Category Archives: AR

Comprimato plug-in manages Ultra HD, VR files within Premiere

Comprimato, makers of GPU-accelerated storage compression and video transcoding solutions, has launched Comprimato UltraPix. This video plug-in offers proxy-free, auto-setup workflows for Ultra HD, VR and more on hardware running Adobe Premiere Pro CC.

The challenge for post facilities finishing in 4K or 8K Ultra HD, or working on immersive 360­ VR projects, is managing the massive amount of data. The files are large, requiring a lot of expensive storage, which can be slow and cumbersome to load, and achieving realtime editing performance is difficult.

Comprimato UltraPix addresses this, building on JPEG2000, a compression format that offers high image quality (including mathematically lossless mode) to generate smaller versions of each frame as an inherent part of the compression process. Comprimato UltraPix delivers the file at a size that the user’s hardware can accommodate.

Once Comprimato UltraPix is loaded on any hardware, it configures itself with auto-setup, requiring no specialist knowledge from the editor who continues to work in Premiere Pro CC exactly as normal. Any workflow can be boosted by Comprimato UltraPix, and the larger the files the greater the benefit.

Comprimato UltraPix is a multi-platform video processing software for instant video resolution in realtime. It is a lightweight, downloadable video plug-in for OS X, Windows and Linux systems. Editors can switch between 4K, 8K, full HD, HD or lower resolutions without proxy-file rendering or transcoding.

“JPEG2000 is an open standard, recognized universally, and post production professionals will already be familiar with it as it is the image standard in DCP digital cinema files,” says Comprimato founder/CEO Jirˇí Matela. “What we have achieved is a unique implementation of JPEG2000 encoding and decoding in software, using the power of the CPU or GPU, which means we can embed it in realtime editing tools like Adobe Premiere Pro CC. It solves a real issue, simply and effectively.”

“Editors and post professionals need tools that integrate ‘under the hood’ so they can focus on content creation and not technology,” says Sue Skidmore, partner relations for Adobe. “Comprimato adds a great option for Adobe Premiere Pro users who need to work with high-resolution video files, including 360 VR material.”

Comprimato UltraPix plug-ins are currently available for Adobe Premiere Pro CC and Foundry Nuke and will be available on other post and VFX tools soon. You can download a free 30-day trial or buy Comprimato UltraPix for $99 a year.

The importance of audio in VR

By Anne Jimkes

While some might not be aware, sound is 50 percent of the experience in VR, as well as in film, television and games. Because we can’t physically see the audio, it might not get as much attention as the visual side of the medium. But the balance and collaboration between visual and aural is what creates the most effective, immersive and successful experience.

More specifically, sound in VR can be used to ease people into the experience, what we also call “on boarding.” It can be used subtly and subconsciously to guide viewers by motivating them to look in a specific direction of the virtual world, which completely surrounds them.

In every production process, it is important to discuss how sound can be used to benefit the storytelling and the overall experience of the final project. In VR, especially the many low-budget independent projects, it is crucial to keep the importance and use of audio in mind from the start to save time and money in the end. Oftentimes, there are no real opportunities or means to record ADR after a live-action VR shoot, so it is important to give the production mixer ample opportunity to capture the best production sound possible.

Anne Jimkes at work.

This involves capturing wild lines, making sure there is time to plant and check the mics, and recording room tone. Things that are already required, albeit not always granted, on regular shoots, but even more important on a set where a boom operator cannot be used due to the 360 degree view of the camera. The post process is also very similar to that for TV or film up to the point of actual spatialization. We come across similar issues of having to clean up dialogue and fill in the world through sound. What producers must be aware of, however, is that after all the necessary elements of the soundtrack have been prepared, we have to manually and meticulously place and move around all the “audio objects” and various audio sources throughout the space. Whenever people decide to re-orient the video — meaning when they change what is considered the initial point of facing forward or “north” — we have to rewrite all this information that established the location and movement of the sound, which takes time.

