Monday, October 22, 2007

True Calling

George surveyed the half-dozen St. Petersburg State grad students cloistered around the table, intent faces illuminated by the ubiquitous glow of their iPhones. This was his third class of the day--his last class before hopping the Aeroflot redeye to make it back to the set on time for tomorrow’s shoot.

Teaching may soothe his soul, but Hollywood still paid the bills.

“Now this,” he said, as the PowerPoint projected a grainy, black-and-white image of nine chummy men posing in front of shrubbery, “is one of the infamous Sochi photographs. I trust you’re familiar with them? The techniques used were crude by today’s standards--some may say airbrushing is a lost art, but I’m pretty sure the airbrush artist wished he’d lost this phantom hand as well.”

The image switched to a different version of the first, this one lacking the tall, dark-sweatered man in the middle. All that remained to mark his existence was a disembodied hand resting on the shoulder of the man to his immediate left. Laughter rippled through the room.

“The secret to history is that it’s an illusion, but that doesn’t mean you can be complacent. You’re all experts at Photoshop, but when all is said and done, that software is little more than a fancy airbrush. There’s still plenty of room for human error, and you’re going to be doing considerably more than retouching a few old black and white snapshots.”

That sobered them in a hurry. Good, he thought. They need to understand the power he was bestowing upon them.

“Today’s explosion of multimedia presents far greater challenges than ever. Digital imagery has revolutionized photography, and while that has made it far easier to manipulate photos, by the same token it has made it easier to detect alterations.” George forwarded the PowerPoint to an embedded video. This was one of his favorite parts, yet he couldn’t help the fleeting bitterness that he hadn’t thought of it first. “Content aware imaging is only the latest advance in photo manipulation. See that person on the beach? Gone, just like that. The central algorithm literally breaks down every pixel in the image, assigning them informational value. When the time comes to subtract these ‘unwanted elements’ from the scene, the program does so in most expeditious manner possible, while simultaneously preserving the maximum amount of information. In short, the altered image not only looks authentic, it feels authentic, too.

“This is it. This is the revolution, and we're in the middle of it. It's a great time to be alive. I don’t have to tell you how happy I was when my team succeeded in applying the process to digital film. The great advantage of digital content awareness is that it works equally well with visual or audio.” He scratched his beard for dramatic effect as the image of Ron Howard and Cindy Williams leaning against an Edsel appeared on the screen behind him. “Take, for example, American Graffitti. A little outside your cultural touchstones, I know, but bear with me. Originally, I had the Crystals’ ‘And He Kissed Me’ featured prominently in the film. We ran into some licensing problems with that one song when it came time for the DVD release, and I said to myself, ‘Why are we going through this hassle?’ Ultimately, we were able to do an audio search-and-replace and nobody ever noticed the difference. I think ‘Why Do Fools Fall in Love’ was what we finally replaced it with. And if you look closely, you can see a 16-year-old Tom Hanks there in the background. He wasn’t in the original, of course, but I thought he’d get a kick out of--”

The door opened, flooding the room with glaring light. “Comrade George?”

George raised his hand to shield his eyes. “I’m in the middle of a class here, Dmitri.”

“Sorry for the intrusion, Comrade George,” the dark-suited Dmitri answered. “President Putin requests your presence. It is urgent.”

“I thought Sergei--“

Nyet. The President was quite insistent that your... ah, particular vision is needed.” Dmitri dropped his voice ominously. “It involves Kasparov.”

“Oh,” said George, then brightened abruptly. “Oh! I see. Yes, well then, can I bring my class along? This is what they’re here for, after all.”

Dmitri looked ill at ease, then nodded abruptly.

“Class, you’re in for a treat,” George announced, positively beaming in his trademark flannel. “You’re about to see why the ability to checkmate Magerramov is insignificant next to my quest for immaculate reality.”

© 2007 Jayme Lynn Blaschke


Chris Nakashima-Brown said...

Jayme -- That is my kind of Sovietology -- complete with Pootie-poot and reality alteration. Nice!


Jayme Lynn Blaschke said...

I must admit I was consciously channeling a bit of Nakashima-Brown when putting this one together. Nice of you to notice.