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Issue: Volume: 31 Issue: 7 (July 2008)

Knowledge and Career - 7/08 - Part 2


SCREEN TEST
Evolving the art of panoramic projection


While its technology can be found in numerous commercial applications, Norwegian projector manufacturer ProjectionDesign also plays a key role in advancing academic research through a number of initiatives. In particular, the company’s relationship with the iCinema Research Centre of Australia’s University of New South Wales (UNSW) has led directly to the development of new panoramic screen experiences that are having a major impact on the way we use and perceive audiovisual media.

The relationship between ProjectionDesign and iCinema began in 2003, when professor Jeffrey Shaw, iCinema’s director, contacted ProjectionDesign’s Thierry Ollivier to examine the suitability of the manufacturer’s projectors for his 360-degree applications. Shaw, an international media art pioneer, had begun researching the potential of panoramic projection in 1995, when he was founding director of the ZKM Institute for Visual Media in Karlsruhe, Germany.

Shaw’s initial use of ProjectionDesign products was for iCinema’s Advanced Visualization and Interaction Environment (AVIE) system—the world’s first 360-degree stereoscopic panoramic projection environment, which was launched in 2004 using 12 F1+ projectors.

AVIE comprises a cylindrical, silvered screen measuring four meters high by 10 meters in diameter; on the internal surface, 360-degree 3D panoramic multimedia content can be projected. The setup uses a cluster of seven PCs and 12 projectors, arranged in stereoscopic pairs fitted with polarization filters. The total resolution is approximately 8000x1000 pixels. The iCinema team also has developed custom warping and edge-blending software for a seamless, fully immersive experience.

Visitors to the AVIE environment can be tracked by infrared cameras as well as by real-time position and gesture-analysis software. This enables audience participation and interplay between real people and projected characters or avatars, and, in a training application, precise analysis of audience reactions and behavior.


The Australian mining industry recently signed contracts for multiple AVIE and iDome systems for the purpose of safety training.

Subsequent to AVIE, the iCinema team developed the hemispherical iDome, using ProjectionDesign’s F30 1080p projectors. The iDome utilizes a three- or four-meter diameter fiberglass dome for 360x180-degree projection utilizing one projector and a spherical mirror as a reflection surface. The size and shape of this vertically mounted hemispherical projection setup covers the entire peripheral vision of the user standing directly in front of it, resulting in a truly immersive and interactive experience.

iCinema’s panoramic production resources include a custom-built 24-megapixel digital video camera, called the Spherecam. With this ultra-high-resolution system, the camera­person does not have to frame the shot; instead, the person captures the whole world and then lets the viewer choose what to look at when it is all projected in the round.

The original AVIE and iDome systems are installed at iCinema’s Scientia facility at UNSW in Sydney, and they have since been the basis for a number of installations throughout the world, in a mixture of scientific and artistic visualization and training applications.

“As a result of our experiences, ProjectionDesign was chosen by the ZKM Centre for Art and Media in Karlsruhe to equip the recently built PanoramaScreens with F20 sx+ projectors,” Shaw explains. “This was also the case for the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Centre at Rensselaer Polytechnic University in New York—another iCinema partner, which has recently purchased our AVIE system equipped with ProjectionDesign F3+ projectors.”

One of the latest applications for AVIE is T Visionarium, which premiered in January 2008 at the International Sydney Festival and will be shown in Shanghai, China, later in the year. Offering an all-surrounding 3D spectacle of hundreds of video clips that the viewers can interactively sort and edit, T Visionarium is a unique interactive cinema experience that lets the user remix more than 20,000 video clips derived from Australian broadcast television.


Working with ProjectionDesign, iCinema Research Centre has developed new panoramic screen experiences.

Meanwhile, the Australian mining industry recently signed contracts for multiple AVIE and iDome systems for the purpose of safety training with New South Innovations, the technology commercialization division of UNSW. The agreement will have iCinema supply four AVIE theatres and 12 iDomes to four purpose-built VR training sites across New South Wales. Among them, the systems will use more than 80 of ProjectionDesign’s F20 sx+ and F30 1080p projectors.

“Our groundbreaking research, in cooperation with ProjectionDesign, has brought about unique advances in panoramic visualization and simulation,” says Shaw. “Interactive digital media systems offer extraordinary new opportunities, and our research is focused on the way these can be used to create new methods of living in the contemporary world, redefining how we seek recreation and learning, and how we work and do business.”

Anders Løkke, marketing and communications manager at ProjectionDesign, concludes: “Our relationship with institutions like iCinema is part of what makes us different as a manufacturer. We are happy to support academic and artistic research into the use of AV and cinema technology because we know it will bring about specialist commercial benefits—for us, for our end customers, and for the industry as a whole.”
 


JOB SKILLS 101
Internships provide an ideal learning environment
By Marc Loftus

For those aspiring to break into the computer graphics, production, or post industries, an internship can play an important role. Not only does it provide a foot in the door, it’s also a way to see how a studio operates from the inside, as well as an opportunity to ask questions and learn from veteran talent.

Many facilities are opening their doors to students, giving them hands-on experience that goes beyond what can be learned in a classroom. And those who show aptitude and desire are often rewarded with paid positions down the road, when openings become available. Here’s a look at a cross section of facilities that host internships—not just in the summer, but all year round.

Company X/Sugarbox
According to Rachelle Way, executive producer at Manhattan edit house Company X and its sister company, Sugarbox, which provides original music, supervision, searches, and recording services, the two studios utilize interns throughout the year. With the facility located in New York City, Way says the group is able to tap the local colleges as well as post opportunities on Web sites such as mandy.com.

