Saturday, June 24, 2006

Promax/BDA 2006 - Thursday Rundown

I had noted on Wednesday that the How To Bug A Two-Inch Screen Session was rescheduled for 10 AM, so I made it to the conference at that time. This session was supposed to be about podcasting and the like, but it was not nearly as good as Broadband Design for Networks. The Two-Inch Screen session was mainly about extending existing brands and content from television into the world of the internet and mobile devices. Customer feedback and interaction was again an important theme. It is important to remove all barriers between the download and the consumer. A representative of Disney/ABC was there and talked about what they could and could not do with video podcasts. Most of it had to do with IDs and promos - and what Apple would permit in itunes. The IDs were okay, but promos appearing before the content started didn't fly. Participation in all possible forms of media was stressed, even magazines are still important. You have to be everywhere. A representative from FX discussed a short for the show Rescue Me that was released online. The short was aimed at bringing in new viewers and departed from the show's drama format to a more comedic angle. The was a special ad campaign to promote the short, and this included the purchase of time on video-on-demand channels. At one point, Stephanie Gibbons (the FX representative) said that Dennis Leary is "F'ed up." She may have been referring to his character on the show, or not, or both. Anyway, the ad campaign for the Rescue Me short included some guerilla advertising. Some "bootleg" behind the scenes footage was released on YouTube. FX teamed up with AOL as a broadband carrier. The splash page for the short included links to but Rescue Me merchandise as well as ad space. Next, Beth Higbee of Scripps Network talked about setting up a web tool so that Food Network viewers could download shopping lists for recipes to their cell phones. Dale Knopp of MobiTV talked about how people always have their cell phones with them, but don't always have their iPods. He also said that at the end of the day, creativity and story are the most important things. You have to be entertaining, not just advertising.

After my first morning session ended, I went down to the exhibition hall for an Autodesk Discreet Flame demonstration. To put it simply, a Flame makes Combustion look like a toy. It has a sophisticated and amazing 3D tracker. You can also bring 3D models (not renderings) directly in and composite them. You can pin them on an axis and track every 3D and 2D element to match the camera. You can bring in a 2D image, then subdivide it and play with the subdivisions in 3D space. Using this technique and also by extruding luminance values, the demonstrator made some great looking 3D mountains from a 2D hi res photo of mountains. The work being demoed was a Cartlon Draught ad by Animal Logic. It was really cool. They said that the final shot, where the camera comes tight in on one of the guys holding a beer glass, was shot in reverse (the camera started in on him and the widened out). It was just easier to shoot that way. The problem was that, after they reversed the footage to get it the way it should be, the bubbles in the beer went down instead of up. They had to composite a layer of bubbles to correct this. This is something any compositing program could probably do, but it was an interesting production point. For a lot of the large crowds, Massive was used to add digital extras. Massive was also used on Lord of the Rings. The ad itself was, coincidentally, filmed in the same spot as some of the Lord of the Rings battle scenes in New Zealand. I also saw a demonstration of Discreet Smoke which was cool. It also has a 3D tracker and compositor like tools, but it is an editor, not a compositor.

After the demo, I went to her Maya Angelou speak. This was probably the highlight of the conference for me. She came on stage and starting singing. First in Spanish, then in Hebrew, then French and English. She talked about how were are all composers, we all help someone. She read Langston Hughes' Daybreak in Alabama but I think she added her own words to parts of it. She said stories can tell the truth, and facts can obscure the truth. She said that the divorce of her parents was not sad, in fact "they did the nation a favor." She just received her 61st doctorate degree. She said that her grandmother was her composer and told her (prophetically) that she would teach the world. She said to attempt courage in small ways. "I have no modesty, it is a learned affectation." "I pray for humility." She said we should help lay the foundation. She told a number of stories and read another poem, this time her own A Brave and Startling Truth. She was presented with an award from Promax/BDA.

