Gravitating Toward the Cool Stuff

By Kevin Tankersley

Q&A with Dr. Michael Korpi

Dr. Michael Korpi said that receiving a recent award from the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE) was akin to winning an Oscar. It’s the 100th anniversary of SMPTE, and the big-name winners this year — folks like Oscar-winning director James Cameron — are getting their awards at a Friday night banquet on October 28. The other award winners, like Korpi, will be recognized at a separate ceremony on October 24, and Korpi has taken that in stride.

Korpi has been a professor of film and digital media at Baylor University since 1982, joining the department when it was in a state of upheaval. He and fellow professor Dr. Corey Carbonara restructured the curriculum and made the decision to eschew academic conferences in favor of professional trade shows and meetings. And that strategy has paid off as students and graduates have landed contacts in the profession when it comes time to look for jobs and internships.

Korpi will receive SMPTE’s newest award, the Excellence in Education Medal Award, for his contributions to “new or unique educational programs that teach the technologies of motion pictures, television or other imaging sciences, including emerging media technology,” according to a news release announcing the honors.

It’s the emerging media technology that drives Korpi as he and his fellow faculty and students are usually working on projects years before they hit the consumer market.

Korpi, who attended Liberty University and the University of Iowa, and his wife, Deborah, have three children: Joel, Faith and Zachary. Wacoan writer Kevin Tankersley talked with Korpi recently in his office in the Castellaw Communications Center on the Baylor campus.

WACOAN: Your most recent award was for, among other things, your work in creating multidisciplinary courses. What disciplines do you work with?

Korpi: I didn’t know who nominated me. This thing was a huge surprise. I guess not very surprisingly, it was Corey [Carbonara, professor in film and digital media at Baylor]. He’s very well-known in SMPTE, and people highly regard him.

He and I (and on other occasions I have done this with somebody else), we team-teach a class. When Corey and I do it, it’s usually a general topic, like cutting-edge media technology or something like that. [Robert Griffin III] was in one of those classes once and did his research on augmented reality for sports applications, which he’s still interested in. That’s what his thesis was going to be. He was an MA [student], and all he lacks is his thesis.

I also team-taught a class with the head of production for Gearbox [Software], Aaron Tebow, and that was the class that [focused on] companion apps. That one got a lot of attention because people in the game industry followed what the students did. It was computer science and some film and digital media students together.

WACOAN: Companion apps are designed to be used along with, or maybe while, watching TV or movies. Is that right?

Korpi: Yes. In the class, the students modified a game. There was a demo game, a 3-D shooter-type game where you shoot at robots. It’s like a teaching tool for 3-D design. They expanded those levels and created their own modifications to those levels so that they had this game you play on a PC. We had Android tablets, and they programmed software that would, in some useful way which they defined, interact with the game live, while it was up, no matter where you were. It connects to the network, and the information from both apps was going to the database on the internet. That’s where the information is exchanged.

At the time we did this, 2013, I think, even the game companies hadn’t done this yet. They hadn’t figured out how to do that part. Aaron Tebow from Gearbox was amazed. We had no idea how much the students could accomplish, and it was stunning.

We had these students from computer science, who were databasing, networking students and film and digital media students, who were interested in production and making stuff. That combination was perfect. They had the design smarts to do a good job of modifying the game and designing their software so it would look good. When they were able to successfully do this, the interaction time was minimal. You could interact with this game in real time. We weren’t sure what the delay would be, and, like I said, most people in the industry hadn’t figured out how to do this yet. So Aaron saw that the students had a working system, and he said, ‘Hey, our IT people haven’t figured this out yet.’

WACOAN: How did you and Aaron Tebow get hooked up?

Korpi: Corey and I met him through the IC2 Institute at UT-Austin. Corey and I are both senior research fellows at IC2. Aaron was in the game industry in Austin, and we got interested in our games for training and education applications, and IC2 was interested in that too. We crossed paths because of that.

Then the IC2 started up the Digital Media Collaboratory and hired Aaron to run it. Then SMU hired him to create the curriculum for the Guildhall, which is the [SMU] graduate program in video game design. Then from there, he got hired at Gearbox, which is in Plano. When he was running the school, he got to know all the video game community people, and he got hired as head of production. He’s over all of the producers. The producer for the game is in charge of creating that whole game. Aaron is in charge of making sure all these games get made. So it was an IC2 link originally.

