with their DTS and SDDS formats, and they came up with the lovely Dolby Model 737 Soundtrack Loudness Meter.
The meter is used during soundtrack mixing to monitor loudness over time for the length of the trailer. By mimicking the human ear’s varying sensitivity to sounds in different parts of the normal hearing range it “decides” what is too loud. After the meter has “heard” the soundtrack being measured, it displays an “annoyance factor” number, which allows the editor to adjust for better audience listening pleasure.
Clearly while this is a fabulous thing, it doesn’t measure up to other sound inventions like DTS which broke new ground on the invention front. It has been put together using previously existing technology and its only effect on film is that people enjoy them more now, even if they don’t know why. That being said, the Dolby Loudness Meter will be getting an Award of Commendation, rather than a standard Scientific and Technical Award from the Academy at the Scientific and Technical Awards this year, and I for one salute them.
This is only the fifth Award of Commendation that the Scientific and Technical Awards Committee has handed out in its 73 year history. One went to a film restoration process, another went to the union IATSE on its hundredth anniversary, yet another went a man who made pyrotechnics safe for movie makers and last year one went to a company that had developed an environmentally safe way to dispose of motion picture prints. It would seem that the Academy has been hiding its technological light under a star-studded bushel all these years.
RENDERMAN FROM PIXAR
That thing that does that thing
A few month’s ago we did an article called, “What the Hell is CGI” and in it I talked a lot about “rendering.” I even thought about doing an article called, “What the Hell is Rendering?” Well, consider this article the natural extension of that thought. .
Rendering is the process by which computer generated 3D objects are made into realistic looking 3D objects by using computer generated light, shadows and shading. This goes for the hair on animals and the wind blown look of grass in movies like DINOSAUR, as well the life like shape of characters like Woody and Buzz in the TOY STORY movies.
Rumor has it that in 1985 a film called YOUNG SHERLOCK HOLMES was made as a testing ground for a new software to be used for generating 3D images and effects in film. That software was called Reyes (which stands for Render Everything You Ever Saw), which was ground zero for the creation of the software called RenderMan. It would be RenderMan that, five years later, would be used in almost every major visual effects film made. Films like DEATH BECOMES HER, TERMINATOR II, JURASSIC PARK, JUNGLE BOOK, THE MASK and MEN IN BLACK, all of which set new standards for computer generated reality, have RenderMan in common. If you count third party software, that is software that produces RenderMan compatable files for rendering, then you can also add THE MATRIX to that list.
Then of course there’s TOY STORY and TOY STORY II, the first of which won a Special Academy Award® for John Lassiter for his leadership at Pixar which allowed the production of the first feature length animated film. More importantly, the films made animation fun again.
RenderMan was awarded a Scientific and Engineering Award in 1992 for its cutting edge technology. In March the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is giving it another award in the form of an Oscar¨, this time to the three major contributors who were responsible for the development and implementation of RenderMan. The award is for their profound impact on the state of computer generated imagery in film, and for the further impact made by making the software accessible to the film industry. Think of it as a lifetime achievement award for software. Three statuettes will be given for this single award, to Rob Cook, Loren Carpenter and Ed Catmull, who is CEO of Pixar.
Loren Carpenter is credited with pioneering the field of procedural modeling, which uses complex geometrical formulas to create complex shapes in the computer that could be transferred to film. Ed Catmull weighs in with pioneering work in the invention of texture mapping, which allows geometrical shapes to be molded into recognizable shapes like dinosaurs. Finally, Rob Cook gets credit for his pioneering work in the field of programmable shading, which allows the shapes that Carpenter made possible and Catmull made malleable to appear to have natural looking shadows and other reactions to light giving the shape a real life look. No one of these creations would be viable without the other two, and no film today would have quiet the magic without the RenderMan package.
In this age of nerd revenge, the award of an Oscar® to three software designers is a true coup.
Viva la Revolution!