Capturing Audio for VR
To capture audio for virtual reality we have learned a lot about planting and hiding mics as efficiently as possible. Unlike regular productions, it is not possible to use a boom mic, which tends to be the primary and most naturally sounding microphone. Aside from the more common lavalier mics, we also use ambisonic mics, which capture a full sphere of audio and matches the 360 picture — if the mic is placed correctly on axis with the camera. Most of the time we work with Sennheiser and use their Ambeo microphone to capture 360 audio on set, after which we add the rest of the spatialized audio during post production. Playing back the spatialized audio has become easier lately, because more and more platforms and VR apps accept some form of 360 audio playback. There is still a difference between the file formats to which we can encode our audio outputs, meaning that some are more precise and others are a little more blurry regarding spatialization. With VR, there is not yet a standard for deliverables and specs, unlike the film/television workflow.

What matters most in the end is that people are aware of how the creative use of sound can enhance their experience, and how important it is to spend time on capturing good dialogue on set.


Anne Jimkes is a composer, sound designer, scholar and visual artist from the Netherlands. Her work includes VR sound design at EccoVR and work with the IMAX VR Centre. With a Master’s Degree from Chapman University, Jimkes previously served as a sound intern for the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences.

Dell 6.15

Sound editor/mixer Korey Pereira on 3D audio workflows for VR

By Andrew Emge

As the technologies for VR and 360 video rapidly advance and become more accessible, media creators are realizing the crucial role that sound plays in achieving realism. Sound designers are exploring this new frontier of 3D audio at the same time that tools for the medium are being developed and introduced. When everything is so new and constantly evolving, how does one learn where to start or decide where to invest time and experimentation?

To better understand this process, I spoke with Korey Pereira, a sound editor and mixer based in Austin, Texas. He recently entered the VR/360 audio world and has started developing a workflow.

Can you provide some background about who you are, the work you’ve done, and what you’ve been up to lately?
I’m the owner/creative director at Soularity Sound, an Austin-based post company. We primarily work with indie filmmakers, but also do some television and ad work. In addition to my work at Soularity, I also work as a sound editor and mixer at a few other Austin post facilities, including Soundcrafter. My credits with them include Richard Linklater’s Boyhood and Everybody Wants Some, as well as TV shows such as Shipping Wars and My 600lb Life.

You recently purchased the Pro Sound Effects NYC Ambisonics library. Can you talk about some VR projects you are working on?
In the coming months I plan to start creating audio content for VR with a local content creator, Deepak Chetty. Over the years we have collaborated on a number of projects, most recently I worked on his stereoscopic 3D sci-fi/action film, Hard Reset, which won the 2016 “Best 3D Live Action Short” from the Advanced Imaging Society.

Deepak Chetty shooting a VR project.

I love sci-fi as a genre, because there really are no rules. It lets you really go for it as far as sound. Deepak has been shifting his creative focus toward 360 content and we are hoping to start working together in that aspect in the near future.

The content Deepak is currently mostly working on non-fiction and documentary-based content in 360 — mainly environment capture with a through line of audio storytelling that serves as the backbone of the piece. He is also looking forward to experimenting with fiction-based narratives in the 360 space, especially with the use of spatial audio to enhance immersion for the viewer.

Prior to meeting Deepak, did you have any experience working with VR/3D audio?
No, this is my first venture into the world of VR audio or 3D audio. I have been mixing in surround for over a decade, but I am excited about the additional possibilities this format brings to the table.

What have been the most helpful sources for studying up and figuring out a workflow?
The Internet! There is such a wealth of information out there, and you kind of just have to dive in. The benefit of 360 audio being a relatively new format is that people are still willing to talk openly about it.

Was there anything particularly challenging to get used to or wrap your head around?
In a lot of ways designing audio for VR is not that different from traditional sound mixing for film. You start with a bed of ambiences and then place elements within a surround space. I guess the most challenging part of the transition is anticipating how the audience might hear your mix. If the viewer decides to watch a whole video facing the surrounds, how will it sound?