WACOAN: Why is it important for students to work in multidisciplinary courses?

Korpi: I think it’s a huge enhancement. Not that you want to abandon the other way you do classes. You don’t want to do all multidisciplinary everything. Then you’ve got nobody who has any depth of knowledge.

But when students get out of school, they’re going to be in environments where people get hired for a specific thing, but they’re in an organization that is involved in solving some kind of problem set. There are some problems or tasks that they undertake. They’ve got to work with people who are in different specialties and understand how to talk to them.

Part of it is, it’s just realistic. Problem-solving is different when you’re working with people with different backgrounds and skills, compared to when you’re segregated away from everybody else, to where everybody thinks the same. Mixing that up a little bit works great, and with the companion apps, it was just computer science and film and digital media [students]. In the classes that Corey and I have team taught three or four times, we get students from the business school, always some people from entrepreneurship, then other majors from the business school. We still get people from computer science, sociology, psychology, journalism, things like that.

WACOAN: What do you and Corey team-teach?

Korpi: The theme is usually new technologies. We give it a different name each time, but it’s basically all the new stuff we’re interested in.

The last time we did this, one of the students did — they produced demo videos of all kinds of stuff — but they had to do these executive briefings on certain topics. In the real world, face validity is really important, what it looks like. You’ve got to make it look good. They’re like briefings for upper level executives.

WACOAN: In some recent classes, you’ve talked about augmented reality and virtual reality. Can you explain the difference?

Korpi: You think of it as a continuum. On one end of the continuum is real reality. And on the other end is virtual reality. Whatever you’re seeing, if it’s all real world stuff, that’s real reality. And if it’s all fake, if it’s all computer-generated, every bit of it, it’s virtual reality.

Augmented reality is somewhere in between. Some people call it mixed reality. But when we’re talking about augmented reality, we’re usually talking about some kind of glasses or using your phone for Pokemon Go. That’s an augmented reality, where you’re putting some computer-generated information on top of the real world. You’re adding, you’re augmenting reality with some other information. It could be really simple.

The augmented reality app I would like to have is glasses that recognized all of my students and put their names on them. I don’t remember them. I recognize them all, but I couldn’t reliably tell you whether I had them in class last year or five years ago. If I had their names, that would be cool.

Probably, augmented reality is going to be most successful in corporate applications, job-specific applications, like for surgeons, where they need information but they can’t use their hands —

WACOAN: Because their hands are doing surgery.

Korpi: Yeah. You can present them information. They still need to see what’s going on, but they need other information too.

Google Glass is augmented reality. It wasn’t really made to overlay information on anything you’re looking at, but it’s additional information. Most of the devices you hear about that are augmented reality are somewhere on that continuum in between virtual reality and real reality.

WACOAN: With so much new technology coming at us all the time, how do you stay current, especially in your teaching?

Korpi: I scan the tech newsfeeds every day. I do most of it on the iPad, and I use Flipboard, which helps you make your own magazines. Essentially, what I’m doing is pulling things I’m interested in and putting them in categories. Here’s my Flipboard, and these are the things I subscribe to. Then these are the magazines I’ve made where I store stuff.

WACOAN: So you take articles from ‘Popular Science’ and ‘Wired,’ pull them out and create your own, so you have a magazine on augmented reality, you have a magazine on drones.

Korpi: Right. It just makes it look nice. It’s just these newsfeed articles, but it does a real good job of formatting them in a nice, easy way to deal with.

I started these magazines for my classes. I create a magazine for each chapter, where I’ve got a few things I want them to read. I just send them a link. They can use Flipboard or just read through a web browser.

That’s how I keep track, but when I’m dealing with information that’s more sophisticated than journalistic coverage, then I use Zotero. It’s a bibliography system. Anything on the web that you want, you click on it, and it pulls the bibliographic information and makes a citation for it in whatever format you want. It lets you put notes on anything you want — tags, keywords, all that. It makes a copy of PDFs for you. If you use the Baylor databases, anything you click on is in your bibliography and the link. For the detailed information, it’s really good.

