Props to the Backstage Crews and Tech Mavericks at Louisiana International Film Festival

This post originally appeared on the blog of Czarina Walker, founder of InfiniEDGE Software, which provides custom software, website and web applications designed to revolutionize businesses.


Louisiana International Film FestivalI’ve always believed that the people who are involved the tech industry correlated well with the metaphor of a “backstage crew”. It’s fitting for super-talented people who make things work that are most of the times unseen to everyone else going about their lives. (Plus let’s face it most of us in the tech industry prefer being backstage supporting our mission instead of on stage.) There are a lot of people backstage in your day-to-day life to make sure that the technologies we all depend on work together like an orchestra (instead of a train wreck). Probably one of the coolest things about tech sector backstage crews is that they create and represent an entire ocean full of geeky delight.

The excitement I feel when writing lines of code is far from the beginning or the end of it. In fact those that believe that people who write code (software) or keep networks up and running (hardware/infrastructure) are the only ones involved in the tech sector have missed the big picture. Technology permeates everything, and some of the biggest innovators are where you might forget to look.

This weekend I had the opportunity to sit in on a discussion led by the pioneers of a tech centered company in the mask business. Yes, I’m talking actual masks for sci-fi movies and villains and other scary creatures – they are the real backstage crew. True to form, they are also high-tech. They do airbrushed every facial vein and discoloration, and place every slimy detail onto alien masks… so, wouldn’t they be artists? Well they are, but they were also using 3D printers to create silicon masks way before any of us ever gave these printers any thought. In fact, this company, Composite Effects(CFX) just donated one of their older 3D printers to a world-renowned biomedical research facility. How’s that for art impacting… science?

CFX is founded by two young men, Wes Branton and Ken Decker who decided instead of going to Hollywood and film school to stay in their own state half a country away from the mainstream movie business and pioneer and industry (that didn’t even exist here at the time).

“It takes courage to stay,” explained guest speaker Diana Branton of CFX. Thankfully, these guys do not scare easy. Fast forward many years later, and their company has dozens on staff, multiple warehouses and creates 3D printed standard and custom silicone masks for the film industry and ships them all over the globe. Chances are you’ve seen movies with their masks in them without realizing it or understanding what went into making sure that aliens and zombies looked like nothing you had ever seen.

Honestly, listening to these guys was about as much of a geektastic fix as an Engadget or Disrupt conference… That’s because at CFX they are not *thinking* they might change their industry, they have and they continue to. Their technologies and innovation do not stop at a mask… in fact, that’s just the surface. They started out finding a better solution to speed up the creation of something that involved transferring movements and expressions between humans and masks. They aren’t into film and dabble in tech. They are just as geeky into their craft as the rest of us in the high tech industry, the only difference? There’s no roadmap. Being innovators like these guys… means that there are no instruction guides.

For example, I listened with happiness as they explained that many of their team are encouraged and enjoy taking apart the devices and things they have purchased in their everyday lives to help determine how these technologies can be used to help them create something new and different. At CFX they embrace and encourage maker culture which involves in their words: “A participatory approach to collaborate and make a product indefinitely better – to make innovation fly”.

Questions that came up in today’s discussion ranged from “Can I try on a mask?”; “Have you guys worked with anyone in the prosthesis industry?”; “What’s next, aerospace?”; “Will the future of film involve interactive choose your own adventure movies?”; “What about Google Glass…” Yeah, not at all what I expected when I first got there and saw a bunch of masks of faces from your worst nightmares in front of me.

So, tonight, my hat is off to the tech mavericks of the film industry who are charting their own course and making it happen. Thanks for being such a great example of what tech is all about: collaboration, constant innovation in unchartered territory, and being willing to openly share it to pass it on. “The only thing better than your great idea… is someone’s really great idea inspired by your great idea,” explained Diana. Here’s to the great ideas hatched today by your discussion at the Louisiana International Film Festival.