Can you describe the workflow you’ve established so far? What are some decisions you’ve made regarding DAW, monitoring, software, plug-ins, tools, formats and order of operation?
I am a Pro Tools guy, so my main goal was finding a solution that works seamlessly inside the Pro Tools environment. As I started looking into different options, the Two Big Ears Spatial Workstation really stood out to me as being the most intuitive and easiest platform to hit the ground running with. (Two Big Ears recently joined Facebook, so Spatial Workstation is now available for free!)

Basically, you install a Pro Tools plug-in that works as a 3D audio engine and gives you a Pro Tools project with all the routing and tracks laid out for you. There are object-based tracks that allow you to place sounds within a 3D environment as well as ambience tracks that allow you to add stereo or ambisonic beds as a basis for your mix.

The coolest thing about this platform is that it includes a 3D video player that runs in sync with Pro Tools. There is a binaural preview pathway in the template that lets you hear the shift in perspective as you move the video around in the player. Pretty cool!

In September 2016, another audio workflow for VR in Pro Tools entered the market from the Dutch company Audio Ease and their 360 pan suite. Much like the Spatial Workstation, the suite offers an object-based panner (360 pan) that when placed on every audio track allows you to pan individual items within the 360-degree field of view. The 360 pan suite also includes the 360 monitor, which allows you to preview head tracking within Pro Tools.

Where the 360 pan suite really stands out is with their video overlay function. By loading a 360 video inside of Pro Tools, Audio Ease adds an overlay on top of the Pro Tools video window, letting you pan each track in real time, which is really useful. For the features it offers, it is relatively affordable. The suite does not come with its own template, but they have a quick video guide to get you up and going fairly easily.

Are there any aspects that you’re still figuring out?
Delivery is still a bit up in the air. You may need to export in multiple formats to be able to upload to Facebook, YouTube, etc. I was glad to see that YouTube is supporting the ambisonic format for delivery, but I look forward to seeing workflows become more standardized across the board.

Any areas in which you see the need for further development, and/or where the tech just isn’t there yet?
I think the biggest limitation with VR is the lack of affordable and easy-to-use 3D audio capture devices. I would love to see a super-portable ambisonic rig that filmmakers can easily use in conjunction with shooting 360 video. Especially as media giants like YouTube are gravitating toward the ambisonic format for delivery, it would be great for them to be able to capture the actual space in the same format.

In January 2017, Røde announced the VideoMic Soundfield — an on-camera ambisonic, 360-degree surround sound microphone — though pricing and release dates have not yet been made public.

One new product I am really excited about is the Sennheiser Ambeo VR mic, which is around $1,650. That’s a bit pricey for the most casual user once you factor in a 4-track recorder, but for the professional user that already has a 788T, the Ambeo VR mic offers a nice turnkey solution. I like that the mic looks a little less fragile than some of the other options on the market. It has a built-in windscreen/cage similar to what you would see on a live handheld microphone. It also comes with a Rycote shockmount and cable to 4-XLR, which is nice.

Some leading companies have recently selected ambisonics as the standard spatial audio format — can you talk a bit about how you use ambisonics for VR?
Yeah, I think this is a great decision. I like the “future proof” nature of the ambisonic format. Even in traditional film mixing, I like having the option to export to stereo, 5.1 or 7.1 depending on the project. Until ambisonic becomes more standardized, I like that the Two Big Ears/FB 360 encoder allows you to export to the .tbe B-Format (FuMa or ambiX/YouTube) as well as quad-binaural.

I am a huge fan of the ambisonic format in general. The Pro Sound Effects NYC Ambisonics Library (and now Chicago and Tokyo as well) was my first experience using the format and I was blown away. In a traditional mixing environment it adds another level of depth to the backgrounds. I really look forward to being able to bring it to the VR format as well.


Andrew Emge is operations manager at Pro Sound Effects.


