Friday, April 24, 2015

The Eerie 'Pea Soup" Color Before The Storm...

Ever Notice The Ambient 'Pea Soup' Color
Before a Major Storm or Tornado?

Eerie magical lighting. Sometimes it is just before a storm, sometimes near dusk or dawn. There are times the light just seems odd, dreamlike or really unusual. It seems hard to catch on film, but even florescent lighting has an element of it. Something unnatural. 

Our world of color is much more complex than RGB values. In our industry, we are accustomed to expressing every color by some triad of numbers; RGB being the most common. However, actual color is a spectrum, not a color point. What we perceive is typically the peak of the spectrum, red, green, purple, whatever. Turns out however that RGB is not a unique spectrum. That is there are many, many different spectrums that can take us to any given RGB value. It is this difference between the spectrum and the RGB color point that make magic.

Let’s look at what we humans evolved with, sunlight. The color spectrum of sunlight is pretty flat. That is, all the colors are well represented from the sun. Plants have a sort of color vision, in that they absorb light mostly in two narrow colors (around 400 & 600 nm). This sunlight is what we are used to. 

Photographers are aware that typical florescent lighting is not just a color, it is also missing some colors. This is why, no matter what post color you add to offset florescent, it never looks quite right. All artificial light spectrums look off. 

So below is a spectrum graph I made, showing that magical and unpleasant light is not about the color, but about unusual valleys and peaks in color. It might be the same color as a smooth curve, but those spectral holes create the magical nature of light.

[Geeky sidebar. I decided to illustrate this post with an ITRI certified spectrometer. The unit I am using, the MK350 records spectra onto memory cards so I can share the spectrums with you. I use this device for analyzing light prior to filming and then for precise color control all the way through to exhibition.]

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Life after Legend3D

The colors of Barry Sandrew, part 2

This is the second installment and conclusion of the colorful adventures of neuroscientist, digital colorization pioneer, animation innovator, 3D conversion trailblazer, producer, entrepreneur, philanthropist, public speaker Dr. Barry Sandrew. In an attempt to osmose his success, the LA Animation Examiner poses additional queries about his vivid career path.

LA Animation Examiner: What are your immediate and long term goals with Legend3D and your other entertainment-oriented, entrepreneurial pursuits?

Dr. Barry Sandrew: Though Legend3D's long term business strategy has been guided by Northwater Capital and CEO, Brian Robertson for the past two years, I left the day to day production of Legend3D in the hands of three extremely capable professionals: Matt Akey, CMO; Anthony Lopez, CIO; and my son Jared Sandrew, CCO/CTO. The guys are very busy with over two years of film backlog and with sufficient reserve capacity to expand to take on more. In addition, during the past year, Jared has been focused on a proprietary conversion process he invented that turns any 360 degree, 2D footage into the most immersive 3D virtual reality I've ever experienced. I believe this will become an exciting new vertical production pipeline for Legend3D. In fact, the most recent Legend3D 360 work has convinced me that virtual reality or more specifically, augmented reality is a real product that could change our lives in many exciting ways.

As founder and equity holder, I continue to cheer Legend3D on to even greater achievement. I’m also involved in several for-profit and not-for-profit boards. I'm a Charter Member and member of the Board of Directors of The Indus Entrepreneurs (TiE), which is the largest entrepreneurial organization in the world; I'm on the Board of Advisors of EvoNexus, the only pro-bono start-up incubator in the country; I was recently elected to the inaugural Board of Managers of the Los Angeles Chapter of The Visual Effects Society (VES); I continue to serve on the Board of Governors of The International 3D and Advanced Imaging Society; I'm a perennial 3D judge at Camerimage, the largest film festival in the world celebrating cinematography and the cinematographer. Additionally, I've served as Chairman of the Feature Film section of The Tesla Foundation Group, which endeavors to establish standards and best practices for the use of drones in filmmaking.

Finally, I’m in the process of assessing several new entrepreneurial endeavors that I expect will become my central focus for the next several years. More information on that will be disclosed in the near future.

LAAE: Does animation and visual effects play a part in your work with the Tesla Foundation? If so, how?

DBS: I got involved with The Tesla Foundation Group through my interest in the use of drones for feature filmmaking. Currently, it is illegal to employ drone technology in the US to shoot a movie, because the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not yet developed regulations for its exploitation. In fact, there are only seven production companies that have exemptions for professional drone filmmaking. I believe the FAA’s failure to establish standards and best practices for drones in film production is driving more entertainment-related business and jobs out of this country. I helped the Tesla Foundation Group with, and participated in, their first Drone Expo in December (2014), and I drummed up support for the movement within the Hollywood community.