WACOAN: A few years ago I was walking from Penland Crossroads to Castellaw, and you were standing outside flying what I later learned was a drone. At the time I just thought of it as a remote-controlled helicopter or something. That was before drones were as well-known as they are now. Was that a trend that you saw coming?

Korpi: Yes. I think I just gravitate to stuff that I think is cool. That’s cool that you can do this, that the motors and everything are inexpensive enough that you make a sophisticated flying machine, and you’ve got good control over it, and it’s relatively easy to fly.

Since [ventriloquist] Jeff Dunham was here in the ’80s, he flew model helicopters. I tried model helicopters maybe 12 [or] 15 years ago. They were incredibly difficult to fly. We wanted a surveillance camera and thought that this helicopter would do with a camera on it. But a single-motor helicopter with a tail rotor is pretty hard to fly.

So we started playing around 12 or 15 years ago. Then when the quadcopters started being available, and I thought that the price point was going to drop. And as soon as the Chinese companies started having some activity, then I knew it was going to be huge. They’re just going to drive the price point down. That was probably what I was flying, one of the first DJI Phantom drones from the biggest Chinese drone company. And our main interest to start with was [drones] as camera mounts for media production. Then it’s a pretty simple leap to surveillance and data gathering, like mapping.

I always thought that agriculture and ranching are perfect applications for drones because you can send the drone out with a camera, including an infrared camera and an ultraviolet camera, and have it go scan all the crops. And with that information you can tell if they’re getting enough water, too much water, if there’s blight, where you’ve got to get some herbicide or pesticide. You can tell which part of the field that is so instead of having to put enough herbicide on everything to take care of some problem that might come up, you put herbicide just where you need it. That’s very valuable information.

Then I do some consulting work, and some of that is military. There are obvious military applications for drones. They use piloted drones now, but the automated ones, where the pilot isn’t looking at a video screen, those are the small ones that a soldier might carry around and launch for a better view of the situation.

And there’s one more aspect of drones that I think is really fascinating. It’s called swarm, like a swarm of bees or ants. Ants aren’t very smart. They don’t have very much brainpower, but they accomplish amazing things. They do that by following simple rules. Then the whole ant mound can accomplish something really incredible. It can cross rivers. It can do all this stuff. So the idea is, what if you can program the level of intelligence of an ant into a drone that’s autonomous? Not just one drone that is autonomous but a bunch of them. And they would communicate with each other, and they could fly like a flock of birds. You see a flock of birds flying, and some of them change direction, and then all of them do it. Drones with swarm behavior, I think, is fascinating. I don’t know for what, but I just think it’s cool.

WACOAN: What else are you working on now?

Korpi: The other things we’re working on mostly have to do with digital cinema in some way and television and movie display. One of those areas is high frame rate production.

Movies are shot at 24 frames per second. Video can be shot at 60 frames per second. Very often, digital cameras are still shooting at 24 frames per second, so it will look like movies. But there are some people who are proposing much higher frame rates, 120 frames per second, 240 frames per second or even higher. We’re interested in what the effects of that would be, what’s the practicality of using that as a production tool and how to deal with it. You probably don’t want to use it all the time.

WACOAN: Why not?

Korpi: Well, a higher frame rate adds what most people call the ‘soap opera effect.’ Soap operas look different than prime time, episodic shows. The main reason is that soap operas are shot on, essentially, a video camera at 60 frames per second because that’s cheap to do. The episodic TV shows were shot on film, back a few years ago, and now on digital cinema cameras but at the same rate, at 24. They have the different look. At 24, you get some things, like a lot of motion blur. Things move, and you have to pan the camera very slowly, otherwise you get this strobing when you try to go too fast. The higher frame rate gets you much more detailed information about the movement of something. Especially if something is moving fast, it’d be really useful. The problem is, if you shoot everything that way, then everything is going to look hyper-realistic, like a really amped-up Mexican soap opera. And that doesn’t seem right to us, at least from our experience watching films. Maybe eventually we’ll get used to it.

But the thing about shooting at a higher frame rate like 120 — and Douglas Trumbull has done this, and Ang Lee has shot the first feature film on this new 120-frame-per-second system.

WACOAN: What film is that?

