Inside the Academy's Science and Technology Council

Our Science of Hollywood columnist reports from a meeting of the "renaissance engineers" responsible for setting the technical standards of the motion picture industry

4 min read

One recent night in Los Angeles, a group of powerful people filed into a building to watch the 1982 movie Tron . The film, which is about a coder who gets stuck inside a video game, has become a cult classic. But the audience this evening wasn’t composed of the usual fan boys. Rather, Hollywood’s power nerds were gathering at a place that has become their clubhouse: the Science and Technology Council of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

The academy is known worldwide as the organization behind the annual Oscar awards. Every year, the non-profit group’s 6000-plus honorary members—directors, actors, producers, and the like—vote, and the results are aired on one of Hollywood’s biggest nights. Behind the scenes, however, part of the roughly US $50 million earned from Oscars licenses goes toward funding the Science and Technology Council, a division of the academy dedicated to both preserving the film industry’s technical past and advancing its scientific future. That ranges from an event like the recent night when technology leaders discussed the breakthrough animation of Tron to fighting for new ways to preserve invaluable digital media. As Andrew Maltz, the trained engineer who serves as the council’s director, says, ”We view ourselves as the guardian of quality of the motion picture. We’re a common meeting ground for all the interests here.”

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Deep Learning Could Bring the Concert Experience Home

The century-old quest for truly realistic sound production is finally paying off

12 min read
Image containing multiple aspects such as instruments and left and right open hands.
Stuart Bradford

Now that recorded sound has become ubiquitous, we hardly think about it. From our smartphones, smart speakers, TVs, radios, disc players, and car sound systems, it’s an enduring and enjoyable presence in our lives. In 2017, a survey by the polling firm Nielsen suggested that some 90 percent of the U.S. population listens to music regularly and that, on average, they do so 32 hours per week.

Behind this free-flowing pleasure are enormous industries applying technology to the long-standing goal of reproducing sound with the greatest possible realism. From Edison’s phonograph and the horn speakers of the 1880s, successive generations of engineers in pursuit of this ideal invented and exploited countless technologies: triode vacuum tubes, dynamic loudspeakers, magnetic phonograph cartridges, solid-state amplifier circuits in scores of different topologies, electrostatic speakers, optical discs, stereo, and surround sound. And over the past five decades, digital technologies, like audio compression and streaming, have transformed the music industry.

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