LAAE: What is your advice to others who aspire to follow in your multi-hued footsteps: scientist, producer, entrepreneur, public speaker, philanthropist?

DBS: Don’t get type cast into a career. Keep your eyes open for new opportunities that relate to your passions. Don’t be afraid to take on measured risks. Most important, when you’re starting out, network, network, network . . . and expect to pay your dues. Often, it is necessary to accept unpaid internships for experience and new contacts. Another way of building a network is by joining non-profit organizations that relate to your pursuits. Successful professionals frequently join non-profits for both personal or business marketing and for giving back [to the community]. By becoming a highly visible member of key non-profits, you'll likely be doing something positive to help others, and in the process, you'll be benefiting your career in many diverse ways. Finally, be aware of and learn how to exploit quality professional social media like to further expand your professional circle.

LAAE: Thank you for your time, insight, and advice, Barry. In terms of your accomplishments, there is no gray area. You are not only the Superman of American movie preservation, you are a career chameleon! It will be a pleasure to chart your progress as you conquer additional fields in the near future.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Statistical Management In Film Production
As many of you know, I am in the business of making films. The process of film production is largely run by creatives and lacks the management discipline (and training) found in more conventional factory operations. It is a frequent error to believe that filmmaking is a "work to quality." Instead, almost all commercial film production today is an endeavor of "work to cost." In the case of studio films, there may be the added pressure of "work to schedule." Since budgets rarely flex, schedules and quality have to become plastics. We have three points of control; quality, cost and schedule. Change any one of them and the other two move, like it or not. All of this can create a toxic environment of stress, where there exist ambiguous quality specifications, a delivery date promised by sales and not production, and the entire process is operating on a fixed budget.

This yields the classic management solution of making people work longer hours for the same pay with the expectation of level quality. This behavior, which I call "management by panic", is ubiquitous in visual effects and film production. Its energy is the aggressive drive toward deadlines made by others, quality judged by others and a pressure cooker business model of fixed costs. One visible example of this management from time/budget pressure is the recent death of Sarah Jones and the subsequent imprisonment of the film's director. 

This industry wide environment, where there is a drive to shove quality, schedule and quality all at once, leads to a lot of schedule guessing. Schedule guessing is not evil in itself, but leads to failed projects, unhappy workers, underbid projects and an environment of stress, where management by panic leads to poor judgment. 

There is an alternative. 
In visual effects, we have the ability to add code into our tools. This is called "instrumenting the software" and yields hard cold productivity data to allow accurate predictions of vfx delivery schedules. This is not a common current industry practice. However, by having unbiased data about worker productivity, shot complexity, probability of reworks, and the time trend analysis that comes with this, we can create an environment of rational and sane process control. 
If you are a manager that bullies your workers, or a worker who feels they are pushed to "just give me the delivery date!", the correct answer is in the form of probability and statistics. Brush off your old textbook and look at polynomial regressions, scatter plots and infographics. Use this to empower your project to yield beautiful precision and boring predicability. For example, when you install that new whizzy version of software, see if a productivity bump actually occurs and if so, did the savings outweigh the cost.

I feel it is time to bring visual effects and film production out of the garage and into the adult world of statistical factory management. To do anything else is unreliable and management by panic and potentially toxic to those you work with.

Management without data, is not managing at all.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

How Colorization Critics Contributed To The Tragic Fate of Our Public Domain American Film Heritage.

The Colors of Barry Sandrew, Part 1

A perspective few understood regarding the colorization of black and white classic feature films. The critics of colorization never realized they were contributing to the deterioration and inevitable loss of much of our black and white American film heritage. Barry Sandrew, Ph.D.

Neuroscientist/digital colorization pioneer/animation innovator/3D conversion trailblazer/producer/entrepreneur/philanthropist/public speaker Dr. Barry Sandrew knows when to speak and when to let color - particularly the on-screen variety - speak for itself.

In that same spirit, the LA Animation Examiner proudly presents the vibrant Barry Sandrew, in his own words. The following is the first of a two-part, exclusive interview.

The LA Animation Examiner: Could you describe your segue from biological science to the art and science of motion picture production?

