Saturday May 16th
Making, Technology, Humans and Displacement
I’ve had this weird relationship with technology
- A person I made friends with this week (at large unnamed tech company) and I were speaking about our relationships with technology. As it turns out, we both had experiences with similar locations, and saw it change with time. When I came back from the Bay area to pack (I lived in the North Hollywood Arts district, which was for artists and filmmakers and budding actors getting their foot in the door when I first moved there; I say this acknowledging that neighbourhoods change, and not with the ego and naivete of a tech person I once met who claimed that “everything about San Francisco was made for programmers” lol; imperialist mentality much? ), it was heavily gentrified and I barely recognized my own neighbourhood. It was terrifying and I was almost happy to leave and start a new chapter, even though my heart ached from leaving a place I lived for so many years; it was a lot of fun living there! But it wasn’t the same place I had moved to years ago. Now, there were so many people who looked like what I was; tech hoodies and techie hats with weird esoteric tshirts going to drink craft beers and tapas. No more Millenium Dance Complex; they had long moved. And all the nook artist galleries were slowly losing their leases; who can afford to pay their employees $14 a day and pay rent there anymore?
- As I have said many times, I’ve always been this hybrid art-techie person, so that means I’ve lived at the intersection of having both friends in the Arts, or in Tech, or anything in between. I’ve also been at both ends of the spectrum in terms of experiencing the struggle of living on a mattress (my first visit to San Francisco; which was to draw with a friend; we stayed in the Tenderloin district and it was glorious and fun!) and the luxury of working in Silicon Valley. I’ve hung around “the cool people” (literal rock stars and movie stars), while feeling dreadfully uncool (I would always say something awkward that would throw everyone off, that would remind me that I’m not cool, and a bit of a weirdo). The coolest actors/ artists usually had a mystique about them, a temperament that made everyone want to be their friend; I never had that (although I was often considered compelling because of my eccentricity; a paradox in that space being a person of colour, in a technical field, who was bright and creative).
Tech as Disruption
- One of my first interactions (with disruption) was through a school I joined that was a direct result of technology disrupting art. It was a school created by the Film Industry (specifically the Animation industry) to help artists transition from 2D to 3D. You see, at the time, huge studios were laying off 2D artists and hiring more and more 3D and vfx artists, as the studios were convinced that the future was 3D; 3D vfx, 3D movies, 3D art.
- I was given the privilege (because I was a full-time employee working in entertainment) of being trained in these classes for free (and I was on the technical side of the industry, with a steady job at the time, so my situation wasn’t dire), but some of my peers were also given grants because they were unemployed, and this school was a solution set up by the film unions (Art Director’s Guild, Animation Guild, etc) to help these artists transition to find work.
- It was the first time I sat in a class as a young whipper-snapper (ha!) quickly grasping the 3D concepts and enjoying the new world of software and how it could create art. But it was also incredibly humbling that sitting beside me were persons who had garnered several of the highest awards in Hollywood, but who had found themselves out of work because “no one wants 2D drawings anymore”. And therefore, I unwittingly found myself at the intersection of the effects of technology disruption on people I personally interacted with and knew. Many of them were older artists, veterans of the industry; if I mentioned their names, people would look in awe. And yet, they were out of work.
- Some sat beside me in class, wanting to know who I was and why I was taking the class (but only briefly; I had little connections and wasn’t particularly useful to anyone), and they had all the connections in the world, all the experience in the world. If I had a fraction of the success they had had in Hollywood, I would be considered a massive success in my home country. And yet, they sat there, disheveled, begging the head of the school to see if there was any way they could sit in on a specific class with a professor they knew “might be working on huge movie” and if they did well enough in the class and showed their portfolio, maybe they would be hired again, because “that person works a lot”. There is a saying in Hollywood; “be nice to people on the way up, because you might meet them again on the way down”.
