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Where technology meets magic

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Advanced enough technology is indistinguishable from magic, a legendary author once said. At Disney World, the two have been combined in a dazzling way, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

The location is Disney World in Orlando. The scene is the World of Avatar, the newest major attraction at the theme park, based on the most successful movie ever.

Avatar lends itself to superlatives.

We are entering the most realistic fantasy world yet created as a theme park ride, the Na’vi River. Here, luminescent vegetation brushes our boat, glittering creatures bound past us, and the elusive Na’vi people lurk in the background.

“I helped create that sentry,” says my traveling companion, pointing to a magnificent, eerily real Na’vi guard that watches over the boats that brave this river. Even with this reminder of the manufactured nature of the scenery, the illusion persists.

“Arthur C Clarke one said that any advanced enough technology is indistinguishable from magic,” says my guide, Ron Martin, referring to the great science fiction author who wrote, among other, 2001 A Space Odyssey. Ron himself is something of a specialist in mixing technology and magic. He is vice president and director of the Panasonic Hollywood Laboratory, which has consulted on some of the great science fiction movies of our times.

This division of Panasonic has collaborated closely with movie-makers in the research and development of visual image processing technologies. It also works with cinemas in cutting edge projection technology. This legacy was brought strongly to bear on the World of Avatar and the planet Pandora.

“Our projection technology enables this lifelike imaging on the Na’vi River,” says Martin. “We sat down with Disney Imagineering, we listened to their creative vision, and we applied technology that satisfied that vision. We don’t move them to what we want, we make technology that enables the creative vision. It’s what I call technology under creative control.

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“Anywhere you see something non-physical, a projected image, that is our projection technology. All the physical elements, the lighting, the plant life that is illuminated, are built by Disney. But the characters and animals you see moving, and the multi-layer environment that creates the illusion of depth and looking deep into the jungle, is all Panasonic projection technology.”

The end-result is, as intended, both other-worldly and visually compelling. It is designed to elicit both oohs and aahs at the dazzling visual feast, and a sense of wonder at the exquisite detail, complexity and richness of the alien environment.

The biggest surprise of all is the extent to which the technology behind it is entirely invisible. It stands in stark contrast to “traditional” Disney rides like Pirates of the Caribbean, where decades-old animatronics – in effect robots programmed with limited movements – are used to bring pirates and their  environment to life.

Or, at least, a semblance of life. The creaking technology is all but visible, as the characters make their stilted and jerky movements.

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“The key is that we don’t want to be pushing technology for technology’s sake, but for the story’s sake,” says Martin. “If we achieve that goal, the guest is going to respond, gasping for joy, rather than saying. ‘Gee, that looks fake’. Everything we do in this arena is to that end, to not being a distraction, to make the story the thing.”

The World of Avatar is simultaneously evidence of how realistic ally a movie world can be replicated as an experience, and the beginning of a new wave of immersive theme park attractions. This year Disney World will open Toy Story Land, in which the visitor appears to have been shrunk to the size of a toy. Next year, it will debut Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge, which will be the theme park culmination of Disney’s acquisition of the Star Wars franchise.

“More and more, that level of entertainment is media-driven, so what we want is media that fulfils the creative vision,” says Martin. “It includes issues like resolution, brightness, and colour imagery, so that imaging blends into environments precisely. In a theatrical story-telling environment, precision is everything. When we come in and blend that into a physical  environment in a theme park, everything must blend in and complete the story rather than be a distraction from the story.

Ron Martin, vice president and director of the Panasonic Hollywood Laboratory.

Ron Martin, vice president and director of the Panasonic Hollywood Laboratory.

“Projection will continue to feature heavily in this process. These are contributory technologies to the idea of taking the cinema world and turning it into physical worlds you explore. The evolution of projection has to go forward, and brightness and colour accuracy and colour reproduction are a big part of the competitive nature of what we want to achieve.”

Having worked on ground-breaking titles like Avatar and Gravity, Martin is no stranger to both the imagination and technology it takes to create new worlds. He won’t go into detail on the specific technology that is used, but is happy to elaborate on his work on the original Avatar movie.

“The Panasonic Hollywood Laboratory worked very closely with James Cameron’s Lightstorm Entertainment in the development of the 3D imaging systems for Avatar, both on the cinema in terms of the specifications for the 3D cinema and for home video and the production of 3D Blu-ray and 3D televisions.

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“We’ve worked very closely with many film-makers. Much of the movement in home video in particular and in theatrical presentation was done through some of the work of Panasonic through research and development at the Hollywood lab.”

Martin is a personal friend of Cameron and has worked with him since the making of the record-breaking Titanic movie, but is reticent about elaborating on his personal role.

“It’s a collaborative effort when we sit down with directors and cinematographers and post-production teams, to determine work-flows, colour correction systems and presentation systems, transmission systems to get the data out to the theatre, or out to the home user, whether in packaged media or streeaming services. This is part of Panasonic’s broad reach of technology in the entertainment sector.”

Ultimately, the technology will go beyond movies and theme parks, spilling over into destination resorts, museums and the like. But don’t expect an overnight revolution, Martin advises.

“Technology moves at a slow developmental incremental pace and, the smarter we can be about that evolution, working with creative companies, whether it’s on the theatrical cinema side or the theme park side or the home video side, it’s an advantage for us to be part of that.”

  • Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee and on YouTube.