Dr. Barry Sandrew: I earned my doctorate in neuroscience from State University of New York at Stony Brook in 1977 and immediately won a three-year National Institutes of Health (NIH) postdoctoral fellowship at Columbia University, College of Physicians and Surgeons. After completing that fellowship, I joined Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) as staff neuroscientist. Among my many interests at MGH was medical imaging: an industry that was in its formative years during the early 1980s. In 1986, several entrepreneurs who had learned of my work in 3D brain imaging approached me with an interesting problem. They asked me to invent a process for colorizing black and while feature films.

The businessmen recognized that, if they were able to colorize movies that had fallen into public domain, then they would own brand new, 75-year copyrights on the colorized versions of those films as derivative creative works. Today, that new copyright is good for 95 years. I would not have taken the gentlemen seriously had they not secured some very impressive people on their board of directors, including two-time Oscar winning composer, Al Kasha; Emmy winner Peter Engel, one of Hollywood's biggest and most successful TV producers (creator of Saved By The Bell); and studio executive Bernie Weitzman, best known as one of the key execs at Desilu Studios in its heyday under Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball. So, I had confidence that these people were legitimate players in Hollywood.

Three years prior to my meeting the aforementioned industry group, an analog colorization method emerged and created significant controversy, largely due to the poor results of the process. The business men understood that, if a superior quality digital procedure could be developed, they could own the colorization field. At the time we crossed paths, I was unaware of movie colorization as an enterprise. However, the technical issue that they presented to me was intriguing, and frankly, the solution - while not obvious - came to me almost immediately . . . like the proverbial light bulb. It took me one night to write an extensive white paper describing a unique system for digitally colorizing black and white movies, along with a detailed account of the corresponding pipeline.

Having gone through several failed research and development (R & D) attempts and a great deal of investor money, the entrepreneurs were desperate to find a solution, and after reviewing my white paper, they felt that they finally had found their guy. They asked me to conceive the system, plus start a new company that would have the capacity to colorize all public domain films in Hollywood. While entrepreneurship was attractive to me, I explained that I had a significant career in neuroscience, and that it is almost impossible to leave a lab, the grant application process, and the peer-reviewed publishing world, and then expect to return without consequence. They responded to me with a financial and equity offer that I could not refuse. After careful consideration with my wife Lori, I decided that I could not ignore the opportunity. I saw the risk as minimal, so I took a leave of absence from my staff position, left my family back in Boston, and opened a colorization R&D lab, American Film Technologies (AFT) in San Diego. I chose San Diego because the new mode was very labor intensive. I recognized that a colorization production facility must be close to a low cost labor market. Therefore, locating 30 miles north of Tijuana, Mexico was a key factor. 

Once in San Diego, it took five months to build a colorization workstation capable of digitally capturing an entire feature film of sequential black and white movie frames from the existing broadcast recording standard of the time, one-inch tape. That had never been done. Since there were no acceptable PC server and network solutions, I captured the black and white frames onto Bernoulli Disks . . . thousands of disks, each bar coded with SMPTE time code of the 48 frame sequence that could be stored on one of them.

Sid Luft, Judy Garland's ex-husband and manager, became a fan of the gestating procedure. He provided a great deal of black and white footage from Judy's concerts and TV shows to colorize as demos. In April, 1987, after colorizing several minutes of his footage, I held a press conference at Universal City (in Los Angeles) to display the work. Once the reporters saw Judy’s natural skin/makeup color and Frank Sinatra’s blue eyes on the TV screen, they were sold. That summer, we won our first movie project, Bells of Saint Mary's, from Republic Pictures. Within a month, I had forty of my proprietary workstations built, hired and trained a bunch of people, and we completed the colorization of that Bing Crosby classic in six months for a Thanksgiving release. The colorized version of Bells of St Mary’s became the highest rated holiday film of that season, and Republic Pictures gave us several more films to revamp. Meanwhile, Ted Turner’s people expressed interest in improving the quality of the films that he was colorizing. Ted wanted to move away from the inferior analog process that he originally supported. When he visited my San Diego studio in January of 1988, he was extremely impressed with both the approach to and the quality of our product. He subsequently awarded 36 films per year for five years to AFT. 