Quick Chat: Scott Gershin from The Sound Lab at Technicolor

By Randi Altman

Veteran sound designer and feature film supervising sound editor Scott Gershin is leading the charge at the recently launched The Sound Lab at Technicolor, which, in addition to film and television work, focuses on immersive storytelling.

Gershin has more than 100 films to his credit, including American Beauty (which earned him a BAFTA nomination), Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim and Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler. But films aren’t the only genre that Gershin has tackled — in addition to television work (he has an Emmy nom for the TV series Beauty and the Beast), this audio post pro has created the sound for game titles such as Resident Evil, Gears of War and Fable. One of his most recent projects was contributing to id Software’s Doom.

We recently reached out to Gershin to find out more about his workflow and this new Burbank-based audio entity.

Can you talk about what makes this facility different than what Technicolor has at Paramount? 
The Sound Lab at Technicolor works in concert with our other audio facilities, tackling film, broadcast and gaming projects. In doing so we are able to use Technicolor’s world-class dubbing, ADR and Foley stages.

One of the focuses of The Sound Lab is to identify and use cutting-edge technologies and workflows not only in traditional mediums, but in those new forms of entertainment such as VR, AR, 360 video/films, as well as dedicated installations using mixed reality. The Sound Lab at Technicolor is made up of audio artists from multiple industries who create a “brain trust” for our clients.

Scott Gershin and The Sound Lab team.

As an audio industry veteran, how has the world changed since you started?
I was one of the first sound people to use computers in the film industry. When I moved from the music industry into film post production, I brought that knowledge and experience with me. It gave me access to a huge number of tools that helped me tell better stories with audio. The same happened when I expanded into the game industry.

Learning the interactive tools of gaming is now helping me navigate into these new immersive industries, combining my film experience to tell stories and my gaming experience using new technologies to create interactive experiences.

One of the biggest changes I’ve seen is that there are so many opportunities for the audience to ingest entertainment — creating competition for their time — whether it’s traveling to a theatre, watching TV (broadcast, cable and streaming) on a new 60- or 70-inch TV, or playing video games alone on a phone or with friends on a console.

There are so many choices, which means that the creators and publishers of content have to share a smaller piece of the pie. This forces budgets to be smaller since the potential audience size is smaller for that specific project. We need to be smarter with the time that we have on projects and we need to use the technology to help speed up certain processes — allowing us more time to be creative.

Can you talk about your favorite tools?
There are so many great technologies out there. Each one adds a different color to my work and provides me with information that is crucial to my sound design and mix. For example, Nugen has great metering and loudness tools that help me zero in on my clients LKFS requirements. With each client having their own loudness requirements, the tools allow me to stay creative, and meet their requirements.

Audi’s The Duel

What are some recent projects you’ve worked on?
I’ve been working on a huge variety of projects lately. Recently, I finished a commercial for Audi called The Duel, a VR piece called My Brother’s Keeper, 10 Webisodes of The Strain and a VR music piece for Pentatonix. Each one had a different requirement.

What is your typical workflow like?
When I get a job in, I look at what the project is trying to accomplish. What is the story or the experience about? I ask myself, how can I use my craft, shaping audio, to better enhance the experience. Once I understand how I am going to approach the project creatively, I look at what the release platform will be. What are the technical challenges and what frequencies and spacial options are open to me? Whether that means a film in Dolby Atmos or a VR project on the Rift. Once I understand both the creative and technical challenges then I start working within the schedule allotted me.

Speed and flow are essential… the tools need to be like musical instruments to me, where it goes from brain to fingers. I have a bunch of monitors in front of me, each one supplying me with different and crucial information. It’s one of my favorite places to be — flying the audio starship and exploring the never-ending vista of the imagination. (Yeah, I know it’s corny, but I love what I do!)


HPA Tech Retreat takes on realities of virtual reality

By Tom Coughlin

The HPA Tech Retreat, run by the Hollywood Professional Association in association with SMPTE, began with an insightful one-day VR seminar— Integrating Virtual Reality/Augmented Reality into Entertainment Applications. Lucas Wilson from SuperSphere kicked off the sessions and helped with much of the organization of the seminar.

