FIRESIDE CHAT WITH AMY JUPITER
Following the 4th Annual AUREA Award, Hopscotch Interactive CEO Emily Olman sat down with Amy Jupiter, a 30 year iMagineer and Executive Creative Producer and Experience Designer in San Francisco to talk about her career, what she's inspired by today, and to learn from Amy how she hacks the limbic system to create the feeling of awe for theme parks and the experiences she's worked on over the years including Virgin Galactic, Avatar's Pandora at Disney World and many more! Full transcript below:
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So, hi, I am Emily Olman, and I am here today with my friend Amy Jupiter, and I'm so thrilled to have this fireside chat with Amy, which is sort of a long time coming because Amy and I, we met what like a year, a year and a half ago a year ago.
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But I mean, it's been incredible getting to know Amy and to learn more about her work and sort of her legacy and the things that she has been doing, which are so inspiring to so many people, including myself.
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So it's wonderful to yeah, and it's great to have a chance to sit down with you, relax and, you know, really kind of dig into some of these philosophical questions that you've been so fortunate to be able to engage in throughout your work.
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So, um, so yeah, maybe you can start by telling me a little bit about what is what is inspiring you these days? What is what is the most sort of what is the one of the visions that you have when you think about where, where you're where your work might head, where it's been going?
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Well, I really like I really love experience design. I really love large format film. I love attraction making. I really love theme parks. I love. I love the idea of the architecture of reassurance. I love hyper reality. It was really interesting to see Avi Bar-Zeev's talk and have an illustration of what the Metaverse hyper reality could look
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like. And that was a little alarming because of the idea of how much information is out there. But I also thought the idea of filtering and it's so interesting as we talk about it sort of being neurotypical and the inability to filter, and that the idea that your glasses or your headset or your heads up display or
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will help you filter. I thought that was a really interesting idea because when we do experience design, people ask about like, why, how do you get people to look where you want? And you know, we use their humanity basically as appropriate set of hacker.
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We use your limbic response and you pay attention to the thing that is of highest contrast of the brightest value of the the thing that might hurt you. Surprise, people pay attention to things that surprise them. And so I was really interested in some of the ideas of the supportive technologies really helping people to be more comfortable
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,more reassured, more targeted in the world. That actually was one of the things that was inspirational about hearing at the last ORAYA awards. The conversations that have been having around the Metaverse and then hardware support of hardware. Yeah, I think that the feeling I had when looking at Ivy's talk again where in that video he was trying
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to illustrate what would happen in sort of a future case scenario where we have this hyper reality sort of all of this information, this data is mapped on the real world. He was trying to illustrate that augmented reality obviously can become chaotic if we don't have filters for it.
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And if you just layer even one additional layer of somebodies, some map somebody's map somebody's visual field and then you layer more on that, maybe it's advertising. Maybe it's, you know, I don't know what it is, but that that sort of that crash of information together would obviously overwhelm somebody.
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And so we have this choice to personally filter. But what if we zoom out a little bit and we say, but if we have no technology, you know, then we don't. We already have filters. And I think that's what gets me thinking about what you're talking about, just the basic human response to a filter of what's happening
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in my environment, not the technology, but just the physics. I mean, that's a, well, an ideal. I pedal in the real world and I love the real world. And so that is always the place I start with the real human experience and with my human experience.
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Obviously, in a at a design table, I always would like to have multiple points of view. I don't I'm not. I don't represent everybody. And I think that in designing for the, you know, the common person, there really is no common person.
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But there's common humanity and we have basic human responses physically, emotionally and you try to sort of deal with the basic ideas of beauty, things that are a higher quality of life, things that are comforting. Like I said, I really am motivated by.
00:05:00:51 - 00:05:26:52
Reassurance and happiness and wonder and or as my sort of motivating emotional state and inspiration and aspiration and how do you physically communicate those things without words? So those things and I've heard you say this before in other conversations that we've had and talks that you've given where you want to get people to that place beyond words
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. That that is an intention that you set to try to get them there. And I wonder also if like if you're trying to have somebody come through an experience and for it to be positive, you know, a we're going to get them to the place beyond words.
