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11 Strange Movie Job Titles—Explained!

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Here's what the key grip, best boy, and gaffer actually do, plus the origins of those titles.

1. Foley artist

A person who creates sound effects in post-production.

Film sets don’t necessarily have the same acoustic properties as the real-life locations they portray. Foley artists eliminate extraneous noises and add convincing sounds. For example, they stamp their feet to match footsteps on the screen. Also, (spoiler alert!) movie fistfights are faked. The blows never land, but Foley artists, shall we say, “punch up” the sound.

The job takes its name from Jack Donovan Foley, who rounded up employees with experience in radio sound effects to help Universal Studios survive the transition to sound in 1927.

2. Gaffer

The head of the electrical department for a film production.

Although some sources point to the fact that gaffer (probably an elision of grandfather or godfather) has long been used in British English for an old man, or the foreman of a work crew, Media-Match gives a more likely explanation: "The term was also used to describe men who adjusted lighting in English theater and men who tended street lamps, after the 'gaff' they used, a pole with a hook on its end."

3. Grip

A member of a camera crew responsible for building and maintaining all the equipment that supports cameras, as well as moving and setting up the equipment.

The term was adapted from the American theater where it was used for a stagehand who helps shift scenery.

4. Dolly grip

A grip who moves camera cranes and dollies (the wheeled platforms that carry the camera and the camera operator).

5. Key grip

The supervisor of the team of grips.

6. Best boy (grip/gaffer)

Second in command, assisting the gaffer or key grip.

According to IMDb, "The origin of the term is from 'pre-union' filming days when the line between Grip and Electric departments was less rigid. When the head of either department needed another body temporarily, he'd go to the head of the other department and ask him to 'lend me your BEST boy.' By default the 2nd in charge of either department came to be known as best-boy. This term may also have been borrowed from early sailing and whaling crews, as sailors were often employed to set up and work rigging in theatres. There are no 'best girls' per se; female chief assistants are also called 'Best Boys.'"

7. Child wrangler

“Animal wranglers”—like wranglers who manage horses and other livestock on a ranch—control, instruct and care for animals used in filming. Similarly, “child wranglers” manage child actors on a set, coaching them in acting and keeping them entertained and quiet when they are not in the scene being filmed.

8. Python wrangler

A jocular term for the utility sound technician who performs a variety of tasks in the Sound Department, most typically pulling cables.

9. Fixer

Someone who provides logistical support, facilitating whatever's needed relating to permits, customs, location, talent, crews, equipment, accommodation, and transportation for filmmakers who wish to conduct filming abroad. The term is apparently a wink at the colloquial term fixer, meaning a person who makes arrangements for other people, especially of an illicit or devious kind.

10. Craft service

The people who assist the crafts (camera, sound, electricians, grips, props, art director, etc.) during shooting, with tasks including providing snacks and cleaning the set. (“Catering” provides the main meals.)

11. Concept artist

A person who creates a computer-generated 3D model that allows the production designer to determine how a scene will ultimately look. The concept artist renders the desired shots, camera angles, focal lengths, camera movements and choreography. The computer-generated model can also depict surface textures, lighting schemes and costumes.

Sources: “Film Crew Glossary,” Film in Colorado“Film Crew,” Wikipedia; "Glossary." Daily Variety 24 Aug. 2004: A1+ General OneFile. Web. 12 May 2013; Media-match: Job Descriptions; “Movie Terminology Glossary,” IMDb; “The Story of Jack Foley,” FilmSound.org.

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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Name the Author Based on the Character
May 23, 2017
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