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Athenascope nabs $2.5M seed led by First Round to bring gamers AI-edited highlight reels – TechCrunch

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As massive cross-platform gaming titles become even larger time-sucks for a lot of people, it’s probably worth reflecting on how to savor your in-game accomplishments.

Streaming of esports celebrities on sites like Twitch has taken off like no one imagined, but for the most part the toil-heavy editing process has left this attention largely focused on those with the ambitions of making gaming their full-time gig.

Athenascope is a small startup aiming to tap computer vision intelligence to record, review and recap what more novice gamers were able to pull off in their latest battle royale with a short, shareable highlight reel. The team is led by Chris Kirmse, who previously founded Xfire, a game messaging client that Viacom bought in 2006 for north of $100 million.

The company announced this week that they’ve closed a $2.5 million seed round led by First Round Capital to grow its tools and its team. They’re also rolling out their AI highlight reel tool for gamers. The tool is pretty customized for individual titles; they’re launching with support for Fortnite, Rocket League and PUBG, but Kirmse hopes to expand that list significantly in the future.

Josh Kopelman, a partner at First Round Capital who is joining Athenascope’s board, highlighted that a lot of existing tools for gaming entertainment are “really skewed towards the high-end.”

“They’re not democratized, they’re for professional gamers,” Kopelman told TechCrunch. “What I think Chris is trying to do with Athenascope is enable anyone to create these high-quality game highlights — what the pros have to do manually.”

The company is tackling a problem familiar to video-editing software companies: how to prevent footage from dying on the device. The answer here is the same as many others have posited, tapping computer vision deep learning to do the heavy lifting in determining which footage is interesting and worthy of a highlight reel. Athenascope has some key advantages over the companies like GoPro that are trying to do the same with real-world video, namely the games they support operate in fundamentally more predictable ways and 2D interface cues offer some pretty healthy indicators of when exciting stuff is going down.

The game isn’t a plug-in that needs pipeline access to your Fortnite account or anything, the product simply analyzes exactly what you’re seeing when you play. The startup is also working on cool tools that allow you to see multiple perspectives of individual moments in gameplay by essentially syncing footage from other people involved in a match that are also Athenascope’s service and giving a sort of multi-view replay.

The company has broader ambitions of how it can evolve these gaming insights with computer vision, including ways to help gamers learn about their strengths and weaknesses in a way that lets Athenascope serve as a sort of computer vision coach. For now though, the big focus is on getting gamers these entertaining snapshots of their gaming experiences in an intelligent way.

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Robert Pattinson broods and batters his way through new The Batman trailer

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Robert Pattinson stars as billionaire Bruce Wayne, aka the Caped Crusader, in director Matt Reeves’ forthcoming film, The Batman.

Robert Pattinson is appropriately dark and brooding and beating up bad guys in the latest trailer for The Batman, which debuted at DC FanDome this weekend. Directed by Matt Reeves, the film’s release has been delayed multiple times, but will finally hit theaters next March.

As I’ve written previously, the original plan was to set the film within the DCEU, after the events of Justice League. But as Warner Bros. was rethinking the shared-universe model for its superhero films in favor of standalone films and franchises, Affleck announced he was stepping down as director, and the studio replaced him with Reeves. Affleck would eventually withdraw from the project altogether, following his divorce from Jennifer Garner and a stint in rehab for alcohol abuse.

Reeves brought a very different vision to The Batman, saying that he wanted it to be “an almost noir-driven, detective version of Batman,” focused on Bruce Wayne’s second year fighting crime as the Caped Crusader, rather than once again retelling the character’s origin story. 

Reeves said that the plot would follow a series of murders, revealing the history of corruption in Gotham and how Bruce’s family is linked to that corruption. The classic bad guys—the Riddler, Penguin, Catwoman—are also in the early stages of their development into full-fledged villains. Reeves has cited Alfred Hitchcock films as a major influence on the overall look and feel of his film, as well as Chinatown, The French Connection, and Taxi Driver.

Filming was paused in March 2020 due to COVID-19—dialect coach Andrew Jack died from the disease shortly thereafter—after a quarter or so of the film had been shot. And three days after filming resumed in September 2020, Pattinson tested positive for COVID-19, briefly shutting down production again. Filming didn’t wrap completely until March of this year, and the studio pushed the film’s release to 2022 as a result.