Korpi: It’s ‘Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk.” It’s about a soldier who fought in Iraq or Afghanistan and has come back. It’s about halftime at an NFL game. Soldiers are back, and they’re doing fireworks and explosions and wanting them to stand still, and they’ve all got PTSD. That’s intercut with the scene of the fight he was awarded a Silver Star or other medal for.

That’s going to get released in a few theaters in 120 frames 3-D, and it’s way better 3-D than you’ve ever seen. Most 3-D flashes the right eye and then the left eye, one after the other. This system shows you both simultaneously. It makes a huge difference. [Ang Lee] knew he had to release it in 24-frame theaters too. His system is designed that you shoot in 120 frames and then you just don’t throw away frames and keep 24, every fifth one. That would really look stuttery. He has a computer algorithm that looks at the five frames and calculates what the 24-frame version should look like, adding motion blur to make it realistic, to make it look like it was shot on 24. And you can actually control the motion blur with a dial, with a menu setting. So he can create stuff that looks like it was shot at 24 from the stuff he shot at 120. That’s kind of a simple manipulation.

The other thing is, you can make it all 24 frames per second, except for one thing that is going to move really quickly, and it’s important that we see it. You can leave that at 120 in the same shot. You can use it as a digital effect. Most of the shot is 24 frames, and the rest of it —

WACOAN: The plane flying by —

Korpi: Yeah, it’s really cool.

[Douglas Trumbull is] getting one of the big SMPTE awards. James Cameron and Doug Trumbull are the two big-name guys. Doug Trumbull did the visual effects for ‘2001: A Space Odyssey,’ ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind,’ ‘Blade Runner,’ stuff like that. He’s always been inventing new motion picture systems, and that’s what he’s spent most of the last 30 years doing. He’s an amazing guy.

Corey and I are doing some research with him. We’re planning it. We talked about it at the convention, and he invited us up to his lab in Massachusetts. We haven’t been there yet, but we’re definitely going to go. We’re working on high frame rate and high dynamic range.

Films don’t show you a realistic photograph. They don’t show a realistic lightness-to-darkness ratio. We’re getting to where we have the cameras and the display technology to show you a much greater dynamic range. I’ve seen demos where you’ll see the sun, and you’ll want sunglasses because the sun on the screen is so bright. That example kind of shows the weakness of this too. Just because we can show you this huge dynamic range doesn’t necessarily mean we should. Because if we make the sun so bright that it lights up the room, that’s bad in a lot of ways. And if it’s so bright that it makes me not want to look at the screen, maybe that’s realistic, but it’s not [a good thing].

So there’s this push toward high frame rate, high dynamic range. We’ll see where that goes, but we’re playing in that sandbox too.

WACOAN: When all these things come to be, how will the movie-going experience be different?

Korpi: One of the things driving Hollywood’s interest in these high definition, high frame rate, high dynamic range, is that they know they really need to differentiate the theater experience from what you can get at home, and the technology is driving and improving what you can get at home so fast, it’s really hard.

I don’t go to as many movies in the theater now because I actually get a better experience most of the time on my big screen TV from the Blu-ray, and I get it without people who don’t know how to behave in the movie theater and use their cellphone no matter what. That’s so distracting.

So high frame rate, high dynamic range, things like that. Hollywood is trying to figure out, ‘OK, we want to be able to do something that you can’t see at home.’ And Doug Trumbull’s system may be a good thing in that regard. I’m not a fan of 3-D at all, but Doug Trumbull’s system [gave me] no eye strain, no headache or anything. It looked great. Because it’s this 3-D thing, it looks different, but I got used to it quite quickly, so I think that’s going to be very effective. To be shown the best way, it requires a specifically designed theater. You can’t just retrofit it into the theaters in Waco. You’d have to modify one of the theaters to actually do it. That’s the kind of thing Hollywood is looking at, to keep differentiating movies from your television screen at home.

WACOAN: When Quentin Tarantino made ‘The Hateful Eight,’ it seemed like a big deal that it was shot on 70 millimeter Panavision. Is that a one-off, or will more films be made like that?