A second time
- The film industry, like tech, is filled with these disruptions. First we were interested in CCD, and then 14-bit raw bayer formats. Another incident was the dwindling of film as a technology for shooting movies, and the growing enthusiasm by directors and producers for using video (Less Kodak Vision3 500T 7219 stock, more Red and digital downloading packages). There was a debate between the new DIT role, which included a lot of people with extensive knowledge who had come over from tech during the dot com bust to fill those roles, and camera operators hated working with them, because they were so “techie” and made comparably a lot more than they did (I recall one saying they wouldn’t get out of bed for less than 3K a day). They were also younger and cocky, but more knowledgeable about formats and compression and video technology and software than their older counterparts who had mainly worked with film stock and film cameras.
- Camera operators also saw themselves more-so as artists and craftsmen (there still aren’t a lot of women in the field, and it sucks so I’ll say “craftsmen”). All of a sudden, young people with barely ten years of experience who bought video cameras were just as hirable (in theory, not in terms of skill necessarily) as veteran cinematographers, and everyone was scrambling for work. Then the wave of 3D cameras, where everyone was scrambling to learn about pitch, roll, and yaw and how to align stereoscopic rigs with cameras.
- The third was the advent of smaller cameras and streaming or “webisodes”, which meant that the film industry no longer needed large crews to shoot movies, and everyone was shooting with a DLSR (Canon 5 and 7Ds). Instead of, in the 90s, million dollar music videos and lots of 50 million dollar budget movies, now there were just 200 million dollar movies that everyone wanted to get on, and movies that were 150 dollars a day. We were used to disruption, but we quietly accepted it as a natural occurrence.
As someone at the intersection of humans and technology
- Today, I am again at the intersection of humans and technology, researching privacy, fairness and machine learning. It’s a difficult place to be in, as some people might see me as on the “side that is the problem”. I remember clearly when I told the very friend I went to San Francisco with that I was getting more into programming (I drifted into it by accident; it was the last thing I ever intended to do), they decided that I was a “sellout”, and shortly thereafter, our friendship ended. I didn’t feel angered about it, but rather felt like it was the Universe telling me that it was time to move on, which I’ve felt many times in my life. But I’ve asked myself the question several times why people think the two can’t exist together, and why my friend thought this way. What was ironic to me about it is that many of these artists out of necessity had to transition to digital sketching tools, Cintiqs and Wacoms, to make a living. But they still saw a clear divide between the world of artists and the world of “those people” in tech.
- The artists are “the creatives”, the ones with ideas and good taste, and the techies look down on the artists as not being “good enough” to do what they do and follow through; they hold up the world, are curious-minded, goofy and fun. There is perpetual conflict and denigration between both sides. And yet, I stand being pulled in and out like a tide between both groups. I’ve been an outsider my entire life in a way that makes me fit into both cateogries. I relate a lot to being a geek and a weirdo (I’ve really never been cool), but I also see myself as a creative. I support my artists friends as best I can, while chastising ego in tech. The tech people share my sense of humour and fascination with technology, and the artists share my optimism about the world and love of risk-taking; the need to be bold. Both groups like making things. I want both to exist together, because they exist harmoniously in my head, and both represent parts of who I am.
- I have the moodiness of an artist; a mentor once told me when he met me that I’m probably pretty sensitive, but that’s what makes me good at what I do; while having the absolutely clumsiness and awkwardness and goofiness to feel perpetually like an outsider who is used to being the last to be picked in a group setting, except among other geeks.
- I cannot change who I am today, and it’s been a journey, but I have those sensitivies about who I was, who I am and my future path, and they inform questions I have about the ethical nature of technology.
Throughout all of it
- I’ve also felt, there are other groups/organizations/systems, etc that are manipulating us, pitting us against each other. Perhaps it starts with the myopic groupings of subjects in schools? Maybe it filtered into the intentional class hierarchy (which was, I was told, had a militaristic history) of industries like the entertainment industry? Perhaps we should focus more on ways we can understand each other and work together. Perhaps we can dismantle those systems that are working to ensure we are distracted by the pettiness of “art vs tech” as an “us vs them” battle. Surely, we can find ways to do good that have commonalities between groups. Surely we can collaborate, even though we have differences.
- Here is one of the first renders I did in Solidworks at night school
And that’s it
Written on May 16, 2020