Seeing the Augmented Reality Past and Future at Madame Tussaud’s in Washington DC

Posted on October 30, 2019 at 10:43 am

In the 18th century, there was no Google Images. If you wanted to know what a famous person like Voltaire or Napoleon looked like, you went to the exhibitions of Madame Marie Tussaud to see her beautifully modeled wax sculptures. That was the most advanced technology of the time for making audiences feel that they were in the presence of the great names of the day.

Madame Tussaud’s wax figures are now on display around the world. Even though we can instantly find pictures of historical figures and our favorite celebrities on our phones, there is nothing like the experience of standing next to a near-perfect 3D version of George Washington, Denzel Washington, or Taylor Swift and taking a selfie.
And now, in the tradition of Madame herself, the latest technology is available at the Madame Tussaud’s location in Washington DC to give visitors an even more immersive augmented reality experience through glasses and ear buds. The audio will be available in English, Spanish, and Mandarin and the glasses fit comfortably over visitors’ prescription glasses “unless you are Elton John in the 1970’s,” says Greg Werkheiser, CEO of Richmond, Virginia-based ARTGlass, which worked with Madame Tussaud’s on the content of the platform.

He also pointed out that unlike Virtual Reality, which is enclosed so that everything you see is within the program, with augmented reality “you don’t have to sacrifice real world experience.” You will see what is around you at the same time as the sounds and images of the augmented reality experience. With the glasses, “you don’t have to scan or push.” It is fully immersive, intuitive, and interactive, bringing the exhibits to life.

Triggered by facial recognition software, the glasses (included in the regular price of admission) bring up audio and visual enhancements to the character on display, led by Madame Tussaud (potrayed by an actress in costume) herself. So, standing before Thomas Jefferson might bring up a brief discussion of the second President’s Monticello home in Virginia, which appears on the nickel. In the Watergate section, visitors will be challenged to find the recording bug in the room. The hall of 1920’s and 30’s figures brings up a flapper and a man wearing a barrel who lost everything in the 1929 stock market crash. In the disco era display, you can select a dance lesson and try out a few fancy steps. There is a stirring glimpse of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech. The most powerful augmented reality moment invites visitors to take a bus seat next to the figure of Rosa Parks. An angry man then appears via the glasses, telling you to give up the seat or he will call the police.

Visitors can adjust the experience by electing to see and hear more, so it is interactive as well as immersive. ARTGlass has created experiences in European museums and historic sites including the Leaning Tower of Pisa and George Washington’s home, Mount Vernon. Here they worked closely with Madame Tussaud’s staff to make the augmented reality consistent with the attraction’s unique mix of history, culture, and fun.

(NOTE: My thanks to Mira Singer for her assistance in preparing this report.)

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Netflix Thinks You can Speed-Read a Movie — Filmmakers Do Not Agree

Posted on October 29, 2019 at 10:59 am

Podcast listeners sometimes use the option to speed up the audio to get the information more quickly. Now Netflix is trying the same thing with video. Entertainment Weekly reports:

What if you could watch every episode of Breaking Bad and Stranger Things 50 percent faster?

That’s a feature that Netflix is quietly testing, and it’s quickly drawn a big backlash from Hollywood creatives.
First noted by Android Police, savvy mobile users of the streaming service spotted a new feature on the Netflix Android app that allowed subscribers to speed up (or slow down) playback without muting the volume (to playback speeds 0.5x, 0.75x, 1.0x, 1.25x or 1.5x, respectively). The feature is not unlike what most podcast and audiobook apps already have and is used by some listeners to consume content more quickly (or, in some cases, to slow it down if they have a difficult time understanding it).

The first-blush response from industry creatives, however, was not good. Turns out filmmakers don’t like the idea of viewers watching their painstakingly crafted work on Chimpmunks mode.

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Movies for Families to Share on Halloween

Posted on October 26, 2019 at 8:00 am

Halloween gives kids a thrilling opportunity to act out their dreams and pretend to be characters with great power. But it can also be scary and even overwhelming for the littlest trick-or-treaters. An introduction to the holiday with videos from trusted friends can help make them feel comfortable and excited about even the spookier aspects of the holiday.

Kids ages 3-5 will enjoy Barney’s Halloween Party, with a visit to the pumpkin farm, some ideas for Halloween party games and for making Halloween decorations at home, and some safety tips for trick-or-treating at night. They will also get a kick out of Richard Scarry’s The First Halloween Ever, which is Scarry, but not at all scary! Curious George: A Halloween Boo Fest has the beloved little monkey investigating the Legend of “No Noggin.” Disney characters celebrate Halloween in Mickey Mouse Clubhouse – Mickey’s Treat.

Witches in Stitches is about witches who find it very funny when they turn their sister into a jack o’lantern. And speaking of jack o’lanterns, Spookley the Square Pumpkin is sort of the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer of pumpkins. The round pumpkins make fun of him for being different until a big storm comes and his unusual shape turns out to have some benefits.

Kids from 7-11 will enjoy the classic It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown and the silly fun of What’s New Scooby-Doo: Halloween Boos and Clues. Try The Worst Witch movie and series, about a young witch in training who keeps getting everything wrong. School-age kids will also enjoy The Halloween Tree, an animated version of a story by science fiction author Ray Bradbury about four kids who are trying to save the life of their friend. Leonard Nimoy (Mr. Spock on the original “Star Trek”) provides the voice of the mysterious resident of a haunted house, who explains the origins of Halloween and challenges them to think about how they can help their sick friend. The loyalty and courage of the kids is very touching. Debbie Reynolds plays a witch who takes her grandchildren on a Halloween adventure in the Disney Channel classic in Halloweentown.  Recent favorites include The House with a Clock in Its Walls and Goosebumps.

Older children will appreciate The Witches, based on the popular book by Roald Dahl and Hocus Pocus, with children battling three witches played by Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy. And of course there is the deliciously ghoulish double feature Addams Family and Addams Family Values based on the cartoons by Charles Addams. Episodes of the classic old television show are online and are still better than the new animated film.   Beetlejuice is a classic — with a nice 20th anniversary re-release DVD, and soon to be a Broadway musical.

LAIKA’s ParaNorman and Monster House, should become a  Halloween tradition. Frankenweenie,  Igor, and the Hotel Transylvania series are also a lot of fun.

The Nightmare Before Christmas has gorgeous music from Danny Elfman and stunningly imaginative visuals from Tim Burton in a story about a Halloween character who wonders what it would be like to be part of a happy holiday like Christmas. And don’t forget old classics like The Cat and the Canary (a classic of horror/comedy) and the omnibus ghost story films Dead of Night and The House that Dripped Blood.

Happy Halloween!

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