Korpi: I really like film, and there are some real film enthusiasts like Tarantino who will keep on shooting on film. Now releasing on film in 70 [millimeter], I don’t know if anybody is ever going to try that again. They had to go resurrect old film projectors. They had to scramble to get enough that operated correctly to show it in theaters. They showed it in 70. Nobody makes those [70 millimeter films] anymore. I love it.

I went down to Alamo [Drafthouse in Austin] to see it, and it was great. I liked the whole thing. You could hear the projector going a little bit in the booth. It was all very nostalgic. And it was beautiful.

But you can generate a picture that’s as good as that with a digital camera. ‘Star Wars’ is being shot on film, and I think it’s being shot on 65 millimeter, which is the same as 70. Sixty-five is the width of the film that goes through the camera. When you send out the print to the theater, you need room for all of the soundtracks. It’s wider, so it’s 70 for that. There’s no use wasting all that film when you’re shooting it.

WACOAN: How do you incorporate technology into your teaching, especially, say, in Introduction to Mass Communication, in a classroom of 300 students?

Korpi: I start out with Intro to Mass Comm, the book will talk about convergence and rapid changes in technology. I go with that theme, so we consider that for the media. I say that it has broader implications.

One of the things that has a broader implication is robots and automating, and you may think of automation and robots as being big, clunky industrial things that do welding on cars, but robotics and automation are coming for your jobs. They’re coming for jobs you think you might want to be in. Most of those jobs are very simple, cubicle drone-level jobs. But a lot of that stuff can be automated with a good software program. And we’re going to have self-driving cars and trucks. Transportation has the highest number of employees in the world. All the drivers lose their jobs, what are they going to be doing?

And physicians. Well, you might think, ‘Doctors are safe.’ No, not at all. Artificial intelligence software is way better than they are at diagnosing stuff. So we won’t need as many doctors. Physician assistants, RNs [registered nurses] and so on will do most of the time. Sure, you’ll have a few doctors, but you won’t need as many.

Lawyers? Good career? They shuffle paper most of the time. The computer does that better. Sort through information, find stuff that’s important. Write documents — those are all templates. It’s templates they use now. They probably don’t write it themselves anyway. They probably just outsource it to somebody who writes that up for them. All that’s going to be automated.

There was the cover of ‘The New Yorker’ in May. It was the graduates of 2016. And they’ve got their regalia on, and they’re holding up the Class of 2016 shirt. And there’s a ground crew, the landscaping people, and one of them is a young kid with a rake getting the caps out of the tree. And he’s got a shirt on that says Class of 2015. [The message is] ‘This shouldn’t happen to you. But the jobs that exist now aren’t going to exist when you graduate. You’ve got to be thinking about what you’re going to be doing in an environment that is automating all this simpler stuff.’

Then I specifically talk about things that affect communication. Last semester I just made a bunch of space for [augmented reality], [virtual reality] and drones. These things are going to really change the way society does stuff. And I always point out that their cellphones, their smartphones they’re so addicted to, I say, ‘Your children are going to laugh hysterically at you, that you ever carried this thing around in your pocket and you had to pull it out of your pocket to check the time. They’re just going to think that’s hilarious. How primitive.’

WACOAN: Because their kids are going to be using —

Korpi: Augmented reality. That’s going to be available to them. It’s going to be in their contact [lenses] or something. It’s an interface thing, it’s temporary, it’s just for now. It’s a peculiar way we manage to get this done right now. It combines a bunch of functions in one device that we never could do before, so we’re willing to put up with the inconveniences that it also brings with it. So we think it’s great. It’s not going to last.

WACOAN: You teach 300 students in Intro to Mass Comm. What’s your other big class?

Korpi: It’s Sight, Sound, Motion. It’s the beginning film class. It’s a visual aesthetics class.

WACOAN: What’s your secret to teaching classes with that many students?

Korpi: You have to be changing. Every five minutes, you have to do something different. I use a lot of clips. They’re media-related, and using clips as examples is an obvious thing to do. I have a lot of them, and I intersperse them among the things I’m going to say. That’s one way.

