Looking Back and Moving Forward – Why ‘Upgrade Reality’ is Much More Than the Title of Our New Short Film

When I joined NTT Research as president and CEO last summer, I didn’t expect to be getting into the movie business. After all, we set up operations in Silicon Valley, not Hollywood. But a few months after we got started, our team knew we were going to need some help in explaining our mission to “Upgrade Reality.” We thought a short film was the right vehicle. Our goal was to place our aspirations within the context of paradigm-shifting moments in history.

The in-house creative development began in September. Given our ambitions and unwillingness to settle for stock footage, we set our sights high. In December, after reviewing proposals and creative treatments from several directors, we awarded the project to Janusz Kaminski, a two-time Academy Award-winning cinematographer, and Independent Media, a commercial and branded-content production company. Additional support came from Paul Martinez and his team at Arcade, visual effects (VFX) company The Mill LA, and an original score by prolific film and concert composer Alex Weston. The project was completed at the end of March, and a month later, we debuted the short film, also called Upgrade Reality.

The first stop on this cinematic journey is England in the late 18th century. The focus is a young boy receiving a smallpox vaccine at the hands of the English doctor Edward Jenner, who developed and popularized this preventative treatment for what was then a very deadly virus. This scene was conceived months before the pandemic of 2020 broke out; circumstances today make this snapshot of the dawn of immunology even more touching and hopeful.

The film then takes us to another youthful scene a century later, where we see the Wright brothers as boys, then as young men, with one of them piloting their first heavier-than-air Flyer overhead. That sequence flows into the late 1960s, to a computer lab that was one of the four original nodes of Arpanet. The scene depicts the first message sent over the fledgling internet between UCLA and the Stanford Research Institute (SRI) in Menlo Park.

After a series of “quick cuts,” we end up in the future, in a physician’s lab with another young person. In this case, it’s a girl alongside a double, an anatomical hologram, or bio digital twin. Because the previous visuals have depicted events in science and technology that actually happened, this seems not so much futuristic as the next logical step. There’s also something about the girl that makes you think of her less as a patient and more as a representative of the next generation’s innovators and breakthrough scientists.

As for the bio digital twin, that is actually a working goal of our Medical and Health Informatics (MEI) Lab. Our project is visionary and long-term, and we are starting small, but the film captures the bold idea.

Ambitious projects like digital twinning are sometimes called moon shots. As it happens, on a desk in the film’s Arpanet scene, there’s a copy of Time magazine’s “Man on the Moon” issue. This is historically plausible, because the first internet message occurred a few months after the Apollo 11 moon landing.  In one of those “quick cuts” I mentioned, you also see a rocket stage separating in flight, another hint of an ambitious mission in progress. At NTT Research, we expect moon shots to manifest in many forms – from advances in physics and computing, to information security and privacy protection, and medical diagnosis and disease prevention. 

Moon shots, of course, require teams. That goes for our daily work here at NTT Research, as well as this beautiful and inspirational short film. To introduce you to Kaminski and those who worked with him on this project, we’ve also released a short behind-the-scenes film.

This second film provides interesting background. You’ll hear about Kaminski’s vision, the “gumbo” editing style of Martinez, how Jason Monroe and the VFX team at The Mill LA worked their magic, and why we needed not a ‘jingle’ but a musical score by Weston. If you – like us here at NTT Research – tend to enjoy analyzing how things work, you may like this second film as much as the first.

But most importantly, to me, it shows how Upgrade Reality is really more than a slogan or even a movie title… It’s a full-blown mission.