The rest is history. AFT became the premiere colorization studio in the world. The company colorized the vast majority of Ted Turner’s MGM films, as well as black and white titles for Disney, Warner Brothers, Republic Pictures, Fox, Sony, Universal, and Paramount. I also colorized content for broadcast and cable networks, including CBS, ABC, HBO and TF1. In 1989, I took AFT public and, in 1991, I expanded my colorization technology and pipeline by devising the first digital paperless animation system. It was implemented in several animated shorts, such as Gahan Wilson’s now iconic theatrical classic Diner, the ABC/McDonald’s TV special, The Magic Flute, and the TV series Attack of the Killer Tomatoes for Fox Children's Network. In 1992, I developed the first ink and paint and compositing method competitive with Disney’s revolutionary CAPS system. Ours was the practice of choice for several minutes of An American Tail: Fievel Goes West for Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment. Later, it was used to apply all color, compositing, and visual effects for Spielberg’s first digital animated theatrical feature film We’re Back: A Dinosaur Story.

LAAE: Did your groundbreaking movie colorization process cause any controversy amongst film fans? If so, how did you manage the related public relations efforts?

DBS: There was always controversy. The congressional hearings with Woody Allen, James Stewart, and John Huston drew a great deal of attention. But the drama really heated up after I colorized Casablanca for Ted Turner. I think that was our sixth film with him, but in my opinion, it should have been about the 106th film. We needed more experience. Nevertheless, the resulting debate only popularized the process, attracted much more work from around the world, and it emboldened my biggest client, Ted Turner, to colorize his MGM library. Frankly, if consumers did not want colorized content, I would have been out of business. The fact is, AFT (and later, my visual effects and digital media company Legend Films) were very successful. People not only bought the colorized films, but they became collectors and fans of our particular colorization.

What the critics did not understand was that, when a film goes into public domain (PD), it belongs to everyone. That's a good thing, because after a studio has enjoyed a monopoly on selling the film at a premium price for close to a century, the film then falls into public domain where it is available to anyone for exploitation. This makes the movie attainable to the world at a cheaper price. The same is true in the pharmaceutical business in which a company patents and sells a certain drug without competition for as long as the patent survives. After the patent expires, anyone approved by the FDA can produce a generic version of the drug at a lower price. This is beneficial for the consumer. The bad aspect about movies is that, unlike the pharmaceutical business (which has the FDA as watchdog), virtually anyone can obtain a print of a public domain black and white film, regardless of the quality. They then can slap it on DVD's to be sold at major retailers. Because anyone can package and sell a PD film, there typically are several versions of any specific PD film in the marketplace: all unrestored and in poor condition. The retailers do not care about the caliber of the product. You see, with so many easily accessible, inferior versions, there is absolutely no monetary incentive for anyone to restore the black and white PD treasures, our American film heritage.

However, colorization actually subsidized the restoration of PD black and white films. The higher retail price (and ultimately, profit margin) allowed me to spend the necessary money to restore the black and whites too. Since we always included the fully restored black and whites along with the colorized films, consumers had a choice of iterations in one package. Without colorization to justify that premium sale, the black and white movies never would have been refurbished to an acceptable condition.

LAAEDr. Sandrew, you are the Superman of American movie preservation! Thanks for using your considerable, multi-faceted, potent array of powers for good. Undoubtedly, the readers look forward to Part II of your story . . . coming soon . . . in glorious color.

To read the entire article and learn why classic PD films are deteriorating, click here!

Monday, December 22, 2014

Colorization Revisited

The Revolving World of Color

Originally posted by WAYNEGERARDMADDEN  Dec. 22, 2014 

Even though Color Television was a staple of the American diet from 1958, the UK had to wait until John Newcombe won the Men’s singles at Wimbledon nearly a decade later, before the first color images were projected onto European TV screens.

John Logie Baird, the inventor of television, first demonstrated color television in 1927 but despite its popularity, high prices and the resulting scarcity of color programs, the format was not as widely used in its initial outing. As time moved on, however, cheaper alternatives and formats were created in order to make the expansion of color film a reality for all mediums and budgets.

Barry Sandrew, PHD, an internationally recognized entrepreneur, digital imaging expert and visual effects pioneer invented digital colorization in 1987. “I invented digital colorization in 1987 at my company, American Film Technologies, as an alternative to the very poor quality that was being delivered using the initial analogue process.”

But new technology is not necessarily always greeted with Universal acclaim. Back in the mid-80s, there was a well-known and controversial campaign to colorize classic movies which led to heated public debate. Ted Turner (the media mogul and founder of CNN) spearheaded a movement in which he believed classic films, among them Orson Welles “Citizen Kane” and Frank Capra’s “It’s A Wonderful Life”, should be colorized for the benefit of future generations. He believed that classics such as these were being ignored by viewers in favor of color film.