The seminar addressed virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR, a subset of AR where the real world and the digital world interact, like Pokeman Go). As in traditional planar video, 360-degree video still requires a director to tell a story and direct the eye to see what is meant to be seen. Successful VR requires understanding how people look at things, how they perceive reality, and using that understanding to help tell a story. Some things that may help with this are reinforcement of the viewer’s gaze with color and sound that may vary with the viewer — e.g. these may be different for the “good guy” and the “bad guy.”

VR workflows are quite different from traditional ones, with many elements changing with multiple-camera content. For instance, it is much more difficult to keep a camera crew out of the image, and providing proper illumination for all the cameras can be a challenge. The image below from Jaunt shows their 360-degree workflow, including the use of their cloud-based computational image service to stitch the images from the multiple cameras.
Snapchat is the biggest MR application, said Wilson. Snapchat’s Snapchat-stories could be the basis of future post tools.

Because stand-alone headsets (head-mounted displays, or HMDs) are expensive, most users of VR rely on smart phone-based displays. There are also some places that allow one or more people to experience VR, such as the IMAX center in Los Angeles. Activities such as VR viewing will be one of the big drivers for higher-resolution mobile device displays.

Tools that allow artists and directors to get fast feedback on their shots are still in development. But progress is being made, and today over 50 percent of VR is used for video viewing rather than games. Participants in a VR/AR market session, moderated by the Hollywood Reporter’s Carolyn Giardina and including Marcie Jastrow, David Moretti, Catherine Day and Phil Lelyveld, seemed to agree that the biggest immediate opportunity is probably with AR.

Koji Gardiner from Jaunt gave a great talk on their approach to VR. He discussed the various ways that 360-degree video can be captured and the processing required to create finished stitched video. For an array of cameras with some separation between the cameras (no common axis point for the imaging cameras), there will be area that needs to be stitched together between camera images using common reference points between the different camera images as well as blind spots near to the cameras where they are not capturing images.

If there is a single axis for all of the cameras then there are effectively no blind spots and no stitching possible as shown in the image below. Covering all the space to get a 360-degree video requires additional cameras located on that axis to cover all the space.

The Fraunhofer Institute, in Germany, has been showing a 360-degree video camera with an effective single axis for several cameras for several years, as shown below. They do this using mirrors to reflect images to the individual cameras.

As the number of cameras is increased, the mathematical work to stitch the 360-degree images together is reduced.

Stitching
There are two approaches commonly used in VR stitching of multiple camera videos. The easiest to implement is a geometric approach that uses known geometries and distances to objects. It requires limited computational resources but results in unavoidable ghosting artifacts at seams from the separate images.

The Optical Flow approach synthesizes every pixel by computing correspondences between neighboring cameras. This approach eliminates the ghosting artifacts at the seams but has its own more subtle artifacts and requires significantly more processing capability. The Optical Flow approach requires computational capabilities far beyond those normally available to content creators. This has led to a growing market to upload multi-camera video streams to cloud services that process the stitching to create finished 360-degree videos.

Files from the Jaunt One camera system are first downloaded and organized on a laptop computer and then uploaded to Jaunt’s cloud server to be processed and create the stitching to make a 360 video. Omni-directionally captured audio can also be uploaded and mixed ambisonically, resulting in advanced directionality in the audio tied to the VR video experience.

Google and Facebook also have cloud-based resources for computational photography used for this sort of image stitching.

The Jaunt One 360-degree camera has a 1-inch 20MP rolling shutter sensor with frame rates up to 60fps with 3200 ISO max, 29dB SNR at ISO800. It has a 10 stops per camera module, with 130-degree diagonal FOV, 4/2.9 optics and with up to 16K resolution (8K per eye). Jaunt One at 60fps provides 200GB/minute uncompressed. This can fill a 1TB SSD in five minutes. They are forced to use compression to be able to use currently affordable storage devices. This compression creates 11GB per minute, which can fill a 1TB SSD in 90 minutes.

