Art Club Hosts Bob Ross Craft Day

By The Beacon Staff

This past Sunday the Art Club hosted a craft day with SMCC’s very own Bob Ross look alike, Wylie Holt. SMCC students and friends came down to the Art Studio to make Valentine’s Day cards with Wylie and other members of the Art Club while watching “The Joy of Painting.”

Bob Ross has inspired many, and Sunday was no exception. Students created all types of cards, from hearts, to bees, to trees, to three dimensional dogs. With glitter and cupcakes for all in attendance, the art studio was filled with love, creativity and Bob Ross.

 

Photos courtesy of the Art Club

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Welcome to Deepfake Reality

By Troy Hudson

On Jan. 8, 2018, a Reddit user known as deepfakes publicly shared an app he had developed called FakeApp, which allows anyone to take existing footage of a person and convincingly swap that person’s face with another face. Deepfakes has been sharing examples of videos (also known collectively as “deepfakes”) produced with the algorithm for about a year, but now anyone can download the app and, by taking advantage of neural-network cloud computing, create realistic simulations without expensive hardware or coding skills.

Unsurprisingly, the first and most widespread application of this technology has been porn. The faces of stars like Daisy Ridley, Emma Watson and Jessica Alba have been superimposed on adult film actors with results so convincing many people wouldn’t know they were looking at a fake. Reddit’s r/deepfakes thread is now full of such user-generated videos.

The app may be new, but the idea isn’t. Anyone who’s seen 2015’s “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” knows that Hollywood can digitally recreate a 19-year-old Carrie Fisher at will, albeit with mixed results. Many fans of the series bemoaned the new technology as gimmicky, while others were perfectly happy with the cinematic trickery. What is different this time is that it no longer takes a Disney-movie budget to produce these fakes; anyone with a decent computer can create their own in about eight to 12 hours.

The ethical implications of creating realistic pornographic fakes of unwilling participants are certainly troubling—all the more so as our culture comes to grips with accounts of sexual harassment and abuse in the entertainment industry and beyond. But as is often the case, porn is just the beginning of what a technology like FakeApp can be used to create.

Political deepfakes cropped up almost as soon as the app was released, and include President Donald Trump’s face on German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Adolf Hitler’s face on Argentinian President Mauricio Macri. These examples are obviously meant as satire, but it is not difficult to foresee a day very soon when these fakes become so convincing that they are all but impossible to recognize. In an era that has already been described as “post-truth,” this could bring us to peak skepticism, when we doubt even what we see with our own eyes.

Of course, visual fakery itself is nothing new. Heavily Photoshopped images appear on virtually every movie poster, magazine and billboard in existence, so much so that we have come to expect such manipulation and tacitly accept it. A recent social-media meme got laughs at the expense of a Vanity Fair photoshoot where a bad edit seems to show Oprah with a third hand. There was no outrage that the photo had been manipulated, just ridicule that the editor had done such a poor job concealing the trick.

And if deepfakes do come to further erode our crumbling faith in the media, it is only the final nail in the coffin of credibility. Escalating rumors and leaked information by anonymous informants are peddled daily by news networks in an endless battle for ratings, and the current administration has consistently worked to undermine any negative reporting by dismissing it as “fake news.” On Feb. 5, President Trump took time out from a speech in Blue Ash, Ohio to wave hello to the “fake news media,” saying he was glad the speech was being broadcast live so his remarks couldn’t be edited and misconstrued.

Gallup reported in fall 2016 that only 32 percent of Americans believe the news media presents the truth “fully, accurately and fairly,” and there are no signs that faith is being restored. It is worth pointing out that experts believe this may not entirely be the fault of the media, as people are known to distrust stories that conflict with previously held beliefs, regardless of accuracy. But if the power to create fakes so convincing that no one can tell them apart from reality becomes fully democratized, then the media will be just as helpless as the rest of us in distinguishing fact from fiction. Who can you trust to tell the truth when you can’t even believe your own eyes?

Now that FakeApp is nearly universally available (except, of course, in countries with heavily restricted internet access like North Korea), it is a virtual certainty that the phenomenon is already, or soon will be, unstoppable. Perhaps technology to detect the fakes will keep pace with the simulations, or perhaps not.

There may, however, be an upside to this new deepfake reality: In order to ascertain the truth when nothing is certain, it will become more necessary than ever to weigh new information against what we already know (or think we know), and to take nothing for granted. It is possible that our deepening skepticism could inspire a more discerning public, no longer so quick to react to the latest scandalous revelations which may, after all, turn out to be nothing more than cinematic sleight of hand. But if, as we now know to be true, foreign powers like Russia have already succeeded in infiltrating American politics using nothing more than Facebook ads and blog posts, the future of deepfakes could hold some very troubling realities indeed.

