By Nolan Jennings
I have a confession: I am 28 years old, have lived in Los Angeles for over six years and had not been to Las Vegas until this past week. My naiveté concerning Las Vegas is generally a well-kept secret among my millennial peers, who seem to consider a debaucherous Las Vegas weekend a requisite validation of 21st century American life.
In addition, this was my first experience attending the National Association of Broadcasters convention (NAB). The simultaneous exposure to these two monolithic experiences was almost too great to bear, but I can happily report that I am safely back in Los Angeles, giddily recalling all of the incredible experiences I had over the course of the past four days.
Below, I’d love to share with you some background on how I arrived at NAB, and a few of the cool things I witnessed there.
How I Got There: An Introduction to Blue Collar Post Collective
I would not have been able to attend NAB without the wonderful generosity of the Blue Collar Post Collective (BCPC). For those not aware, BCPC is an organization of post production artists. Initially founded in New York City, BCPC has branched out to Los Angeles in recent years, and now boasts a bi-coastal membership representing every facet of the post industry.
BCPC hosts networking events as well as educational seminars, connecting various arms of the industry in order to promote awareness across all the various spectrums of the post industry including editorial, motion graphics, VFX, colorists, etc. If you haven’t been to one of these events, do yourself a favor and go to their website or sign up on the BCPC Facebook page to learn more and find their next one.
In addition to educational seminars, they are now offering the Professional Development Accessibility Program (PDAP), which assists folks like me who would not otherwise be able to take advantage of opportunities like NAB. Through this program, myself and two other talented post pros were able to travel to Las Vegas, stay there for four days and take advantage of quite literally every opportunity available.
PART 1: Arrival
We touched down at McCarran International Airport. I exited the gate and was immediately confronted with slot machines. Slot Machines! In the terminal! Any illusions I had about my peers’ exaggerations of Vegas were immediately decimated. Thus initiated, I hired a cab to take me to the front steps of the Las Vegas Convention Center. The car pulled up, and I was struck again by Vegas bravado. A giant window wrap advertising DaVinci Resolve 14 covered the entire face of the South Hall. Hoards of attendees streamed toward the entrance sporting their NAB badges. I emerged from the cab and trepidly joined them, holding my backpack close and clutching my pre-registered badge.
Once inside the South Hall I headed for a talk hosted by Rob Legato, the three-time Oscar-winning VFX supervisor whose most recent win was for John Favreau’s adaption of The Jungle Book. Say what you will about the movie in a narrative construct, but I dare anyone to challenge its visual sophistication. Legato talked candidly about the process required to bring the movie to life and showed extensive clips that revealed the extent of previs that preceded actual production, which was completed entirely on sound stages in downtown Los Angeles.
In particular, he emphasized the advent of virtual previsualization, and the benefits this process can provide to not only big-budget productions, but also micro projects due to the ease of use and rapidly sinking costs of HD cameras and previs software. The chance to witness those evolutions in Legato’s talk was a quantum leap forward in my understanding of the current state of affairs in post.
Following Legato’s presentation, I attended talks and classes with experts in various fields, such as motion graphics, virtual and augmented reality, and machine learning before finally checking into my hotel and attending a BCPC meet-up.
Part 2: NAB’s Show Floor
On the morning of day two I returned to the convention center and began to truly acquaint myself with the show. NAB is roughly divided into three types of experiences.
You could arguably spend your entire time walking the show floor (and accumulating thousands of Fit-bit steps). The variety of technology was absolutely astounding, and experts from each company was on hand to answer any questions you might have. The VR and AR demonstrations were some of the most fun to play with. Studios such as Digital Domain and companies like Nokia with its Ozo camera are making some terrific advances in the field, particularly in the realm of live-event VR broadcasting.
Another stand out was Adobe and its Character Animator, an animation application that uses facial recognition technology to animate an illustration based on the acting you perform in front of your computer’s camera. If you have a creative cloud subscription, this comes bundled with After Effects, and I highly recommend playing around with it. You don’t need any experience with animation in order to have a blast playing with Character Animator.