The actual stitched image, laid out flat, looks like a distorted projection. But when viewed in a stereoscopic viewer it appears to look like a natural image of the world around the viewer, giving an immersive experience. At one point in time the viewer does not see all of the image but only the image in a restricted space that they are looking directly at as shown in the red box in the figure below.

The full 360-degree image can be pretty high resolution, but unless the resolution is high enough, the resolution inside the scene being viewed at any point in time will be much less that the resolution of the overall scene, unless special steps are taken.

The image below shows that for a 4k 360-degree video the resolution in the field of view (FOV) may be only 1K, much less resolution and quite perceptible to the human eye.

In order to provide a better viewing experience in the FOV, either the resolution of the entire view must be better (e.g. the Jaunt One high-resolution version has 8K per eye and thus 16K total displayed resolution) or there must be a way to increase the resolution in the most significant FOV in a video, so at least in that FOV, the resolution leads to a greater feeling of reality.

Virtual reality, augmented reality and mixed reality create new ways of interacting with the world around us and will drive consumer technologies and the need for 360-degree video. New tools and stitching software, much of this cloud-based, will enable these workflows for folks who want to participate in this revolution in content. The role of a director is as important as ever as new methods are needed to tell stories and guide the viewer to engage in this story.

2017 Creative Storage Conference
You can learn more about the growth in VR content in professional video and how this will drive new digital storage demand and technologies to support the high data rates needed for captured content and cloud-based VR services at the 2017 Creative Storage Conference — taking place May 24, 2017 in Culver City.


Thomas M. Coughlin of Coughlin Associates is a storage analyst and consultant. He has over 30 years in the data storage industry and is the author of Digital Storage in Consumer Electronics: The Essential Guide.


Rick & Morty co-creator Justin Roiland to keynote VRLA

Justin Roiland, co-creator of Rick & Morty from Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim, will be delivering VRLA’s Saturday keynote. The expo, which takes place April 14 and 15 at the LA Convention Center, will include demos, educational sessions, experimental work and presentations.

The exhibit floor will feature hardware and software developers, content creators and prototype technology that can only be seen at VRLA. Registration is currently open, with the business-focused two-day “Pro” pass at $299 and a one-day pass for Saturday priced at $40.

Roiland, is also the newly-minted founder of the VR studio Squanchtendo, aims to dive into the surreally funny possibilities of the medium in his keynote, remarking, “What does the future of VR hold? Will there be more wizard games? Are grandmas real? What is a wizard really? Are there wizard grandmas? How does this factor into VR? Please come to my incredible keynote address on the state of VR.”

VRLA is currently accepting applications for its Indie Zone, which offers complimentary exhibition space to small teams who have raised less than $500,000 in venture capital funding or generated less than less than that amount in revenue. Click here to apply.


Chris Hill & Sami Tahari

Imaginary Forces expands with EP Chris Hill and director of biz dev Sami Tahari

Imaginary Forces has added executive producer Chris Hill and director of business development Sami Tahari to its Los Angeles studio. The additions come at a time when the creative studio is looking to further expand their cross-platform presence with projects that mix VR/AR/360 with traditional, digital and social media.

Celebrating 20 years in business this year, the independently owned Imaginary Forces is a creative company specializing in brand strategy and visual storytelling encompassing many disciplines, including full-service design, production and post production. Being successful for that long in this business means they are regularly innovating and moving where the industry takes them. This led to the hiring of Hill and Tahari, whose diverse backgrounds will help strengthen the company’s long-standing relationships, as well as its continuous expansion into emerging markets.

Recent work of note includes main titles for Netflix’s beloved Stranger Things, the logo reveal for Michael Bay’s Transformers: The Last Knight and an immersive experience for the Empire State Building.

Hill’s diverse production experience includes commercials, experience design, entertainment marketing and branding for such clients as HBO Sports, Google, A&E and the Jacksonville Jaguars, among others. He joins Imaginary Forces after recently presiding over the broadcast division of marketing agency BPG.