Inside Pandora

The World of Avatar, an expansion of Disney World’s’s Animal Kingdom, sees a recreation of the The Valley of Mo’ara on the planet of Pandora. The back-story is that the valley is undergoing a rebirth long after a destructive mining operation known as the Resources Development Administration (RDA) ceased operation. In other words, the theme park attraction is a sequel to the Avatar movie, which ends with the shutting down of the RDA operations.The company provided the following highlights of what visitors can see:

* The iconic floating mountains in the Valley of Mo’ara – there are 22 – peak at about 130 feet above the valley floor. Sharp-eyed adventurers will see Pandoran Stingbats nesting in the mountains.  A team of more than 60 artisans from the U.S., Peru, France, Portugal, Japan and Ireland contributed to creating the art-scape of the floating mountains.

* On Pandora, a diverse ecosystem is rebalancing as a variety of colorful plant life flourishes.
Plants have names like Puffball Tree, Dapophet, Vein Pod, Scorpion Thistle, Episoth and Flaska Reclinata.

* Many plants are bioluminescent, with internal lighting or material that makes them glow. Plants are interactive. Guests can see and sense the energy of the plants that moves in waves.

* No matter where guests go in Pandora, they will feel the presence of many animal species: The pack hunter, the Viperwolf with six legs and opposable thumbs;  the Direhorse, a six-legged domesticated riding animal; Mountain Banshees, with wingspans averaging approximately 45 feet.

* At Avatar Flight of Passage, 48 guests at a time can enter a state-of-the-art theater and board mountain banshees as avatars for the ride of their lives across Pandora.
Immersion in the world of Pandora is complete thanks to a projection screen 69 feet wide and more than 97 feet high.

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Legion gets a pro makeover

Lenovo’s latest Legion gaming laptop, the Y530, pulls out all the stops to deliver a sleek looking computer at a lower price point, writes BRYAN TURNER

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Gaming laptops have become synonymous with thick bodies, loud fans, and rainbow lights. Lenovo’s latest gaming laptop is here to change that.

The unit we reviewed housed an Intel Core i7-8750H, with an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 GPU. It featured dual storage, one bay fitted with a Samsung 256GB NVMe SSD and the other with a 1TB HDD.

The latest addition to the Legion lineup has become far more professional-looking, compared to the previous generation Y520. This trend is becoming more prevalent in the gaming laptop market and appeals to those who want to use a single device for work and play. Instead of sporting flashy colours, Lenovo has opted for an all-black computer body and a monochromatic, white light scheme. 

The laptop features an all-metal body with sharp edges and comes in at just under 24mm thick. Lenovo opted to make the Y530’s screen lid a little shorter than the bottom half of the laptop, which allowed for more goodies to be packed in the unit while still keeping it thin. The lid of the laptop features Legion branding that’s subtly engraved in the metal and aligned to the side. It also features a white light in the O of Legion that glows when the computer is in use.

The extra bit of the laptop body facilitates better cooling. Lenovo has upgraded its Legion fan system from the previous generation. For passive cooling, a type of cooling that relies on the body’s build instead of the fans, it handles regular office use without starting up the fans. A gaming laptop with good passive cooling is rare to find and Lenovo has shown that it can be achieved with a good build.

The internal fans start when gaming, as one would expect. They are about as loud as other gaming laptops, but this won’t be a problem for gamers who use headsets.

Click here to read about the screen quality, and how it performs in-game.

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Serious about security? Time to talk ISO 20000

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By EDWARD CARBUTT, executive director at Marval Africa

The looming Protection of Personal Information (PoPI) Act in South Africa and the introduction of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in the European Union (EU) have brought information security to the fore for many organisations. This in addition to the ISO 27001 standard that needs to be adhered to in order to assist the protection of information has caused organisations to scramble and ensure their information security measures are in line with regulatory requirements.

However, few businesses know or realise that if they are already ISO 20000 certified and follow Information Technology Infrastructure Library’s (ITIL) best practices they are effectively positioning themselves with other regulatory standards such as ISO 27001. In doing so, organisations are able to decrease the effort and time taken to adhere to the policies of this security standard.

ISO 20000, ITSM and ITIL – Where does ISO 27001 fit in?

ISO 20000 is the international standard for IT service management (ITSM) and reflects a business’s ability to adhere to best practice guidelines contained within the ITIL frameworks. 

ISO 20000 is process-based, it tackles many of the same topics as ISO 27001, such as incident management, problem management, change control and risk management. It’s therefore clear that if security forms part of ITSM’s outcomes, it should already be taken care of… So, why aren’t more businesses looking towards ISO 20000 to assist them in becoming ISO 27001 compliant?

The link to information security compliance

Information security management is a process that runs across the ITIL service life cycle interacting with all other processes in the framework. It is one of the key aspects of the ‘warranty of the service’, managed within the Service Level Agreement (SLA). The focus is ensuring that the quality of services produces the desired business value.

So, how are these standards different?

Even though ISO 20000 and ISO 27001 have many similarities and elements in common, there are still many differences. Organisations should take cognisance that ISO 20000 considers risk as one of the building elements of ITSM, but the standard is still service-based. Conversely, ISO 27001 is completely risk management-based and has risk management at its foundation whereas ISO 20000 encompasses much more

Why ISO 20000?

Organisations should ask themselves how they will derive value from ISO 20000. In Short, the ISO 20000 certification gives ITIL ‘teeth’. ITIL is not prescriptive, it is difficult to maintain momentum without adequate governance controls, however – ISO 20000 is.  ITIL does not insist on continual service improvement – ISO 20000 does. In addition, ITIL does not insist on evidence to prove quality and progress – ISO 20000 does.  ITIL is not being demanded by business – governance controls, auditability & agility are. This certification verifies an organisation’s ability to deliver ITSM within ITIL standards.

Ensuring ISO 20000 compliance provides peace of mind and shortens the journey to achieving other certifications, such as ISO 27001 compliance.

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