The next session I went to was Visual Structure. It was presented by Bruce Block, feature film producer and USC film professor. At first and even by the end of the presentation, it didn't seem like important information, but the more I think about it now, the more it makes sense. He made a hypothetical storyboard, but instead of pictographs, it consisted of the key frames broken down in to their essential lines - horizontal, vertical, and diagonal. We all know already (or should) that horizontal lines are the most stable, while diagonal lines are the most intense. He showed how the overall feel of the progression of time could be obviously seen in showing each panel of the board in terms of these essential lines (be they a horizontal line representing the horizon or a diagonal representing perhaps a man trying to walk, hunched over in the face of intense wind and weather). You can graph the whole story in terms of intensity (of how each frame looks) against time. It is also a function of the principle of contrast (differences) and affinity (similarities). A horizontal line in one frame and the next (or the same frame) is affinity. Any difference across time or in a single frame is contrast. Line is only one element that can be used this way. 2D space and 3D space can also be used. 2D space is less intense, 3D space (or the illusion of it) is more intense, and the most intense is a combination of the two. The illusion of 3D space is a function of depth cues, one of which is size consistency. Track is a line made by an object as it moves (like implied line). Shape can also be used to determine contrast and affinity. He said that everything is either a circle, square or triangle, that the circle is least intense and the triangle the most. I felt this was a little subjective, but it was what he said. Color (hue, brightness, saturation etc.), Movement (object movement, camera movement, audience movement (i.e. point of attention)) and Curves can all have affinity or contrast. I made a graph of the basic idea behind this visual structure system. The story is the main graph at the top, showing what the story is supposed to be like. You can then graph out how the elements should have contrast of affinity at various points in time. As you can see, you don't just move from a less contrasting form (like 2D) to a more contrasting form (like a 2D and 3D combination) as the story becomes intense, you also switch back and forth rapidly to enhance the contrast. You can use these graphs before you start working (he claimed Kubrick and Hitchcock did) or after to figure out why something isn't working (the graphs won't match at some point in time). If you can find a book by Bruce Block, he can probably explain it better than I did. Contrast and affinity, that's the point.

Click here for large version of diagram

I was fairly hungry when I came out of that session, so I went into the exhibit hall next door to see if any of my cronies were hanging around and wanted to eat. The hall was very underpopulated, except that there were large tables full of food (catered by the hotel, I believe) crammed into the aisles between the booths. There were not a lot of people around, but there was Carlos and Lawrence, heaping food onto plates. I joined them in what turned out to be an awesome (and free!) feast. Soon, the exhibition hall filled as convention goers partook of free food.

The next session I went to was Fine Art, Illustration or Fascinating Brand Image. It showcased a lot of work that a more artistic quality than you run of the mill ID, promo or other piece. There were representatives from each of companies whose reels were shown, but they didn't say much that was enlightening. There was a lot of cool stuff, but not much info. Michael Waldron of Nailgun showed a cool piece called Zoom Room.

The last session of the day was Every Pixel Tells A Story. Rhonda showed up for the last little bit of the conference (leaving little Lily with husband David, presumably), and Lawrence and Carlos also came to the last session. Evan Shapiro of IFC said that story lets you dream, but someone always has to pay for art. He talked about and showed trailers for This Film Is Not Yet Rated, which looks cool my may just be a ploy (in my skeptical opinion) for viewer-ship. Coleen Conway of A&E spoke about her programing job and story. Andrew Blacker (I could have sworn his name was Mark) spoke next about story telling on the web. You have to touch upon what people identify with immediately. What engages, thrills and motivates them - which he said was anything about Britiney Spears ir Walmart. What does your audience care about? Don't tell it on the nose, don't be blunt, engage them with an idea. He again stressed the importance of user interaction. SEED CONTROL TO THE AUDIENCE. make mistakes. You don't cut as fast on the web as you might on TV or in film. Star power does not necessarily work on the web. Keep you content timely. Orrin Zucker, creator of Its Jerrytime!, spoke next. He said to find inspiration in unusual places and to change the context of story to change how it is perceived. These were two key factors in the creation of Its Jerrytime! with his brother, Jerry. Connect with the audience and deliver stories.

After that, I was pretty tired, so Rhonda, Carlos and I walked down eight avenue to Penn Station.

These have been my notes, occasionally interjected with my memories and opinions. Promax/BDA was great and I am thankful, especially to Paul Lipsky, for having the opportunity to go. It was inspiring and it reconnected me to the TV people that I have sort of strayed from. I hope to go back as often as possible.

All of the awards given had a bust of Gandhi, and quoted him:

You must be the change you want to see in the world.


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