In addition to Pattinson, the cast includes Jeffrey Wright (Westworld) as Commissioner Jim Gordon; Colin Farrell (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them) as Oswald Cobblepot/Penguin; Andy Serkis (The Lord of the Rings trilogy) as Bruce Wayne’s butler and mentor, Alfred Pennyworth; John Turturro (Barton Fink, The Big Lebowski) as crime boss Carmine Falcone; Paul Dano (Okja, 12 Years a Slave) as Edward Nashton/The Riddler; and Zoë Kravitz (X-Men: First Class) as Selina Kyle/Catwoman. (Kravitz voiced the character in The Lego Batman Movie.)

Enlarge / Zoë Kravitz plays Selina Kyle, aka Catwoman

YouTube/Warner Bros

The first teaser dropped during last year’s DC FanDome, and the Warner Bros. CinemaCon panel this past August featured a brief sizzle reel of new footage. This latest trailer opens with the arrest of Dano’s Riddler in a coffee shop, although we don’t see his face—just the question mark pattern in the foam of his cappuccino. We get a bit more footage of Batman beating up street goons, some serious sparkage with Selina/Catwoman, and a fiery confrontation with Oswald Cobblepot. But it’s the Riddler who seems to dominate the proceedings, with an ominous voiceover: “What’s black and blue and red all over? You.”

In other Batman news, Warner Bros. dropped a short sneak peek of footage for The Flash film that’s been in development for a good 17 years. It’s loosely based on the 2011 comic crossover story Flashpoint, in which Barry travels back in time to prevent the death of his mother, and accidentally unravels space and time as a result. This new footage confirms that. Ben Affleck is rumored to reprise his Batman, along with Michael Keaton, who last played the Caped Crusader in 1992’s Batman Returns. Yep, we might be getting a mutliverse version of the DCEU.

We don’t see the face of either Affleck or Keaton in this footage, but we do see Barry approach Batman from behind and ask, “Are you in?” And that does sound like Keaton in the voiceover. The studio doesn’t seem to have released the footage on their own YouTube channel, but a version is embedded below. You can watch the full streamed DC FanDome event here.

The Batman is slated for release on March 4, 2022. The Flash is scheduled to hit theaters on November 4, 2022.

Batman returns in teaser trailer for the forthcoming film The Flash.

Listing image by Warner Bros.

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John Cena shows off comedic chops in extended teaser for Peacemaker series

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John Cena reprises his role as Peacemaker for the forthcoming HBO Max spinoff series Peacemaker.

John Cena’s Peacemaker was among the standout characters in The Suicide Squad‘s star-studded ensemble cast, so we were intrigued by the news that a spinoff series was in the works. We knew that Peacemaker was being written and directed by James Gunn (Guardians of the Galaxy), and that the series will explore will explore the origins of the character and his subsequent missions. And now we have our first look, thanks to HBO Max, which released an extended teaser trailer for the series during the DC FanDome event.

(A couple of spoilers for The Suicide Squad below.)

Gunn wrote the series last summer during the COVID-19 lockdown, just for fun, but then DC Films approached him about a possible spinoff series for one of the characters in The Suicide Squad. I’m not sure Peacemaker would have been my first choice—Cena’s performance was terrific, but I haven’t quite forgiven the character for the Very Bad Thing he did in that film—but Gunn’s instincts are pretty impeccable, and he clearly felt there was more story to tell.

“He’s not an evil person, he’s just a bad guy,” Gunn told Variety in August. “He seems sort of irredeemable in the film. But I think that there’s more to him. We didn’t get a chance to know him [in The Suicide Squad] in the way we get to know some of the other characters. And so that’s what the whole show is about.” HBO Max was sufficiently impressed with his take that it ordered Peacemaker straight to series.

The eight-episode series is set after the events of The Suicide Squad, specifically after the post-credits scene, in which we learned that Peacemaker had survived what had appeared to be a fatal shooting. That scene hinted that the US government still had some use for him. The teaser makes that hint explicit, as Peacemaker (aka Christopher Smith) is recruited by Clemson Murn (Chukwudi Iwuji) for another mission in order to avoid going back to prison.

That mission is even less noble than the one he was assigned by Amanda Waller: he’s basically an assassin, but hey, at least he’s only killing bad people. He gets assistance from John Economos (Steve Agee)—warden of the Belle Reve penitentiary—NSA agent and former Waller aide Emilia Harcourt (Jennifer Holland), and new team member Leota Adebayo (Danielle Brooks). The cast also includes Robert Patrick as Peacemaker’s crusty father, Auggie Smith (who thinks his son is a “nancy-boy”); Freddie Stroma as Adrian Chase, aka Vigilante, a district attorney who fights crime and has rapid healing abilities; and Nhut Le as Judomaster.

