Published: Aug 16, 2018
Updated: Aug 29, 2018

SHAPE 2018: Where the Deeply Personal and the Blazingly Technical Intersect

Author: Christy Roland

Sean Combs at 2018 AT&T SHAPE
Sean Combs talked about the importance of bringing along one’s community when creating art

The 2018 AT&T SHAPE conference cast a wide, inclusive net at the Warner Bros. lot on June 2 and 3 in Burbank, Calif. The result: a true convergence of transformational technology, like AI, AR, VR, and robots, with deeply personal, human stories. The conference was about using mind-blowing technical tools to express creativity and about empowering every creator (and every story) to find an audience.

The showstopper of the conference was the Sunday appearance of rapper and mega-mogul Sean “Diddy” Combs, who spoke one on one with John Donovan, CEO of AT&T Communications. The two are longtime friends, and the conversation enabled a deeply personal, even spiritual, side of Combs to take center stage. Of course, Combs is a hugely successful business person, from his Bad Boy Records record label to clothing, vodka, and bottled-water lines. He spoke about how many of his business ventures, though, were born of the desire to give creative outlets to creators and audiences of color. That includes his cable TV network, Revolt. “Of all the hundreds of channels out there, only three—three!—are black-owned. I knew I needed to be part of helping those stories reach their audiences,” he said.

Combs also touched Donovan and his audience while he talked of efforts and outreach outside the business realm. He spoke about his new school in New York, Capital Preparatory Harlem Charter School, and the success rates of the at-risk kids who are studying there. And, he spoke about how important it is for everyone to be “in this together…It doesn’t matter what color you are; anybody can feel pain…It’s all about love, people.” Watch and read more here.

kids dancing at 2018 AT&T SHAPEYoung people soaked up the sun and expressed their own creativity on the Warner Bros. lot.

Outside the dark, air-conditioned speakers’ soundstage, the 90-degree Burbank sun put smiles on attendees’ faces as they went from exhibit to exhibit and speech to speech. Almost every experience demonstrated the convergence of breathtaking digital technology with profoundly emotional stories and creations.

The Pervasive Power of the Personal

Issa Rae and Khadi Don at 2018 AT&T SHAPE
Director Issa Rae, right, interviewed by Khadi Don.

Filmmaker Issa Rae, creator and star of the HBO comedy Insecure, spoke movingly with comedian Khadi Don about the challenges she faced as a woman of color breaking into show business. She began to make a name for herself by posting video stories on YouTube and gradually gained the attention of HBO. But, even with her current success, she said, “There’s so much I want to do. I don’t want to be limited. I want to help others in their careers. I want to find out what else I’m supposed to do.”  Learn more about Issa Rae’s speech.

The personal was also a theme in the three co-winning Emerging Filmmaker Short Film entries. Bola Ogun, director of Are We Good Parents?, addressed the preconceptions of parents about their children’s identity, with humor and grace. Animator and director Jonah Ansell presented MOOSE, which showcases the deep divides in current society, through a fable about a young boy and a young moose whose father is killed by a hunter. And, Cameo Wood, director of Real Artists, embraced and showcased boundary-pushing technology, while asking the question: Where does the person fit into creative technology? Learn more about the films.

Filmmaker Ave DuVernay, director of the Academy Award-nominated Selma (among other films), and David Christopher, President, AT&T Mobility & Entertainment, celebrated the  diversity of voices and perspectives in the Emerging Filmmaker Film Awards finalists. They were so enthusiastic about all three finalists, that just after live voting from the audience began, Christopher suddenly announced, “What do you think, should they all win?” A three-way winning tie resulted, with each of the winners receiving the top $20,000 prize.


How Smart Is Artificial Intelligence, Anyway?

Oscar Sharp and Ross Goodwin at 2018 AT&T SHAPE
Director Oscar Sharp, left, and Ross Goodwin demonstrating ‘Benjamin,’ their artificial intelligence robot.

Another popular session was led by filmmaker Oscar Sharp and creative technologist Ross Goodwin, with their AI/robot creation, “Benjamin.” The two men have worked with Benjamin for several years, programming it by inputting ideas, phrases, and concepts. In turn, Benjamin has been able to churn out phrases of robot “poetry” when given a random idea like “Love is purple.” Read more about it here.

Lots of the exhibits explored artificial intelligence as well as virtual and augmented reality and how they can assist the creative processes. Attendees had fun trying on a variety of headsets to immerse themselves in new situations that felt real—if a bit unnerving at times.

And, not every exhibitor was presenting technology that requires a multi-million-dollar filmmaking budget. The Insta360 camera, for instance, sells for under $300 and can capture the entire view around the camera holder, whether that person is snowboarding at lightning speed, venturing deep into a remote canyon, or participating in a wedding on a beautiful beach. Read more about the exhibitors.



Apps to Help You Make It in Showbiz creators presenting at 2018 AT&T SHAPE
The creators explained how their blockchain app can help composers and music publishers get fairly compensated for their works.

The AT&T Entertainment App Challenge drew entries from all over, offering ways to enhance reality, stream entertainment in new and shared ways, and much more. The winning app, from, could disrupt the music industry profoundly and solve some of the vexing issues in our digital streaming era, including how to fairly compensate composers, producers, and new-song writers incorporating previously composed works. Using blockchain technology, employs smart contracts that keep track of every time someone creates, distributes, downloads, or listens to a song on its platform. And, with every action, it displays a pie chart of the distribution of proceeds to everyone whose creativity has touched it on its way to a listener.

Even more impressive, the founders have already acquired the rights to the Universal Music catalogue, which includes Kanye West, Rihanna, and Sublime, among many others. The app also provides a mixing platform right in the solution. So, you can use the platform to choose a tune from a desired artist in the catalog, scan for the appropriate number of beats per second and other criteria, and then lay down your own lyrics. Voila – a new song is born, and everyone who contributed to it in any way can at last be fairly compensated.

Other app finalists included Cooler, a streaming app that brings the “watercooler” back to TV watching. In today’s age of streaming and binge-watched media, Cooler aims to reconnect audiences around shows and events they love, even if they’re watching at different times. The solution solves the missing social aspect of binge-watching favorite shows. Learn more about all the app finalists.

In the end, the attendees came away armed with more ideas of ways to get their visions to come to life. They also departed with more platforms for more audiences and more creators. Because every story deserves to be told.


Share this post