HPA Tech Retreat comes to the UK
The UK's first Hollywood Professional Alliance Tech Retreat set the bar high for future events
This week SMPTE UK hosted the first ever HPA Tech Retreat in the UK and TV Tech Europe was there.
The Hollywood Professional Association (its new name after years as the “Hollywood Post Alliance” - I still prefer "Alliance" myself) has been organising Tech Retreats events in Palm Springs, California since 2012, bringing together top technologists, engineers and craftspeople from the film and TV industry. The retreats, with their comfortable, collegial atmosphere, allow for a degree of frank industry analysis and networking that is lacking at most industry conferences – let alone the mania and chaos of a trade show. Spearheaded by SMPTE UK, Britain’s inaugural tech retreat was held in the Oxfordshire countryside at Heythrop Park Resort, an early 18th century country house accessible via narrow country lanes where you expect to see T.E. Lawrence’s crashed motorcycle around every turn.
HPA Tech Retreat UK featured breakfast roundtable discussions, which allowed delegates heated debates over eggs and bagels on such topics as “The case for a proprietary codec”, “The roll of the colorist from onset to finishing”, “Measuring, monitoring and conversion of HDR, WCG and 4K material in a post environment” and “Now render is becoming a utility, what do you want on-demand next?”.
The Tech Retreat also featured an Innovation Zone with vendors showing off technologies and services. Among the exhibitors were Avid, Leader, Omnitek, Root 6, Snell Advanced Media, Sony and Sundog.
Two and a half days of panel sessions and presentations underlined the impulse for HPA’s name change. What was once considered “post” is now linked to every part of production. Workflows no longer look like a factory assembly line, they look like an orange grove, with multiple processes occurring simultaneously, all working toward a harvest – hopefully.
Wednesday’s conference discussions commenced with a panel featuring the Game Of Thrones post production team. As a warm up, the panel opened with a 10 minute, shock & awe clip of Jon Snow and the Night's Watch battling the armies of the undead, projected in HDR by a Sony SRX-R515DS phosphor laser projector with a 26 speaker Dolby Atmos sound system on a new RealD Ultimate Screen. The Dolby Atmos sound was deafening loud, and I – and a few people around me – had to put fingers to ears to avoid a nosebleed. When the same footage was screened again the following day, the sound seemed to have been adjusted to bearable levels - but that could just be due to hearing loss.
Other footage shown included an enthralling concert clip of Imagine Dragons, which really captured the sensation of being in a real arena show, and 3D footage of Finding Dory and Disney's Jungle Book reboot, which were jaw-dropping in their brightness, color range and clarity.
Game of Thrones is the only TV series to be mixed in Dolby Atmos. The production of the show is as epic as the show itself. "It's like making ten feature films every year," said Erik Hansen of HBO's technical manager, media & production operations west coast. The post department is involved as soon as the image hits the sensor, with complete collaboration with the DITs onset.
Visual effects and animation workflows were particularly highlighted in the programme with MPC's VFX supervisor Adam Valdez outlining the production of The Jungle Book, a "hybrid" production shot entirely on a soundstage, with the young Mowgli it's only live action character. The London-based MPC team produced 54 animal species with 224 unique variations and 500 variations of plants and set dressing. Despite the near magical versatility of visual effects technology and craft skill now available, Valdez noted that digital water and digital set building still haven't been properly cracked.
Valdez felt it was a priority to communicate and collaborate across the production, and especially with the production team in Los Angeles. "Weeklies" were sent back to LA from MPC from the beginning of the show to update the Disney team on the visual effects progress.
Pixar's Cynthia Slavens gave an overview of the production of Finding Dory with insights into the workflows at the Rolls Royce of animation studios. Slavens was well aware of the privileged atmosphere in which the Pixar team works: "Hearing about the Game of Thrones schedule, I'm going back to work grateful for the luxurious timelines we have at Pixar."
High frame rates were a big topic of discussion, with new technologies for optimising high frame rate image quality being shown by Real D. The company's TrueImage processing collects huge amounts of date - 150,000 data points per pixel - and reduceds noise and enhances detail in HFR footage.
Interestingly, Pixar is conservative in adopting some of these new technologies. Slavens noted that Pixar's animation software runs - and will continue to run - at 24 frames per second only. She added that they are still delivering 2K images to cinemas and have no plans to up the ante to 4K: "The content doesn't seem to require it."
There were a number of figures thrown around for what will reproduce truly "life-like" motion in high frame rate. Some suggested 400fps would do it. The BBC's Andy Quested said 700fps was necessary to have absolutely no blur or judder.
Though many people helped put the HPA Retreat together, the organising force behind it was Richard Welsh (pictured at top in anti-"Alliance" stormtrooper t-shirt) CEO of Sundog Media Toolkit and former SMPTE governor for EMEA and Central/South America. Welsh also acted as host and as moderator of many of the sessions. If he plans on bringing the HPA Retreat to the UK on a regular basis, he has set a very high standard for himself.
Go to Twitter hashtag #HPATechRetreatUK to see our full live Twitter coverage of the event, which features insights, quotes and photos from the show and conference sessions.