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But B, we want to create wonder. We want to create and I love how you have also said in previous in previous talks where it's like the physicality of that is looking up is lifting your head is is directing your attention to something that will give you that surprise smile that opens you up.
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I mean it when you tip your chin up, your autonomic nervous system, opens your chest, opens your breath. You can't really feel anything when you're not breathing. We like to encourage people to breathe and then we manipulate them when because you really are also manipulating anxiety, right?
00:06:15:24 - 00:06:39:33
When you want people to sort of pay attention, you're pretty much manipulating everything. And so you cultivate and groom anxiety and relief as counterpoint to each other. And posture is one of those things that sort of helps support how people feel, whether they're going forward, the you know, how we want you to feel by the posture we
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put you in, especially on a ride attraction. And and we think about that from the beginning. How do you how do we want to make you feel? And oftentimes you're, you know, the mechanics of the ride really dictate some of those the realities of situation and load and unload.
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And the practicalities sometimes get in the way. But then you really do. Then what is the next thing that you can really lean people into? What and what does it say to someone when they do lean in? Hmm.
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And so you've spent many, many years working as an Imagineer. You started as an intern and you work your way up to a chief creative and executive executive producer. I'm not sure what designer I know. There's a lot of there's a lot of titles and they mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people
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. So but I think that the point is that you achieved record, but I don't do everything alone. So it's all like sort of like a little, you know, sort of like an irja and encourager of of creativity and autonomy.
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So, yeah, but I think starting also as an intern, you're really doing things. I mean, you were a teenager, you were in your late, late teens or early twenties when he's yeah, OK. So late teens, early twenties. Let's just say that that was a while ago and you were doing it.
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No, no, not so. No, but the point is, is that you started sort of, I would say, approaching the world through this lens, through the lens of right starting to I took apart cameras. I learned to take apart like military cameras, that there were special format cameras all over.
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We'll call it Wet Enterprises because I'm that old and wild and wild. And what? Author alive? Walter Elias Disney. That's what we said, and that is what what enterprises is. And so circle vision cameras, stereo. 65 cameras, they were all built by the Imagineers.
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And at the studio, I just happened to be next door to the camera department and I would just watch this older gentleman take apart the cameras and he just one day looked at me like, You keep looking at me.
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Come on over here, kid. And he gave me a camera and and also it was next door to the animation department, the effects department and the matte painting department. So I learned all about gimbal cameras, down shooters, what it was to do special process photography, slit scan photography, backlight animation for effects and the blinky lights.
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The gentleman, one of the gentlemen who was one of my mentors, Glen Campbell, was the gentleman who did the Blinky Lights and Blade Runner, and just these double exposures and single exposures and the amazing that painters that were there.
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I just was fascinated by and how old Thomas Edison did special process, you know, photography. And really, when you think about the history of use of film, it was in illusion in opera so that people didn't have to hold.
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You couldn't afford to have all those sort of supernumerary around and you used it for illusion and illusion. Mean stage play. Latin root of illusion is play and like a stage play. And so. I was always interested in theater and science and light and frequency and connectivity and how people respond to those things just by in their
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limbic systems. How you can feel just by color, how you can feel by angle of light. I can feel by darkness, shadow play. Every all of that. So interesting. So can I just ask you this question then, because I know a lot of people would sort of look at the very practical skills that you had disassembling cameras
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, learning about all of these very, very much like vocational skills on the job. How does one then go from, OK, I'm going to know all of the mechanical ins and outs. I'm really an engineer and then making the leap from engineer to proprioceptive hacker, an experience designer.
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How do you what's the arc for you to to sort of go like when was the moment where it switched from idea to your driver? And then I'm going to Oh, but now I'm going to think about how this ride is going to make people's lives change.
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You know, I want to like, I don't understand what I want to know. There was a startup called Digital Domain, and the one of the producers who had worked with me at Imagineering had gone over. They were still in the hallways of Light Storm, and they were commissioned to do a test for T2 3D.