The other way is that once a class gets to a certain size, I make sure we don’t get into any conversations. I tell the students, ‘Look, there’s 300 of you. Maybe you have a brilliant question. Chances are you don’t, but I’ll grant you that maybe you have a brilliant question that’s burning in your heart to ask, but don’t ask it. This is a presentation, not a conversation.’ It can’t be. If I start a conversation [with one student] and spend a minute, I’m wasting 299 minutes for everybody else in the room on a question none of them are interested in or only a few are interested in. I make sure it’s clear that it’s a presentation, and you can ask questions all you want in email and after class. It’s all fascinating stuff, but I’m presenting it as condensed as I can. That’s why we do it this way. It’s efficient.

WACOAN: You’re known for keeping in touch with your students when they graduate and putting younger graduates in touch with older graduates who are out in the real world. How do you keep up with everybody?

Korpi: It’s hard. Everybody does that in film and digital media. It’s not just me. I would say that [film and digital media senior lecturer] Brian Elliott does it best. When I need to know a current address or I’ve lost an email or this contact doesn’t work anymore, I check with Brian and almost always he’s got the current information. That’s a huge help.

And a good number of them keep in touch on their own. You want to connect recent graduates and students for internships, but you don’t want to be a burden, so we always try to balance that. For example, [screenwriter, director and producer] John Lee Hancock has been an incredible help to our students. But once he had [written and directed] ‘The Blind Side,’ he was so busy, he just couldn’t do it anymore. So we kind of backed off. When he was first starting out, he would be on the phone for an hour and a half with a student, critiquing a script or talking about a story.

WACOAN: I believe it was Baylor journalism professor Robert Darden who said that you’re more famous in Los Angeles than you are in Waco. How did that come to be?

Korpi: [Laughs.] It’s kind of like, ‘The prophet is never respected in his own hometown.’

When I first came to Baylor in ’82, the first thing I did was talk Corey into coming down here the next semester. He was working at Caterpillar in Peoria, Illinois. He had been working in Chicago for [the production company] Editel, then he was a producer at Caterpillar. It was snowing up there. They had a blizzard. It was December. He said, ‘What’s the weather down there?’ I said, ‘It’s, like, 85.’ He said, ‘I’ll come down for an interview.’

Corey and I sat down and figured out how to change the classes. But the big question was what we were going to do to compete with [University of Southern California] and [New York University] because the big media markets are in New York, Chicago, LA, places like that. We can do OK in Dallas and Houston, probably, just on Baylor alumni connections, but they’re not really the big time in media.

We decided that instead of doing academic conferences and writing journal articles, we decided to go to the professional groups, the broadcasters and the filmmakers and so on. We’re going to go to their conventions. We’re going to volunteer to be on the new technology committees, the cutting-edge tech committees.

There were several reasons. One, we don’t have any money, so we couldn’t buy any fancy equipment. But if you’re talking about new technology, and it’s really new, nobody has it. We’re on a level playing field. We can talk about it with other people who don’t have it either. And these are high-level people in the studios and the networks that are on these committees. They’re trying to figure out what to do with all these new things that were coming, like HDTV. That’s what we did.

Then all those people are from New York and LA and Tokyo. They get to know us. And they know Baylor’s name. Then we can get student interns in on these things at trade shows, these conventions. Then get them into companies. Once Baylor kids get in, they’re so socially savvy and likeable, they get the whole ‘be respectful but don’t be intimidated.’ Then those turn into entry-level jobs.

The other final bonus is that in new technologies that are disrupting the industry, when you’ve got a new thing and you’ve got to figure out how to handle it, one of the easiest ways to do that is to hire new people who know how to do it. It’s way easier to do that than it is to train your old people how to do this new thing. Students get in, and they’re at a place where the advancement rate is much higher than all these traditional areas.

WACOAN: Can you say some more about HDTV?

Korpi: We started looking at HDTV in the spring of 1983. Got on the committees. We did that two years, then Corey got hired away, by Sony to be the product manager for HDTV. He introduced it to the world. He introduced the first HD hardware you could actually buy. He moved to New Jersey, but he was never home. [Sony] ran him ragged. One day a month or two days a month, he was at his house. I kept talking to him, saying, ‘This is all very cool, but you’re just going to burn out. I know you want your Ph.D. Come back to Baylor, and we’ll work out a light [teaching] schedule for you and you can go to [the University of Texas] and get your Ph.D.’ So he came back.