“We get a big variety of students, post-college people, and even a little older people looking for a career change,” Way says.

Company X and Sugarbox have been hosting their intern program for approximately three years and structure it around the semesters of the school year. At any time, there might be four or five interns working at the locales.

“They don’t come in every day,” Way explains, “they come in a couple of days a week. We have a schedule.” Candidates range in skill level and experience.
 
Depending on the person’s skill level, the time at the studio could entail helping composers and engineers with mixes or recordings. Those with editing experience can help with digitizing and creating QuickTimes. “They are able to get hands-on experience if they have some experience,” says Way. If they don’t have experience, they will be given a chance to sit with editors, composers, and engineers to learn more about the tools. “We try to get them involved in projects, like reorganizing the music library, just to give them an idea of the type of stuff we do.”

The staff at Company X and Sugarbox later report to Way on an intern’s progress. “If an intern has been really helpful, they let me know that. And when it comes time to fill an entry-level position, we think of our interns first.”

Imageworks
Sony Pictures Imageworks in Culver City, California, has an internship program that runs throughout the year, says Sande Scoredos, executive director of training and artist development. The company’s IPAX program connects teaching faculty at 18 educational institutions with industry pros who can offer direction in animation and VFX trends. This can be passed on at the classroom level to help develop future talent. Teachers involved in fellowships can recommend students for an internship, and those who are selected—as many as 15 in the summer—begin the eight-week program by taking an in-house training course that details the technology, vocabulary, and positions at the studio.


Brian Lee (right), USC School of Cinematic Arts, receives a certificate from Suzanne Labrie (left), Imageworks’ executive director of production management.

“They do a week of that,” Scoredos explains. “They get assigned a work space, e-mail address, and computer, so they are pretty immersed. We are looking at their skills, and we have classes during the whole eight weeks that they can take—whether it’s in animation, effects, or different areas. Some come in and don’t know the particular software we use, and some do know, so they have different levels [of knowledge].”

All the interns are active students who are enrolled and registered to return to school. Imageworks is not looking for graduates, says Scoredos. “We’re looking for people who will benefit the most from an internship experience and take that back to the classroom, and those who will learn more—and, hopefully, we will hire them. We have been successful in doing that. We’ve hired a lot of interns, but they have to finish school.”

The program also provides a chance for participants to get exposure to different disciplines. “They may have come in thinking they want to be an animator, but did not know there was matte painting, or texture painting, or Inferno work,” Scoredos notes. “They get the chance to take a class with an actual artist, who explains what they do and how they got into it, and also show their work. It can be very enlightening, and they might go back to school with a bit of a different focus.”

PostWorks
Because of its Midtown location, PostWorks prefers to select candidates who are ready to embrace postproduction as their career, rather than those on college break. According to Bill Ivie, VP of PostWorks’ Sound Group, the studio often receives resumes from graduates of The School of Audio Engineering (SAE), the Institute of Audio Research (IAR), and Full Sail University. Clients and friends also make recommendations. The studio interviews a half dozen candidates every three months or so, and has two or three interns on hand at any time.

“The intern’s primary responsibilities are to run packages between the Midtown office and clients, and especially to our main facility in SoHo,” Ivie explains. “They also need to be able to answer phones, cover the reception desk, run errands, change an occasional lightbulb, and be sure the studios are well stocked. They don’t clean bathrooms or mop floors, nor are asked to keep long hours.” 

In addition to their regular duties, interns have a chance to learn the basics of duplication, signal flow, and patch bays, and how to operate the numerous SD and HD equipment. They are also encouraged to observe sessions and ask questions.


PostWorks' Bill Ivie: Make a good impression and secure a position at the studio.

“If our intern survives three months of scrutiny and he or she displays plenty of potential, we do our best to find an entry-level position somewhere in the company,” says Ivie. “We advise them to put aside preferences and accept whatever opening becomes available, because once they’re in, they will gravitate towards the right specialty or even discover an area they hadn’t even known about that might be more appealing.”

Ravenswork
Robert Feist is the owner of Venice, California-based audio post house Ravenswork and co-chair of the Venice Media District, a local collective that shares and promotes its community resources. The Venice Media District has a relationship with Venice Arts, a local nonprofit organization that works with at-risk youths in the area, offering them instruction through programs that include photography and digital filmmaking. These participants have a chance to intern at some of the District’s member studios.

“Until now, there hasn’t been any way for them to move forward,” says Feist of the kids in the Venice Arts program. “So by starting this internship program, we are able to take these kids and keep them moving forward.”

Ravenswork regularly has one or two interns working at the studio at any time during the year. Interns have a chance to learn the workflow of the facility, see how the machine room operates, and obtain an understanding of the in-house post tools. “We don’t have anyone sweeping up,” says Feist. “They get some hands-on experience. They hang out with other workers and assistants, and pretty much learn what the assistants do. It gives them more of a direct hands-on experience in a real working environment.”

Ravenswork also works with local colleges. Those seeking internship opportunities have to show more than just a casual interest, though. “[When] I take students who just want to learn, it just doesn’t work out. They have to show they are interested,” says Feist. “It takes a certain amount of work for a company to [support] these interns. It takes effort to manage them, give them experience, and train them.”

Feist says he has a few simple rules interns need to follow in order to be a success: “They have to treat it like a job. They have to be on time. If they are going to be late, they have to call, and if they don’t, I’ll let them go. I want them to have a feel for what it’s like to have a real job.”

Internships can last three or four months, and one recent participant showed real desire—staying after hours and asking lots of questions. His reward? He received a paid, entry-level position. 

Marc Loftus is a senior editor at Post, CGW’s sister publication. He can be reached at mloftus@postmagazine.com .

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