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NAB 2017, Part 1: Chimera-ing in the Desert Heat


LR-NabShowDistances can be deceiving in the lights of Vegas; you might think you’re going to take a quick walk to the resort hotel next door, only to find it’s a half mile away, especially once you factor in all the twists and turns of the walkways along the Strip, deliberately careening into hotel lobbies, etc.

Distances have also been deceiving at NAB, or perhaps they’re simply being reconsidered. Things like visual effects, video games, Hollywood movie making, computer technology, each of which might have had separate trade shows of their own (and still might, whether SIGGRAPH, say, is really still distinct from NAB), are now reaching a kind of digital singularity.

The distances between these things are, in this case, collapsing, rather than expanding, since the “B” of “NAB” — which once meant “broadcast” in a terrestrial, adjust-the-antenna, what-time-is-Walter-Cronkite on kind of way — now simply means “streamed,” or “transmitted” in the broadest sense, from one device to another.

So if anything can be “broadcast,” even phone-to-phone, then everyone, in a kind of Warholian sense, can potentially be a star.

Game of Thrones' City of Volantis
Game of Thrones‘ City of Volantis

At least 103,000 of those people were all at NAB this week, which describes itself as “the world’s largest annual convention encompassing the convergence of media, entertainment and technology,” which may be why it feels increasingly like Comic-Con.

Though of course, perhaps the “MET” in that description will one day supercede the “NAB” part.

As for the Comic-Con aspect, I found myself at a panel co-sponsored by ICG, the International Cinemtographers Guild, on Game of Thrones, “Behind the Scenes with the Filmmakers.” And similar to San Diego, there was a long line of people snaking down the hallway, at least an hour before start time, hoping to get in.

The panel itself evoked many of the themes popping up in different contexts throughout the show: collaboration, asset management (and how best to shuttle around all those digits and information), and yes, even what gear and tools are used.

For Game of Thrones executive producer Bernadette Caulfield, one of the key strategies to shooting that much story in that many places in so short a time, is to have to two dedicated units, with director paired up with DP, filming (“digiting,” since they’re using Alexas?) simultaneously. Often this means that one DP will “start” a set, in terms of lighting, that another one will finish later, for a subsequent episode. Unsurprisingly, the units are known as the “Dragon Crew,” and “Wolf Crew,” respectively.

WASP 100-C
Hive Lights’ WASP 100-C

Producer Greg Spence noted that they try to give the directors and DPs a free hand, but general visual guidelines include “a little diffusion,” and trying to use “organic light,” which for this particular show generally means moonlight, sunlight, and fire. Or the greenish “wildfire” that was in turn based on “Greek fire” from the early middle ages.

But lighting has progressed from torchlight, and just as we’re past the era of heavy cameras, we’re in the era of increasingly, well, lighter lights, too. Not even the plasma lighting that replaced the hand-scorching rigs of yore, but ever more portable LED lights, with the ability to compensate and correct for color on-the-spot.

L.A-based Hive Lights was but one example, with its WASP 100-C, which can run off household power, and allows manual or DMX control of intensity and color — often through a smartphone. Which is something I demo’d myself via Estonia-based Digital Sputnik, with their LightGrading app that allows you set to color and intensity with a swipe of the finger around a color wheel on your iPad.

That wheel being the same shape as British Rotolight’s just-introduced Aeos, a light, thin array of LED lights in a circle, rounded like those large spotlights back from when “broadcast” meant TV and a “stream” was found in the mountains. But Aeos is easily portable — I wielded it myself, from hand to hand —  with controls for minimizing strobing on digital cameras, aperture dimming, and more.

Rotolight’s Aeos

We knew from Cine Gears past, however, that lighting was being revolutionized, and along with the portability of “broadcast quality” cameras now — BlackMagic Design’s under $1k Pocket Cinema Camera being one example — everyone can be their own studio.

And as for Aeos, don’t confuse it with Canon’s EOS  cinema camera line. Aeos, after all, was one of the winged horses that pulled the sun-god Helios’ chariot across the sky. But the moon is still part of that dichotomy, as we were reminded when we attended a lively Canon event, where a lot of breathtaking image capture was shown. But I was impressed when their line of HDR lenses was being touted, for all its 4K dynamism, as “being better with the blacks (and greys)” familiar to a a darker, smokier, more “noir” kind of look.

BlackMagic Design’s Pocket Cinema Camera
BlackMagic Design’s Pocket Cinema Camera

Which means that even as things change, certain types of stories — fire-breathing dragons, dames and gumshoes — still provide a kind of resonance and comfort.

Even if, as an Accenture study released for the show found that, in “an accelerating shift in the digital video market consumer behavior, the percentage of consumers who prefer watching TV shows on television sets plummeted by 55 percent over the past year, from 52 percent to 23 percent.”

Their preferred new types of screens? Well, you already know: Laptops and desktops. Yet isn’t that screen in your living room already a kind of “monitor,” anyway?

And what will that mean for visual storytelling? Or the people who make them — “broadcast” them — for a living?

We’ll have more on this not only in the weeks and months to come, but in Part II of our NAB coverage.
Stay, as they say, tuned.

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