00:11:25:34 - 00:11:45:30
And she said, I don't know anything about stereo cameras, and I had known like that was my sort of entry in and when I had Bert and Muppet Vision 3D with Jim Henson and and they had. This is where I learned about performance capture with a Waldo, how to capture spirit of a human being.
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And it is also where I learned about really how much light you needed, how to shoot, what the cinematic vocabulary was, the limitations of stereo photography. And she said, you're going to come and set up a 3D film festival for Jim Cameron, and you're going to help teach him about stereo filmmaking.
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And well, and that's what I did. And literally it becomes like that, like, hey, you kid, you know about this or that's how I got to Imagineering, the head of production, Marty Katz, said, You've been on set watching for all these years as a P.A., as an intern.
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And we think you should go over to Walt Disney Imagineering because we're going to make theme park films using these celebrities and we need we're going to bring professional filmmakers to Imagineer Imagineering. And you should go to. And I had already had one of my older bosses who was my first boss, who was like she was a
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production person. And but really was a fine artist. And she said, You have to come over here, you have to come over here. These are your people. And I had actually been mentored by that. Frank Wells, who gave me to the head of the New Technologies Committee, Bob Lambert.
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And he said, someday a kid, it's going to be cool to be a girl and a scientist. And and there you go. It really was. I was nurtured. I really was nurtured. They were super kind to me, and that's how you again.
00:13:14:38 - 00:13:29:34
It was a gift because my people really were imagineers. And I believe, as you know, little I Imagineer is a thing that is accessible to everybody. It's a mindset. It is the way you were born. It is not Walt Disney Imagineering.
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It is a way of being. And most of our audience here in the area community are imagineers. They've been making, you know, experiences and products and things that they grab out of thin air for most of their lives.
00:13:45:55 - 00:14:03:28
I think that it is so true to sort of recognize there's a common bond between everybody here in a way that I've always felt that the the VR community is sort of in its best form is in not the one where it's like in a massive hype cycle.
00:14:04:37 - 00:14:17:00
And that's why I actually really liked it. Just as an aside, I really liked it when VR kind of went like down the back side of that hype cycle a couple of years ago, because the best, the best comment was like, Oh, well, look, the tourists are gone.
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You know, and it was like, Oh, it's the season for the folks that really care about this. If you really want to, you know, deal with the tourist, you need the tourist or any other revenue, you need all of their energy as well.
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But, you know, I think that that's one of the things that drew me to it in the beginning was because I saw, you know, this blue ocean, I saw this potential for just incredible means of communication. Marketing actually was another one of the things that hit me, of course, and as an opportunity.
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But yeah, I mean, to see that everybody is sort of inspired by this work. And you mentioned stereo and I kind of wanted to talk about that because I think it's really interesting that, you know, we have been hacking this technology.
00:14:59:41 - 00:15:18:57
Photography, you mentioned Thomas Edison. And, you know, going all the way back to the 1800s and the first stereoscopic images, we were trying to create illusion of being there, of being in a place of being somewhere. And that's always been, you know, a sort of a human endeavor.
00:15:19:58 - 00:15:35:25
Yes, the storytelling, this is what I saw because unless it's research, unless you come back and tell the story, then it becomes exploration. It cannot be. You have to tell the story. And the best way to tell the story is with a picture.
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And I think that, you know, or you're describing it or on a on a wall or you're painting it or you're idolizing it. And so, you know, we stand on the shoulders of giants. We come from church. We come from 19th century English landscaping.
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You look at many of the Disney iconic architecture and it is derived from historic architecture. When we say iconic, we mean something familiar. There's something that is then hyper realized. And so but you look at things and the inside of flight of passage, the the apotheosis scene is the inside really of Exeter Cathedral.
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It is, you know, 16th century gothic art, English architecture. And because it is makes you look up. Everything has sweeping gothic lines. And so when you're doing research, it really is about using. You don't want to invent, you don't have to reinvent.