Tahari brings extensive marketing, business and product development experience spanning the tech and entertainment spaces. His resume includes time at Lionsgate and Google, where he was an instrumental leader in the creative development and marketing of Google Glass.

“Imaginary Forces has a proven ability to use design and storytelling across any medium or industry,” adds Hill. “We can expand that ability to new markets, whether it’s emerging technologies, original content or sports franchises. When you consider, for example, the investment in massive screens and new technologies in stadiums across the country, it demands [that] same high level of brand strategy and visual storytelling.”

Our Main Image: L-R: Chris Hill and Sami Tahari.

FMPX8.14

HPA Tech Retreat takes on VR/AR at Tech Retreat Extra

The long-standing HPA Tech Retreat is always a popular destination for tech-focused post pros, and while they have touched on virtual reality and augmented reality in the past, this year they are dedicating an entire day to the topic — February 20, the day before the official Retreat begins. TR-X (Tech Retreat Extra) will feature VR experts and storytellers sharing their knowledge and experiences. The traditional HPA Tech Retreat runs from February 21-24 in Indian Wells, California.

TR-X VR/AR is co-chaired by Lucas Wilson (Founder/Executive Producer at SuperSphereVR) and Marcie Jastrow (Senior VP, Immersive Media & Head of Technicolor Experience Center), who will lead a discussion focused on the changing VR/AR landscape in the context of rapidly growing integration into entertainment and applications.

Marcie Jastrow

Experts and creative panelists will tackle questions such as: What do you need to understand to enable VR in your environment? How do you adapt? What are the workflows? Storytellers, technologists and industry leaders will provide an overview of the technology and discuss how to harness emerging technologies in the service of the artistic vision. A series of diverse case studies and creative explorations — from NASA to the NFL — will examine how to engage the audience.

The TR-X program, along with the complete HPA Tech Retreat program, is available here. Additional sessions and speakers will be announced.

TR-X VR/AR Speakers and Panel Overview
Monday, February 20

Opening and Introductions
Seth Hallen, HPA President

Technical Introduction: 360/VR/AR/MR
Lucas Wilson

Panel Discussion: The VR/AR Market
Marcie Jastrow
David Moretti, Director of Corporate Development, Jaunt
Catherine Day, Head of VR/AR, Missing Pieces
Phil Lelyveld, VR/AR Initiative Program Lead, Entertainment Technology Center at USC

Acquisition Technology
Koji Gardiner, VP, Hardware, Jaunt

Live 360 Production Case Study
Andrew McGovern, VP of VR/AR Productions, Digital Domain

Live 360 Production Case Study
Michael Mansouri, Founder, Radiant Images

Interactive VR Production Case Study
Tim Dillon, Head of VR & Immersive Content, MPC Advertising USA

Immersive Audio Production Case Study
Kyle Schember, CEO, Subtractive

Panel Discussion: The Future
Alan Lasky, Director of Studio Product Development, 8i
Ben Grossmann, CEO, Magnopus
Scott Squires, CTO, Creative Director, Pixvana
Moderator: Lucas Wilson
Jen Dennis, EP of Branded Content, RSA

Panel Discussion: New Voices: Young Professionals in VR
Anne Jimkes, Sound Designer and Composer, Ecco VR
Jyotsna Kadimi, USC Graduate
Sho Schrock, Chapman University Student
Brian Handy, USC Student

TR-X also includes an ATSC 3.0 seminar, focusing on the next-generation television broadcast standard, which is nearing completion and offers a wide range of new content delivery options to the TV production community. This session will explore the expanding possibilities that the new standard provides in video, audio, interactivity and more. Presenters and panelists will also discuss the complex next-gen television distribution ecosystem that content must traverse, and the technologies that will bring the content to life in consumers’ homes.

Early registration is highly recommended for TR-X and the HPA Tech Retreat, which is a perennially sold-out event. Attendees can sign up for TR-X VR/AR, TR-X ATSC or the HPA Tech Retreat.

