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On September 27th, ETC had a half-day forum about how content recognition, speech to text, natural language processing, machine and deep learning and AI are poised to impact content creation. Tech and content demos, panels, presentations and 360-degree discussions were about: What are the new machine intelligence powered technologies and tools for content creation and how can we improve them? What repetitive and time-consuming tasks will they eliminate, and how can they bolster the creative process? What challenges will we face integrating machine intelligence into workflows and how can we ameliorate them? How will machine intelligence alter job descriptions, staffing and crewing and how can the industry get ready for the transition? What new forms of content will machine intelligence enable?

Speakers:  Lysa Banks, Head, Technical Strategy & Engineering, IBM Watson Media; Yves Bergquist, CEO, Novamente / Project Director, Data & Analytics, ETC; Linda Borgeson, SVP, Feature Post Production, Walt Disney Studios; Norman Hollyn, Editor & Professor, USC School of Cinematic Arts; Eric Iverson, CIO, Creative Artists Agency (CAA); Rev Lebaderian, VP, GameWorks & Lightspeed Studios, Nvidia; Gray Marshall, DI Colorist & Recovering VFX SupervisorErick Moen,  Research Associate, Center for Cyber-Physical Systems & the Internet of Things, USC; Jovan Popovic, Sr. Principal Scientist, Adobe Systems; Usman Shakeel, Worldwide Technology Leader, M & E, Amazon Web Services; Daniel De la Rosa, Director, Film Production Technologies, Universal Pictures; Mark Raudonis, SVP Post Production, Bunim-Murray; Jason Brahms, Managing Partner & CEO, Video Gorillas; Jean Bolot, VP, Research and Innovation, Technicolor Research Center; Amit Pande, Project Management Lead, Google Cloud; Dr. Bart Andrew Kosko, PhD, JD, Professor, Department of Electrical Engineering and Professor of Engineering and Law, USC Gould School of Law; Debajyoti (Deb) Ray, CTO, End Cue; Jeffrey Wike, SVP, CTO, DreamWorks Animation; Harry Yoon, Editor.

Target Audience: Film and TV studio, mini-studio, network, OTT executives and technologists working in production and post; editorial, visual effects and postproduction facility executives and technologists; leading filmmakers working on set, and in editorial, visual effects and post; executives and technologists at hardware and software companies.


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Studio Technology Leaders Dinner 2017

The Entertainment Technology Center at the University of Southern California held its 2017 Studio Technology Leaders Dinner at NeueHouse in Hollywood. Sponsored by Western Digital, HGST and Equinix, the event honored former Sony Pictures CTO Spencer Stephens with the Bob Lambert Technology Leadership Award. The evening featured a panel of studio execs discussing new directions in film production, and a screening of “Wonder Buffalo,” the third R&D short produced under the auspices of ETC@USC’s Project Cloud to explore and test next-generation production processes. 

“Wonder Buffalo,” a coming-of-age story, was made possible through ETC’s 2016 Technology Award to filmmaker Christine Berg, who wrote the script with Simon Shterenberg.

The duo developed the project at the Writers Guild Foundation’s Veterans Writing Project, with the support of Disney/ABC Television Group, Warner Bros., NAGRA Kudelski Group, Technicolor, 8i, Realtra, Equinix, Sony Electronics, Amazon Web Services, the Creative Visions Foundation, The World Building Institute and the USC School of Cinematic Arts. It was also executive produced by Erik Weaver, HGST global director of M&E strategy and market development and former head of ETC’s Project Cloud.

ETC executive director Ken Williams noted that the short tested not only cloud production and post production technologies, but was also processed entirely in HDR, and tested volumetric capture, photogrammetry, ambianic sound and interactivity, via a room-scale virtual reality component. “Wonder Buffalo” was shown at Sundance and invited to SXSW.

(Photo by Cara Garcia)
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Williams (above left) presented the Bob Lambert Technology Leadership award to Spencer Stephens (above right), whose early career involved data communications and photography.

Stephens joined Disney TV Animation in 1997, as the company transitioned from traditional to digital production. He later joined Chris Cookson’s Technology Operations at Warner Bros., ultimately building the 4K production capability for Warner’s Motion Picture Imaging post house, which he then ran. He followed Cookson to Sony Pictures where he became CTO. He’s left Sony, but is not retired.Williams (above left) presented the Bob Lambert Technology Leadership award to Spencer Stephens (above right), whose early career involved data communications and photography.

Walden Pond chief executive Wendy Aylsworth, a previous Bob Lambert Technology Leadership awardee; Sony Pictures Home Entertainment senior vice president Richard Berger; and former Sony Pictures Technology president Chris Cookson all spoke about Stephens’ achievements.

“If I’m in a crisis, I want Spencer by my side,” said Berger. “The scope of his knowledge knows no bounds.”

Stephens thanked Williams, the ETC board and Dean Elizabeth Daley of the USC School of Cinematic Arts for the award, and Cookson for hiring him twice. He also recalled his close connection with Lambert, who recommended him for the Disney job and then introduced him to Cookson.

Last, ETC hosted a panel of studio executives, including 20th Century Fox CTO Hanno Basse, Sony Pictures Entertainment CTO Don Eklund, Paramount Pictures EVP Anthony Guarino, Warner Bros. Technology EVP Justin Herz, Walt Disney Studios CTO Jamie Voris and Universal Pictures CTO Michael Wise. Moderated by Williams, the panel addressed pain points in the production process, significant opportunities opened up by technology, and how studios are handling change.

Panelists described the challenges of handling thousands of VFX shots from multiple cameras with differing resolutions, color spaces and formats, and putting it all together under increasingly tight deadlines. They noted that “Wonder Buffalo” has helped to shine a light on the issues, which also include the sheer size of files and massive number of deliverables. They also identified security as a “huge issue.”

New technologies have produced automated workflows and enhanced global creative collaboration, as well as significantly accelerated real-time rendering. Panelists noted that physical media isn’t going away any time soon, and that consumers are the big winners in an era in which there are so many platforms and distribution is not getting in the way of finding and enjoying content.

They also underlined that the studios have gone through many technology changes over the decades and that their resilience in managing change bodes well for the future, even as viewers redefine entertainment.

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Data & Analytics Project

The Storytelling Cipher: Mapping Precise Story and Character Mechanics to Box Office Returns

Our Data & Analytics Project held “The Storytelling Cipher: Mapping Stories & Characters to Box Office Revenue” Tuesday, December 6, 2016 at the USC School of Cinematic Arts.

This study leverages the Dramatic taxonomy of film narrative to infer which scene-level character and story attributes generate more box office returns, by genre. We are extending this study to ads and movie trailers.

The project researchers used machine learning to map 70+ story attributes for 300 films to their box office returns to extract which story mechanics or character features in film generated the most revenue. This was the first time granular story and character mechanics have been used to predict box office returns, which opens up many avenues to make more data-driven creative and development decisions throughout the industry.

What’s a good story? The question has been hanging without a scientific answer since the dawn of man. It seems that a story’s lack of clear mathematical structure and universal taxonomy would relegate such classification of stories to the qualitative – and highly subjective- empire of critics and … people.

Until now.

The event presented results from the research, discussed applications for the development and creative process, and outlined next steps.

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