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You just have to quote genius. So the citation of genius, the reference to the people that came before us are our creative ancestors. Absolutely. And you know, this is it's it's really great to hear you talk about it.
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And I think in this sort of in your unique wisdom, especially having done this in sort of in a continuous and an evolving way for so many years. And now you're doing when you're working on, for example, this experience of going to space.
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Right. And it's and I think that all of these things, they do build upon each other and you're able to take those things. Yes. All right. Just happens to leave the planet. Yeah, right. Well, the planet, right? So I mean, it is definitely an evolution, but it is transformation through adventure.
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It is adventure travel. It is for good. You want to go up to look down to see how delicate our planet is so that you come back and do good. And so space for the curious it is. We have been curious about what is up there for most of our existence.
00:17:49:42 - 00:18:06:50
And so we are just really talking about broadening the the audience, broadening the history, putting it in a bigger context because it is a bigger context. It's not just about Mercury, Gemini and Apollo. It isn't. They can't be that there's cosmology up there.
00:18:06:50 - 00:18:27:02
There's so much, there's so much up there. That is our history of curiosity and storytelling. And I always think about, you know, campfire. That's a dome. That's a perfect dome show campfire. And it goes into the darkness. And as you get closer to it, you know, there's there's more story there.
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So I think that I'm drawn to like humanism of basic human existence and how we really understand the universe. I mean, it's it is it is infinite, right? So in that way that this work can also be infinite.
00:18:45:11 - 00:19:01:48
I feel like, you know, the thing that's interesting as well as being able to do it in such a focused way, like I have this this project, and I think that's why I'm when I look at these experiences, such as a theme park ride and I realize, how do you even start that because you have to get
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all of these people together to agree it's going to look like this or it's going to follow this path? And then the outcome is this is a business case complicated. How yeah, maybe the business case, there's always a bit there's always a business case that starts this conversation.
00:19:18:09 - 00:19:29:20
But you know, again, if you're putting it into Disney's Animal Kingdom as a great, you know, and and you have the basic keys of Animal Kingdom, people are like, but there's no animals in Pandora and you're like, Of course there's banshees.
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It's a keystone species. It's what tells the health of the planet. The restoration of Pandora is based on the restoration of this keystone species of the banshee of the Quran. And if you look at sort of that after the RDA, this is post-conflict and you have eco tourism and you have the restoration of environment from being a
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Superfund site. And so you have the same values that are happening that are happening everywhere outside in. Disease, animal kingdom, so the sanctity of nature, the and the transformation through adventure. And you have these themes that you then have to express, how would I know I was?
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I'm Pandora, because everything else in Disney's Animal Kingdom is is on is on Earth. And how would you know we were had gone to Pandora while floating mountains are the only thing that tells you don't have the same kind of gravity?
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Well, that's a really expensive proposition. And so how do you do that? How do you do that in a financially responsible way? And then, you know, we're on Pandora. There are no signs, right? So what is intuitive navigation?
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How would I know that's the banshee ride? How would I know that that's the, you know, the Navy River journey? How would I know all of these things and intuitive navigation portals bridges water a lot of water. It's alive.
00:20:49:35 - 00:21:03:52
And so you really do usually start with a set of core ideas, thematics, and then you have to use the word as expressed by. I always talk about that. I learned that from Joe Rhodey, who is my mentor.
00:21:04:12 - 00:21:20:23
And it is a it is a craft and you need to be able to sort of know things intuitively without words. I should not. IP is really makes things much harder. So how do you fit it into Animal Kingdom that has its own IP?
00:21:20:24 - 00:21:35:30
How do you put Pandora? It's very hard, but if you work hard enough to find the keys, you actually really do find a perfect intersection in the films. And Jim Cameron and and Disney's Animal Kingdom, they go perfectly together.
00:21:35:53 - 00:21:58:12
There's a, you know, so that's how you and you use that as the organizing structure creatively so that your team starts very small, but you use these words as expressed by and usually give the team autonomy and everybody solves all designers solve within those the definition of those keys.