The teaser is heavy on the cheesy, off-color bro-humor, including shots of Peacemaker bending over to to shoot at a target during practice, as well as having Vigilante fire at a bottle held at groin level. Then there’s the whole bizarre conversation about “butt babies.” But in Gunn’s capable hands, the irreverent, over-the-top tone is note-perfect—very much in line with the character and with the tone of The Suicide Squad (which I loved)—and we already know Cena has a remarkable gift for physical comedy, shown to good advantage here. Honestly, we’ll be tuning in to just watch him dance in his apartment in his underwear, and bond with a bald eagle. (“Oh my god. He’s hugging me.”)

Peacemaker debuts on January 13, 2022, on HBO Max.

Enlarge / John Cena’s Peacemaker gets his own spinoff series on HBO Max and a brand new team—including a bald eagle because why not?

YouTube/HBO Max

Listing image by YouTube/HBO Max

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Star Trek: Exploring New Worlds exhibit comes to LA’s Skirball Center

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Back in 2016, the Museum of Pop Culture (MoPOP) in Seattle unveiled an immersive new exhibit, Star Trek: Exploring New Worlds, in its Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame–a tribute to the hugely influential long-running franchise. The exhibit embarked on a national tour two years later and has been traveling around the country ever since. And now it’s come to the final stop on its journey: the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles, California, where Gene Roddenberry first created his visionary series, Star Trek: The Original Series (TOS).

“Star Trek’s vision resonates deeply with the Skirball’s commitment to using the power of arts and storytelling to help build a society in which everyone belongs,” museum director Sheri Bernstein said during the press preview last month.

Among the highlights of the exhibit are Captain Kirk’s command chair, and the wooden helm and navigation console from TOS, fully restored. There are plenty of props: different designs of tricorders, communicators, phasers, and P.A.D.Ds; a model of a Borg cube; and lots of weaponry, including a Klingon disruptor pistol.  

And of course, there are many, many models of the various spacecraft featured in the franchise over the decades, including filming models for the Enterprise, the USS Excelsior, and the Deep Space Nine space station. “I love spaceship models,” MoPOP’s Brooks Peck, curator of the exhibit, admitted. “Now it’s all digital, but back then it was all about plastic and wood models, so there’s a wonderful craft to those pieces.”

Peck is also proud of the fact that the exhibit showcases the captain’s uniforms from all the major Star Trek TV shows. His personal favorite? Kathryn Janeway from Star Trek: Voyager. “Best Star Trek captain ever,” Peck joked. “I will fight you over that.” There are also many original costumes worn by cast members of the various series, from TOS —including the tunic worn by evil Captain Kirk in the episode “Mirror, Mirror”—all the way through to Star Trek: Discovery.

On the interactive side of things, visitors can crawl through a Jeffries tube, or be “assimilated” by the Borg. A transporter simulation lets people create short films of themselves beaming down to to the surface of an alien planet. There’s a station where one can listen to people reminisce about their favorite Star Trek films and shows, and what the franchise has meant to them. And of course, there are tons of tribbles lurking throughout, for eagle-eyed visitors who want to try and spot them.

In his press preview remarks, Peck emphasized that the characters and themes of TOS were quite radical when it first aired in 1966. This was a time when the Cold War was in full swing, and there was a great deal of racial tension in the US, despite passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 and the Voting Rights Act the following year. This was the broad cultural backdrop against which Captain Kirk and the crew of the USS Enterprise had their adventures, all infused with Roddenberry’s optimism for the future.

“Roddenberry believed not that we would get past our differences, but that we would, in fact, embrace our differences, in the sense of diversity,” said Peck. “Sadly, this is a rough time in this nation. We’re seeing a lot of division again. So I’m pleased that we can take some time to look at Star Trek, and its idea of inclusion and working together to build a better and just society, and to hold that up in a fun, artistic form. What Star Trek brings is this optimistic vision of the future that is really inspiring to people.”

Laura Mart, managing curator for the exhibition, also expressed her hope that the exhibit would channel the original Star Trek ethos, ending her remarks with an especially apt quote from Roddenberry:

I believe in humanity. We are an incredible species. We’re still just a child creature, we’re still being nasty to each other, and all children go through those phases. We’re still growing up. We’re moving into adolescence now. When we grow up, man, we’re going to be something.

Listing image by Skirball Center/MoPOP

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