Monthly Archives: August 2021

How Google’s new “Total Relighting” tech works

As I mentioned back in May,

You might remember the portrait relighting features that launched on Google Pixel devices last year, leveraging some earlier research. Now a number of my former Google colleagues have created a new method for figuring out how a portrait is lit, then imposing new light sources in order to help it blend into new environments.

Two-Minute Papers has put together a nice, accessible summary of how it works:

3D: A Rube Goldberg “exquisite corpse”

This fruit of collaborative creation process, all keyed off of a single scene file, is something to be hold, especially when viewed on a phone (where it approximates scrolling through a magical world):

For Dynamic Machines, I challenged 3D artists to guide a chrome ball from point A to point B in the most creative way possible. Nearly 2,000 artists entered, and in this video, the Top 100 renders are featured from an incredible community of 3D artists!

Little Photoshop of Horrors

Heh—my Adobe video eng teammate Eric Sanders passed along this fun poster (artist unknown):

It reminds me of a silly thing I made years ago when our then-little kids had a weird fixation on light fixtures. Oddly enough, this remains the one & presumably only piece of art I’ll ever get to show Matt Groening, as I got to meet him at dinner with Lynda Weinman back then. (Forgive the name drop; I have so few!)

Adobe makes a billion-dollar bet on cloud video collaboration

Back in 1999, before I worked at Adobe, a PM there called me to inquire about my design agency’s needs as we worked across teams and offices spread over multiple time zones. In the intervening years the company has tried many approaches, some more successful than others (what up, Version Cue! yeah, now who feels old…), but now they’re making the biggest bet I’ve seen:

With over a million users across media and entertainment companies, agencies, and global brands, streamlines the video production process by enabling video editors and key project stakeholders to seamlessly collaborate using cloud-first workflows.

Creative Cloud customers, from video editors, to producers, to marketers, will benefit from seamless collaboration on video projects with workflow functionality built natively in Adobe Creative Cloud applications like Adobe Premiere Pro, Adobe After Effects, and Adobe Photoshop.

I can’t wait to see how all this plays out—and if you’re looking for the ear of a PM on point who’d like to hear your thoughts, well, there’s one who lives in my house. 🙂

Come guide Photoshop by joining its new Beta program

“Be bold, and mighty forces will come to your aid.” – Goethe

So I said nearly 15 (!) years ago (cripes…) when we launched the first Photoshop public beta. Back then the effort required moving heaven and earth, whereas now it’s a matter of “oh hai, click that little icon that you probably neglect in your toolbar; here be goodies.” Such is progress, as the extraordinary becomes the ordinary. Anyhoo:

Photoshop Beta is debuting this month. It is a new way Creative Cloud members can give feedback to the Photoshop team. Photoshop Beta is an exciting opportunity to test and provide feedback about stability, performance, and occasionally new features by using a version of Photoshop before it is released.

To get Photoshop Beta, Creative Cloud members can install it from the Beta section of the Creative Cloud desktop app. Look for Photoshop Beta and simply click Install.

To provide feedback, head over to the Photoshop Ecosystem Adobe Community and create a new post using the “Beta” topic. Stay tuned for a brand-new forum experience for the Photoshop Beta coming soon.

Design: Why Monorails almost never work out

I was such a die-hard Apple dead-ender in the 90’s that I’d often fruitlessly pitch Macs anyone who’d listen (any many who wouldn’t). My roommate would listen to my rants about the vile inelegance of Windows, then gently shake his head and say, “Look, I get it. But the Mac is like a monorail: it’s sleek, it’s beautiful, and it’s just stuck on some little loop.” Then off he went to buy a new gaming PC.

This funny, informative video explains the actual mechanics & economics that explain why such “futuristic” designs have rarely made sense in the real world. Check it out.

Behind the scenes with Olympians & Google’s AR “Scan Van”

I swear I spent half of last summer staring at tiny 3D Naomi Osaka volleying shots on my desktop. I remain jealous of my former teammates who got to work with these athletes (and before them, folks like Donald Glover as Childish Gambino), even though doing so meant dealing with a million Covid safety protocols. Here’s a quick look at how they captured folks flexing & flying through space:

You can play with the content just by searching:

[Via Chikezie Ejiasi]

AI & rotting-fruit horror

Heh—I was amused to hear generative apps’ renderings of human faces—often eerie, sometimes upsetting—described as turning people into “rotten fruits.”

This reminded me of a recurring sketch from Conan O’Brien’s early work, which featured literal rotting fruit acting out famous films—e.g. Apocalypse Now, with Francis Ford Coppola sitting there to watch:

No, I don’t know what this has to do with anything—except now I want to try typing “rotting fruit” plus maybe “napalm in the morning” into a generative engine just to see what happens. The horror… the horror!

Design: Dunking on Dubai

“A strange mixture between Futurama & Evil Los Angeles… The worst of urban planning and capitalism, plus some slavery for good measure. Welcome to Dubai, everyone.”

This darkly funny piece presents some eye-opening info on a petrodollar playground literally sinking into the sea. Along the way it draws comparisons to past misallocations of every sort of capital (e.g. as in Communist Romania, “Smooth-brained dictator + construction = dumb shit.”

I should hasten to say that I have never visited Dubai & don’t know of any connection with anyone connected with it.

A modern take on “Take On Me”

Back in 2013 I found myself on a bus full of USC film students, and I slowly realized that the guy seated next to me had created the Take On Me vid. Not long after I was at Google & my friend recreated the effect in realtime AR. Perhaps needless to say, they didn’t do anything with it. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

In any event, now Action Movie Dad Daniel Hashimoto has created a loving homage as a tutorial video (!).