00:21:58:29 - 00:22:10:21
And it's amazing how you can get more and more people all the way out to craftspeople that were not in those rooms. And they're making the same decisions because they understand the expression of those thematic values. They just do.
00:22:10:22 - 00:22:20:39
They can choose a doorknob by themselves. Autonomy is super important because you can't go fast if you have to go back to your roadie and ask the question all the time, Hey, what door knob? What should we use?
00:22:20:44 - 00:22:36:06
They should know what door knob they should just intrinsically know it from there, from the value set from like at a place that where you know where nature is as the the boss. And would you choose a stainless steel doorknob or would you choose a pound and brass door knob?
00:22:36:26 - 00:22:48:43
So we can't go back to the boss and we can't ask them. We have to just know it ourselves, absolutely understand it intrinsically that there's there's ah, maybe not a right answer and a wrong answer, but there's a direction.
00:22:48:44 - 00:23:06:26
So there's an answer that falls within and you have project managers who come back and said, you know, we just poured that concrete. It's not right. I've heard you speak about this and it is smooth and it's a disease animal kingdom or and Pandora, and we need to report it again.
00:23:06:26 - 00:23:20:46
And you're like, what? And they're like, Yeah, because it doesn't fit and absolutely everybody. And again, it is a good financial decision because though that note's going to come back from somebody and it is always right now, right?
00:23:20:51 - 00:23:37:56
No, no, actually, it's a limitation of, yes, we really try to lead by a limitation of yes, because I think that no is the end of, you know, is the end of the conversation. And really the person that is giving the note should know by the time they ask again, they'll know when to stop asking.
00:23:38:02 - 00:23:49:38
They will. They'll know when they give a note again that they're like, Yeah, that was something that's done right. I can let that go. Yes, no. And no one's going to notice. And if they're noticing it and then you haven't done the rest of your job.
00:23:49:42 - 00:24:07:11
Yeah. So a limitation of yeses is always, I think, a more effective way of managing creative folks. It is, and I think just one maybe last parting sort of thought you have this quote that you love so much from Alan was that you have used at the you used it at the Arena Awards.
00:24:07:31 - 00:24:19:11
I know that you love it. It is. I wonder, I wonder, I wonder what you would do if you had the power to dream anything you wanted to do. Yes, I mean, Walt Disney said, if you can dream it, you can do it.
00:24:19:13 - 00:24:37:19
I think that I'm a dreamer, I'm a dreamer, and I am a person who puts together things that, you know, the people ask, What's the Disney difference? And I just think that there's no just Disney difference. There's a people who will take a lot of off the shelf things and use them in ways they were never meant
00:24:37:19 - 00:24:57:01
to be used. And you know, when you have the resources, good design is inexpensive. It really is, I think, and speed is the thing that makes things really inexpensive. But I think that the ability to have the luxury of putting things together that should not go together and the time to integrate them imagineers that our core competency
00:24:57:01 - 00:25:16:28
really is integration and. And again, it's a wonder to watch real Imagineers, people who just think outside of a normal train of thought going, Oh. Yeah, let's go try that. You know, and and that it's a really a luxury to be able to go try that.
00:25:16:42 - 00:25:35:24
Hmm. Absolutely. I mean, it's great. And again, so inspiring. So. Amy, thank you for chatting with me again. I feel like I learn something every time I chat with you and hear something that I feel like is another hook for another conversation for another.
00:25:35:29 - 00:25:55:19
You know, deep dove. I want to do with you, and I know that folks who will see this and want to, you know, get in touch with you and follow your work are absolutely, you know, feeling the same way I am, which is like, you know, thank you and so grateful for you to take your time to
00:25:55:21 - 00:26:06:18
share your thoughts and to tell folks what it's been like and you know how you've been able to do this because I think it's it is a huge inspiration. So thank you so much. Yeah. Thank you so much, Amy.
00:26:06:18 - 00:26:20:51
So so yeah. Wrapping up with Amy Jupyter. Thank you so much for watching. Amy has so much to share with all of us, and it's been a pleasure to chat with you today. Thank you. Thanks, Amy. Bye!
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