Maine Mayhem Shines Light on Student Auteurs

By Daniele Amandolini

If you are pursuing a career in film, catching the right break can take a while. You often spend years begging friends and family to like and share your latest project on Vimeo, or getting coffee for other crew members as a production assistant. For the last eight years, though, Maine Mayhem has made the dream of making a movie and seeing it projected on the big screen a reality for many students.

The event was co-founded in 2011 by CNMS Department Chair Corey Norman, along with student James Crocco. Thanks to his existing relationship with Nickelodeon Cinemas in Portland, Norman was able to strike a deal and provide the venue for what has become an annual highlight for the community, regularly selling out the theater. And it’s not just Portland: Films will debut at Nickelodeon Cinemas during the second week of May, as well as in Bridgton, Bangor, and at the Sanford International Film Festival in September.

For students, Maine Mayhem is the culmination of an eight-month workload. The fall semester covers pre-production, at the end of which students will pitch their movies to a panel of experts in the field. The film industry, after all, is as much about cameras and scripts as it is about selling your idea to a potential investor.

Once a movie is greenlit, the director will spend the spring semester handling all aspects of the process — this means developing a budget, hiring actors, and scouting locations. And then there is the actual shooting, which usually takes about six to eight days.

While students are ultimately responsible for the success of their own movie, classmates can always rely on each other’s support when things go wrong. They’re all in it together, as Norman sees the event as “not a competition, but a celebration.”

Not only does Maine Mayhem represent a great opportunity for a student to see their first movie come to life, but it’s also helped SMCC establish its film program as one of the best in Maine. And the fulfilling experience of sharing their creations will stay with the students forever, whether they stay in the film industry or move on to something new.

The students currently working on Maine Mayhem movies are Madison Holbrook, Bodhi Ouellette, Ben Rooker, Jason Smith, Jack Gentempo, Justin Taylor, and Brendan Kellogg. Good luck!

Students Forge Their Own Paths With TRIO

By Liam Higgins

Do you often feel overwhelmed with your own independence? As a student, you’re not alone. Like Lewis and Clark exploring the wild western plains of early America, the journey into college life can be a daunting and perilous expedition. Sixty percent of the SMCC student body is first-generation college students, and those students are attempting to navigate unexplored territory alone. But even Lewis and Clark enlisted Sacagawea to guide them, and as a student, you have the TRIO Student Support Service.

The Student Support Service (SSS) is a thorough and proven program focused on personal growth and individual success. It offers a variety of services to aid students in making the most of their time on campus and to ensure they receive their money’s worth from their education. Between securing financial aid, managing time for homework and classes, and maintaining that sought-after social life, the average undisciplined student needs all the help they can get. From success seminars to unique classes offered only to TRIO student’s, the program is specifically tailored to the needs of the individual.

One of these classes, a FIG course offered to freshmen in the fall semester, is designed to help students refine the skills needed to be a successful student. A TRIO student who goes by “Li” reflects on a self-learning exercise from this class, saying it helped her discover personal strengths and attributes. A peer leader in the program, Hillary Pimentel, who has been with the program for one and a half years, say it has greatly helped her in managing her time. Through TRIO, she has had help with signing up for student loans and financial assistance.

One of the greatest services TRIO offers, in my opinion, is the Success Coach. Upon being accepted to the program, students are assigned a success coach that will stick with them until graduation. The objective of the coach is to advise the student on a personal level — to work with you one on one in overcoming the barriers standing in the way of your goals.

The TRIO program is not a social club by any means. It is intended for students who take their education seriously but who may need a guide. That being said, there is clearly a communal feel to the way they operate. Many seminars are designed and orchestrated by students, and tutoring is available from your peers. The program may be intended to help students individually, but it also teaches them to help themselves. Working closely with others who share a similar mindset can be just what the doctor ordered.

If you are wondering if TRIO is for you, ask yourself, “Self, do I take my education seriously?” If you answered yes, keep reading. If you answered no, why are you here? In 2013, SMCC reported a dismal 13 percent graduation rate. The TRIO program graduates 25 percent of its students, and it’s only in its second year. That’s almost double.

“TRIO works because it offers both a community for students plus one on one advising, but most importantly because it represents a microcosm of the bigger SMCC community,” says Katherine Lualdi, the director of the program. Roughly 60 percent of SMCC students are eligible for this program, so do yourself a favor and check it out. Because while you may not be documenting the most direct water route across the continent for the purpose of commerce, everyone could use a little help.