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Monday, September 10, 2012

Goodbye to Bob Lambert, one of Hollywood's true champions of innovation

Visiting Bob Lambert in his office in the ABC Studios Building, for me, was like going to see an archivist, an oracle, and a city councilman. Bob, who spent 25 years at Disney, eventually becoming the media company's top technology executive, was all of that. He knew the history of technologies in Hollywood — both celebrated and forgotten. He could see the future. And, like any good city councilman, he understood the politics and alliances required to actually get things done.

I learned today that Bob died last Friday. Here is an obituary from The Hollywood Reporter, and there are many remembrances on his Facebook page. He was 55.

I'd met Bob only a few times as a reporter for Variety, and a blogger for CinemaTech, before he offered his help on a book I was working on about Hollywood's technological history. He was generous with his time, with introductions, and with his files. As someone who had helped introduce Disney to non-linear editing, worked to digitize the animation process in collaboration with a startup called Pixar, and nudged the movie industry toward digital delivery of its product, in cinemas and over the Internet, you couldn't have asked for a better guide than Bob. He was one of the central nodes in Hollywood's new technology network. Just about every emerging technology was on his radar screen, and he had a strong opinion about all of it. Bob was funny, curious, encouraging...and he had a remarkably small ego for someone who had operated in the movie business for almost his entire career.

The last time I saw Bob was a surprise. I'd gone up to visit a company in New Hampshire, Laser Light Engines, that was working on a laser-based lamp system for digital projectors. One benefit was that it would brighten the gloomy look of most 3-D films. (Bob would later join the company as a board member.) Nashua, New Hampshire, was one of the last places I'd have expected to bump into Bob, who had recently left Disney. We did the usual chit-chat around the conference table, stared at some PowerPoint slides, and then slipped into a makeshift screening room that Laser Light Engines had set up. We sat next to each other, and the lights went down, and we watched a succession of movie clips and trailers projected using the company's technology.

It was Bob in his natural habitat... getting a glimpse of the future of cinema, and weighing in later on what needed work, and how it might realistically find a path to the market.

I'm sorry he won't be around to shape what happens next.


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