There were also many classes taught during NAB, covering everything from HTML 5 animations to motion graphics to assistant editing in TV/film and beyond. The classes were taught by experts in their respective fields who were all very happy to answer questions and talk after the sessions were done.
I spent much of my time learning the various tools used in documentary editing, After Effects tricks and how video can be creatively and interactively incorporated into HTML 5 using cinemagraphs and other techniques. I knew many of the instructors from online tutorials and sites such as School of Motion. It was a very nerdy sort of star-struck feeling.
Earlier I mentioned Rob Legato’s talk on The Jungle Book. His presentation was extraordinary, but it was only one of many amazing panels. Stand-outs included the editorial team from the new movie Logan, who spoke at length about their experience working on the movie. From pre-production to dailies ingest to test screenings to final delivery, their insights into the art of editing were enthralling. They showed several clips and discussed the various stages of the cut, as well as the discussions and even arguments that occurred over certain choices made in the edit. For an assistant editor such as myself who aspires to work on a project like Logan, this was a very special experience.
Other panels covered the emerging distribution landscape in VR entertainment, the cinematic innovations required to bring Ghost in the Shell to life, and a presentation of Big Little Lies hosted by Avid. These talks were indispensable elements of my NAB experience, and I’ll be going over the notes I took for months to come.
Part 3: Vendors
Through the auspices of Blue Collar Post Collective as well as postPerspective, I was able to meet with a few particular vendors who gave me a comprehensive tour of their new products.
One of these was Christie, In the world of post, there is always a heavy focus on the tools that allow us to create wonderful content, but there is often little attention paid to the tools that shepherd that content into the eyes of audiences around the world. What good is a finely crafted story if it never reaches an audience, or reaches an audience in the wrong way? Christie offers an impressive line-up of industry leading projectors. If you have doubts as to the quality of their product, look no further than James Cameron’s endorsement. He’s using their RGB laser projection series to ensure his images are up to snuff.
JMR have been creating storage solutions for years, and their innovations continue to push the boundaries of speed and mobility for post pros. As an example, their Lightning LTNG-XD-8-MMDT uses a Mac mini integration to power an extremely fast and portable system that can provide up to 64TB of native disk storage capacity for your DI cart or other on-site production workflows.
I was lucky enough to attend Canon’s NAB 2017 dinner, where Canon showed its guests their new Compact-Servo lenses — 4K Super 35mm lenses that deliver the quality of cinema lenses at a fraction of the price and with all the ease of use that you typically associate with photography lenses. Additionally, they showed footage of the aurora borealis shot in Alaska, and the images they were able to get in an incredibly low-light environment were astounding, with extremely little noise in the image. I personally have been using Canon DSLRs for years, and this presentation convinced me that my love for Canon won’t be ending anytime soon.
Part 3: Au Revoir
The finale in my NAB experience was the 16th Annual Las Vegas SuperMeet, with presentations by Blackmagic, Adobe, HP and many others. These presentations were punctuated by raucous raffle announcements, with winners running up to the stage with their ticket in hand, jumping and screaming in delight as they walked away with some seriously valuable prizes, including a full DaVinci Resolve system.
These events were impressive, but the highlight for me was an interview with Dody Dorn, ACE, editor of many of my favorite films, including Memento. Her insights into the craft of editing were extraordinary. She focused entirely on character and storytelling, answering questions with a sense of humor and humility that belied her extreme talents and accomplishments.
I walked away from the SuperMeet wishing I could stay at NAB for the entire week. Unfortunately, duty called. I was on my way to the airport, back to Los Angeles where a list of director notes sat in my editing bay, ready to be addressed. I can’t emphasize enough how impactful the NAB experience was. My perspective on our industry shifted radically, and my knowledge base expanded more in four days than over the past year. I look forward to returning next year, the year after that, and so on. Au revoir NAB — see you next time.
Nolan Jennings is an LA-based assistant editor currently working on Season 5 of The Fosters or Freeform.