We followed that same strategy through all these different technologies — HDTV, editing on computers. We were doing editing on computers way before any other school. We had broadband running before anyone else did that. Mobile devices. Interoperability. There are lots of mobile devices that do video, but they won’t all do all the video. It’s dumb. We did a lot of work in that area. And it’s all ended up with the list of things we have now: [augmented reality] and [virtual reality], high frame rate, high dynamic range, drones.

WACOAN: What does this latest award mean to you?

Korpi: Oh, wow. I was stunned to get this. I’ve been a member of SMPTE for quite a long time, but almost all of the people are engineers. I’m not an engineer. They made me a fellow of the SMPTE a few years ago. That was amazing. That means the world to me. It’s like all these people accept the work you do, and they’ve got way better credentials in technology than I do. But this is over the top.

It was called the Society of Motion Picture Engineers. Thomas Edison was a fellow. It’s all these people who invented television.

They say this is the first time [this award] has been given. Well, yes. There was an educational award before, and it was sponsored by Kodak, but Kodak no longer has the money to fund that award, so it’s not called the Kodak award anymore. Now it’s this new thing, and I’m the first recipient. It doesn’t mean I’m the first educator to get an award from SMPTE, full disclosure. But it does sound cool.

WACOAN: When do you accept the award?

Korpi: At the end of October. And again, full disclosure. They do the award thing, and there’s James Cameron and Douglas Trumbull, and I’m listed down there third or fourth or wherever in this list. But it’s the 100th year of SMPTE. They’re not doing the awards the same way. They usually just have [one] banquet, and they give all the awards, [but this year] they’ve split out the awards for the people nobody knows.

WACOAN: Kind of like the Academy Awards.

Korpi: Exactly. The technical ones. They don’t do those on worldwide TV. I’m in the group that doesn’t get the huge thing. It’s nice to be on the list with those guys. It’s awesome.

WACOAN: Are you reading anything good right now?

Korpi: I’m a science fiction reader. Neal Stephenson and William Gibson are my favorites. I just reread the William Gibson trilogy: ‘Pattern Recognition,’ ‘Spook Country’ and ‘Zero History.’ Those were [published] six or seven years ago. They were excellent.

WACOAN: What draws you to science fiction?

Korpi: For me, it’s mostly the technology. And I like, ‘OK, here’s this technology and here are all the implications of it and why society is this way.’ I’ve always been interested in that since probably the third grade. That’s the stuff I gravitated toward. It’s a good fit.

And the most recent William Gibson novel is brilliant. It’s called ‘The Peripheral.’ Fascinating story. It’s basically that time travel isn’t possible but time communication is possible. People in the future have discovered how to communicate back to a historical point. But as soon as they do that, they’ve interfered with the original timeline, so it splits off into its own universe. It’s not their history anymore. They’ve interfered with it at this point, so it’s created this new thing. Then they essentially proceed to exploit it. They can do things by communicating information to select people back here that ends up making them money. It’s a parallel for exploiting Third World countries, sort of, but it’s in this future universe with advanced augmented reality displays for your eye and with human peripherals. People don’t go out of their homes. They use a human peripheral — looks like a human, acts like a human. It’s them transferred to it, but they’re just lying in their house on the couch.

WACOAN: In Stephen King’s ‘11/22/63,’ a guy goes through a time travel portal and tries to change the events of November 22, 1963, though it doesn’t involve all the tech stuff. It sounds like of like that.

Korpi: I like alternate history [books] and the time travel.

WACOAN: And most important, what are you driving right now? I know you’re a car guy.

Korpi: Well, mostly I’m driving my 2015 [Subaru] WRX. I still drive the Lotus and my wife’s Maserati, when she lets me.

WACOAN: It was on the cover of this magazine a few years ago. It’s a lovely car.

Korpi: It’s beautiful. It’s scary fast. I haven’t come close to what top speed is. I’ve had it over 150 [miles per hour] but then it feels a little light. I’m not sure if I needed higher pressure on the tires or something. When I went at that speed, I thought I’d need a wing, need a spoiler in the front.

WACOAN: Is there anything else I need to know?

Korpi: No, I don’t think so. I just do stuff I like. If I wanted people telling me what to do, I’d be in corporate. I’d be making more money, but I don’t want people telling me what to do.

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