Here’s the full-length version:

Special hat tip on the old CoSA vibes:

Amazing colorization coming? Check out AI-Powered “Time-Travel Rephotography”

A bunch of my former Google colleagues, including with whom I’m now working as she’s joined Adobe, have introduced new techniques that promise amazing colorization of old photos.

By characterizing the quirks & limitations of old cameras and film, then creating and manipulating a “digital sibling,” the team is able to achieve some really lifelike results:

These academic videos are often kinda dry, but I promise that this one is pretty intriguing:

Flying with a Big Train

Dropping by the Tehachapi Loop (“the Eight Wonder of the railroading world”) last year en route to Colorado was a highlight of the journey and one of my son Henry’s greatest railfanning experiences ever—which is really saying something!

This year Hen & I set out for some sunset trainspotting. We were thrilled to see multiple trains passing each other & looping over one another via the corkscrew tracks. Giant hat tip to the great Wynton Marsalis & co. for the “Big Train” accompaniment here:

As a papa-razzo, I was especially pleased to have the little chap rocking my DSLR while I flew, capturing some fun shots:

Tangential bonus(-ish): Here’s a little zoom around Red Rocks outside Vegas the next day:

“What do you want ten times more of?”

This simple but excellent question was put to me once by Merlin Mann. I’ve reflected on it many times over the years, and I’d ask it of promising candidates in job interviews. I’m asking myself now, as I mark one more revolution around the Sun.

Some people say “Money.” Okay, sure… but why?

Others say “Time.” That’s maybe closer to my heart—but again, to what end? What are you/we doing with the time we have now?

For me the answer has always been “Impact.” I don’t know whether that’s “right” (if such a thing exists), but it captures my eternal desire to make a positive dent in the universe, as Steve Jobs would put it. I want to leave things better than I found them—happier, more beautiful, more fun—for my family, friends, and the creative world at large.

Maybe better answers exist—Love, Courage, Wisdom; I want them all in great abundance. From those things would flow impact & all other goodness.

I dunno; how about you?

On staying a “wild goose”

Stay hungry, stay foolish…”

Indeed, but sitting in any big fat company, where any of one’s individual efforts is likely to have only a passing impact on the macro trends (growth, stock price, compensation), can be like living in Shawshank: even when free to do otherwise, you keep asking permission, even to pee.

On my way through the in door at Google, a burned-out PM who was about to depart told me about learned helplessness & Brownian motion (think dust particles in a room—energetic, but not actually going anywhere). “You know that guy Reek on Game of Thrones—just psychologically broken? Yeah, that’s what you become here.” Comedic exaggeration aside, he wasn’t wholly wrong.

All this comes to mind as a friend at Google shared a cautionary tale by Søren Kierkegaard that Thomas J. Watson, CEO of IBM in its glory days, used to tell:

There was once a wild goose.

In the autumn, about the time for migration, it became aware of some tame geese. It became enamored by them, thought it a shame to fly away from them, and hoped to win them over so that they would decide to go along with it on the flight. To that end it became involved with them in every possible way. It tried to entice them to rise a little higher and then again a little higher in their flight, that they might, if possible, accompany it in the flight, saved from the wretched, mediocre life of waddling around on the earth as respectable, tame geese.

At first, the tame geese thought it very entertaining and liked the wild goose. But soon they became very tired of it, drove it away with sharp words, censured it as a visionary fool devoid of experience and wisdom.

Alas, unfortunately the wild goose had become so involved with the tame geese that they had gradually gained power over it, their opinion meant something to it – and gradually the wild goose became a tame goose.

In a certain sense there was something admirable about what the wild goose wanted. Nevertheless, it was a mistake, for – this is the law – a tame goose never becomes wild, but a wild goose can certainly become tame.

If what the wild goose tried to do is to be commended in any way, then it must above all watch out for one thing – that it hold on to itself.

As soon as it notices that the tame geese have any kind of power over it, then away, away in migratory flight.

Or as Frederick Douglass said, “I prayed for twenty years but received no answer until I prayed with my legs.”

Now let’s go into the weekend, sticking it to The Man with some Arcade Fire.

They heard me singing and they told me to stop
Quit these pretentious things and just punch the clock


“The Art of Logic”

I quite enjoyed this Talk at Google by mathematician & concert pianist (what a slouch!) Eugenia Cheng. Wait, wait, don’t go—I swear it’s infinitely more down-to-earth & charming than one would think. Among other things she uses (extremely accessible math (er, “maths” 🙄) to illuminate touchy subjects like societal privilege, diet, and exercise. It’s also available in podcast form.

Emotions are powerful. In newspaper headlines and on social media, they have become the primary way of understanding the world. With her new book “The Art of Logic: How to Make Sense in a World that Doesn’t”, Eugenia has set out to show how mathematical logic can help us see things more clearly – and know when politicians and companies are trying to mislead us. This talk, like the book, is filled with useful real-life examples of logic and illogic at work and an essential guide to decoding modern life.

“For Madmen Only”

“I will give you Del’s body, and it’s a great body, because you can study the effects of smoking, alcohol, cocaine, and heroin on the brain. All I need is the skull.”

So said Charna Halpern, the longtime creative partner of improve legend Del Close, who insisted that his skull be donated for use on stage (e.g. in Hamlet). To say that he sounds like a character would be an incredible understatement, and this new documentary about his life & work looks rather amazing: