In this week’s Metro, I explore feature film motion capture technology and hear how performance capture artistes are being short-changed on acting accolades.
New Zealand-based Weta Digital is one of the world’s leading VFX and performance capture studios. I interviewed Dan Lemmon, visual effects supervisor on Oscar-nominated War for the Planet of the Apes.
I also spoke with Johl Garling, head of studio at Imaginarium Studios, a dedicated motion and performance capture studio co-founded by Andy Serkis in 2011.
In chatting with Dan and Johl, I realised a distinction – that had escaped me for now – between motion capture and performance capture:
‘Motion capture’ has become ‘performance capture’, a deserved nod to how the myriad cameras, sensors and polystyrene balls now combine to record subtlest nuances of an actor’s delivery
Performance capture a fascinating subject. While I couldn’t cover everything in the feature, there is one story I‘m keen to tell that we didn’t have space for in print:
The head-cam is another important part of believable performance capture. ‘Essentially, these are little video cameras attached to the actor’s head pointing at their face,’ explains Dan Lemmon, VFX supervisor at Weta Digital. ‘We add white markers to the face so we can track how each patch of skin moves, then transform those movements into curves and map them onto a digital puppet.’
In Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Andy Serkis wore four head-cams to capture the necessary detail to animate Snoke, the Supreme Leader. The challenge in the Planet of the Apes films is that Caesar’s face is so dissimilar to that of Serkis. ‘The nose, muzzle and brow are anatomically completely different,’ says Lemmon. ‘We have to figure out how to make certain facial expressions while respecting the realism of the ape’s anatomy. It requires a carefully trained human eye to make sure it looks right.’
Read more in the Metro e-edition here and take a look at my other visual effects stories in the Metro here
Earlier this month I chaired a panel for the BBC-hosted Children’s Global Media Summit in Manchester.
The summit takes place every 3 years, and I was thrilled to be invited to host the dauntingly titled The Rise of the Machines panel.
We asked: What do artificial intelligence, machine learning, augmented and virtual reality mean for the future of content consumption and creation? Not for our generation, but for our children’s.
Needless to say, it was a fascinating session. I’m immensely grateful to panellists Dave Coplin, Agust Ingason, Tawny Schlieski and Adam Howard for bringing it to life for our standing-room-only audience, as well as to producer Mark Owen.
The headline speaker at the event, however, was HRH Prince William, The Duke of Cambridge. Visiting Manchester with soon-to-be mum-of-three Catherine, The Duchess of Cambridge, he shared both his optimism and concerns about the impact of digital technology on children, expressing how little we still understand about the effect that always-on connectivity has on young people’s development.
There were many more important announcements at CGMS, including a great new BBC initiative – Own It – to support and empower young people online.
Visit the CGMS website for more highlights.
My ‘super cuts’ highlights packages for major tech product launches have become increasingly popular. In summer 2017, Mobile World Live commissioned me to produce video packages for the much-anticipated Samsung Galaxy Note 8 and the Apple iPhone X smartphone launches.
Standing now on another packed commuter train, I glance up to see a carriage full of people staring down at their smartphones. In fewer places is it more evident how mobile technology has become central to our lives.
It’s no wonder then that smartphone launches from the likes of Apple or Samsung attract significant attention from the media as well as the public, all eager to learn about the newest devices and their features.
That why quick-turnaround highlights packages – like those I’ve been producing over the last couple of years – have become very popular online and shareable on social media.
The full Apple press conference clocked-in at just under two hours, the Samsung Unpacked event at just under sixty minutes. Yet, shortly after each event, I’d edited and voiced crisp broadcast-spec packages capturing the most important moments and the energy from the entire event.
Similar items I’ve produced for media outlets have performed very well, capitalising on speed of production and the thirst for information on the latest mobile hardware.
Head over to Mobile World Live TV to see the full Apple iPhone X or Galaxy Note 8 stories, or take a look at some of my previous packages for MWL TV and International Business Times. And do drop me a line if you think a quick-turnaround package might work for your outlet or brand.
Recently, I joined Autocar Magazine at the Paris Motor Show, to report on announcements from Spanish car giant SEAT.
As well as getting a first look at the SEAT Ateca X-Perience concept SUV, I spent some time with SEAT president, Luca de Meo and presented a stand tour film:
These quick-turnaround shoot-edit videos were destined for the SEAT-sponsored Autocar Paris Motor Show 2016 blog, alongside photos and regular news nuggets from the show.
In today’s Metro tech section I shed some light on Li-Fi, a flashy new wireless tech that uses your living room light to help you browse safer and faster.
In a nutshell, Li-Fi is just like Wi-Fi except it uses visible light from domestic LED light bulbs to carry data, instead of invisible radio waves from a Wi-Fi router. As I put it in the Metro story, think Morse code on steroids.
Of course, using visible light does raise a few questions: many of us do not have our lights switched on during the day, some of our connected devices may sit under a desk in the dark, and rapid flashing or flickering is known to provoke headaches or worse.
I spoke with Professor Harald Haas, the luminary behind Li-Fi (here’s his TED talk on Li-Fi), who is well-practised at batting away these concerns as well as speaking of the technology’s benefits in terms of security, speed and even health:
Professor Haas is the co-founder of pureLiFi, the Edinburgh firm attempting to turn the technology into a viable commercial proposition. Its latest product, the pureLiFi-XC, features a USB adapter the size of a thumb drive with drivers certified for Microsoft Windows, Apple MacOS and Linux. Android and iOS smartphones and tablets are not supported yet, but pureLiFi hopes one day its technology will be embedded into all devices, just as to Bluetooth and Wi-Fi are now.
Li-Fi-enabling our light bulbs may prove more of a stumbling block, however. Each LED light that supplies a wireless data stream must be controlled by a Li-Fi access point which, in turn, must be network-connected. pureLifi may need to provide more ingenious ways to minimise the friction of installation if it is to muscle-in on Wi-Fi’s patch, particularly if it is to make waves in the domestic sector.
Nevertheless, if growth in connected smart-home and internet of things devices means that demand for radio frequency bandwidth exceeds availability – the so-called ‘spectrum crunch‘ – then technologies like Li-Fi will certainly have a place in our homes and offices of the future.
The new series of Rip Off Britain – series nine! – began on BBC1 this month and once I am on-hand as its resident technology expert.
Earlier this week, I spoke with Angela about how high-tech car criminals are able to hack their way past current keyless security systems. I also shared a few tips that may help concerned viewers prevent their cars being stolen. Here’s a quick taster:
Car crime has largely moved on from the coat hanger and hot-wire days of old, with crime rates decreasing by 80 percent since 1993 according to the Office for National Statistics. However, a new wave of tech-savvy car criminals is now making easy work of making off with many makes of car.
I’ve been following the high-tech car crime trend closely, trying to understand the ways in which criminals are able to bypass or subvert car keyless security systems – whether through signal amplification, wireless jamming or keyless code capture. Criminals often steal to order, targeting high-value vehicles that are driven to so-called ‘chop-shops’ and sold on for parts.
Next week I travel to Glasgow for BBC Rip Off Britain Live. I find the live shows particularly enjoyable because we are able to be responsive to news stories as they break. As such, I can’t say yet exactly which stories I’ll be covering, but I believe we’ll be discussing how the Internet of Things has made our homes vulnerable to hackers.
In this week’s Metro newspaper I share my top turntable picks.
The ‘vinyl revival‘ is a term coined to describe the resurgent interest in records and record players that dominated the musical youths of me and many others over 35. In fact, record sales recently hit a 25-year high.
Technically obsolete behind the CD, MP3 and now online streaming services, vinyl has nevertheless maintained mindshare with those who value the tangible side of owning music – not least the album art – alongside the much vaunted ‘warmth‘ vinyl brings. Indisputably, nostalgia plays a big part of this; cost and convenience? Perhaps not so much.
I can tell you that the first 7-inch singles I bought were You Can Call Me Al by Paul Simon and For America by Red Box (wasn’t 1986 a great year?), but they were pre-dated in our house by shelves of my parents‘ discs – an eclectic mix of folk, country and pop, plus Hancock‘s Half Hour radio comedies like The Blood Donor and (my favourite) The Radio Ham.
I have now taken the reigns of its Inspect-a-Gadget column, where my remit will be to cover where emerging technology meets with business IT. Or, less elegantly, what the latest gadgets and consumer tech mean for the workplace.
Among my recent stories there, I have looked at how the all-new Bluetooth 5 standard ups the ante for the Internet of Things, got an early hands-on with the QWERTY-equipped BlackBerry KEYone smartphone, and visited London Tech Week to meet a UK startup that claims to have cracked Siri for the office with its UMA conversational AI:
Earlier this week, I began looking at some new entries to Gartner Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies 2017.