This is an argument that goes back to Thomas Edison, in the late 20th century, who colorized film by hand as he perceived that audiences would not enjoy his own black and white work. It’s a popular misconception; therefore, that color film was a more modern cinema trait. Victor Fleming’s 1939 musical fantasy “The Wizard of Oz” is one of the most well-known pieces of the time to have been shot purposely in color (using two tone Technicolor), although the basic technology had existed for almost 40 years beforehand, with the earliest examples going back to 1902.

Technology aside however, there were also plenty of examples where black and white films were colorized in pre-production. Howard Hughes and Alfred Hitchcock created films in black and white, only to remake them in color, citing both artistic and financial reasons.

Kevin Shaw is a colorist, with over 30 years’ experience in the industry. He believes there is some truth in the notion of a stigma towards black and white on film. “There is a feeling that black and white is “missing” color rather than being seen as an alternative medium,” says Shaw, “and I believe this inclination persists today.”

Sandrew argues the very objections to colorization is what made it popular. “The fact that colorization was a “hot button” issue actually helped AFT become more popular with both clients and fans of colorization,” says Sandrew. “If people didn’t like colorization they didn’t have to buy nor watch it. Guess what…they did both!” Before Turner, there had already been a counter argument that color film was damaging to cinema. French director Francois Truffaut argued that color should not be used at all, making a statement in 1978 that “color has done as much damage to cinema as television.

It is necessary to fight against too much realism in the cinema; otherwise it’s not an art. From the moment that a film is in color, it’s not cinema anymore.” Shaw agrees somewhat with Truffant’s statement. “A director has to have a good, artistic reason to use black and white, and that doing so invokes a particular meaning to the project, it is a genre in its own right so not appropriate for all concepts.” Certainly there are examples of this. Alfred Hitchcock shot “Psycho” purposely in black and white to meet what he felt was the required tone for the film, as did CBS Productions with Rod Sterling’s original “Twilight Zone” television series. In both cases color was offered and refused as a medium.

In the 21st century, it’s perhaps hard to imagine a time when directors had such creative control over their own productions, especially productions with such important financial outcomes for their respective studios. Barry Sandrew agrees that films such as these are classics, which he says have been helped significantly by colorization. “The directors and actors were paid for their work,” says Sandrew, “that does not give them perpetual creative rights to the film. They do not own the film nor did they, in most cases, put up a dime to make the film. Colorization has actually served to subsidize the restoration and preservation of some of our most treasured public domain black and white feature films. In that regard, I believe that colorization has actually done a great service to these classics.”

Professor James O. Young, of the University of Victoria, wrote an academic paper entitled In Defense of Colorization in 1988 that stated once a work is modified it is no longer able to express its creators original intentions. His paper was written at a time when the first Turner produced color films came under criticism, namely because low quality colorization, restricted by the technology of the day.

But Young still believes its possible colorization can have a negative effect on a film’s artistic merit. “Appropriation from earlier art ought not to be prohibited,” he says. “Artists frequently borrow from their predecessors in a variety of ways and do so (some of the time) with good aesthetic results.”

Shaw argues that, regardless of 21st century technology, the same rules of artistic filmmaking merit apply. “We design images to fit the concept, to be emotionally evocative and to be easier for an audience to interpret.

It is a creative decision that should be made at the creation stage.” It would seem that the image (and color choice) of a film is therefore essential to its concept. Sandrew agrees with this up-to a point. “When I re-invented colorization in 2000 the film critics were no longer saying that the work looked shoddy or unrealistic. Instead they were saying that the colorization looked so natural. This raised a new concern from critics that the quality was too high and young people would never know what the film looked like in its original black and white format. So surprisingly, high quality colorization earned negative feedback as well!”

Ted Turner had the ability to spearhead a movement which, he personally felt, was of benefit to his consumer and made the business steps necessary to do this. But perhaps more ironically, as Young concludes, “the use of colorization has increased the distribution of original black and white versions, since these are now often packaged with color versions.”

Ironically, the greatest benefits come to those who feared their legacy might be jeopardized in the first place. While there’s no doubt life looks better in color the facts seem to indicate that audiences would rather see them as they were originally intended, sparks of geniuses intact. Colorization, like everything else in Film, has its place.