Main Image: Lucas Wilson.


Virtual Reality Roundtable

By Randi Altman

Virtual reality is seemingly everywhere, especially this holiday season. Just one look at your favorite electronics store’s website and you will find VR headsets from the inexpensive, to the affordable, to the “if I win the lottery” ones.

While there are many companies popping up to service all aspects of VR/AR/360 production, for the most part traditional post and production companies are starting to add these services to their menu, learning best practices as they go.

We reached out to a sampling of pros who are working in this area to talk about the problems and evolution of this burgeoning segment of the industry.

Nice Shoes Creative Studio: Creative director Tom Westerlin

What is the biggest issue with VR productions at the moment? Is it lack of standards?
A big misconception is that a VR production is like a standard 2D video/animation commercial production. There are some similarities, but it gets more complicated when we add interaction, different hardware options, realtime data and multiple distribution platforms. It actually takes a lot more time and man hours to create a 360 video or VR experience relative to a 2D video production.

tom

Tom Westerlin

More development time needs to be scheduled for research, user experience and testing. We’re adding more stages to the overall production. None of this should discourage anyone from exploring a concept in virtual reality, but there is a lot of consideration and research that should be done in the early stages of a project. The lack of standards presents some creative challenges for brands and agencies considering a VR project. The hardware and software choices made for distribution can have an impact on the size of the audience you want to reach as well as the approach to build it.

The current landscape provides the following options:
YouTube and Facebook can hit a ton of people with a 360 video, but has limited VR functionality; a WebVR experience, works within certain browsers like Chrome or Firefox, but not others, limiting your audience; a custom app or experimental installation using the Oculus or HTC Vive, allows for experiences with full interactivity, but presents the issue of audience limitations. There is currently no one best way to create a VR experience. It’s still very much a time of discovery and experimentation.

What should clients ask of their production and post teams when embarking on their VR project?
We shouldn’t just apply what we’ve all learned from 2D filmmaking to the creation of a VR experience, so it is crucial to include the production, post and development teams in the design phase of a project.

The current majority of clients are coming from a point of view where many standard constructs within the world of traditional production (quick camera moves or cuts, extreme close-ups) have negative physiological implications (nausea, disorientation, extreme nausea). The impact of seemingly simple creative or design decisions can have huge repercussions on complexity, time, cost and the user experience. It’s important for clients to be open to telling a story in a different manner than they’re used to.

What is the biggest misconception about VR — content, process or anything relating to VR?
The biggest misconception is clients thinking that 360 video and VR are the same. As we’ve started to introduce this technology to our clients, we’ve worked to explain the core differences between these extremely difference experiences: VR is interactive and most of the time a full CG environment, while 360 is video and although immersive, it’s a more passive experience. Each have their own unique challenges and rewards, so as we think about the end user’s experiences, we can determine what will work best.

There’s also the misconception that VR will make you sick. If executed poorly, VR can make a user sick, but the right creative ideas executed with the right equipment can result in an experience that’s quite enjoyable and nausea free.

Nice Shoes’ ‘Mio Garden’ 360 experience.

Another misconception is that VR is capable of anything. While many may confuse VR and 360 and think an experience is limited to passively looking around, there are others who have bought into the hype and inflated promises of a new storytelling medium. That’s why it’s so important to understand the limitations of different devices at the early stages of a concept, so that creative, production and post can all work together to deliver an experience that takes advantage of VR storytelling, rather than falling victims to the limitations of a specific device.

The advent of affordable systems that are capable of interactivity, like the Google Daydream, should lead to more popular apps that show off a higher level of interactivity. Even sharing video of people experiencing VR while interacting with their virtual worlds could have a huge impact on the understanding of the difference between passively watching and truly reaching out and touching.

How do we convince people this isn’t stereo 3D?
In one word: Interactivity. By definition VR is interactive and giving the user the ability to manipulate the world and actually affect it is the magic of virtual reality.

Assimilate: CEO Jeff Edson

What is the biggest issue with VR productions at the moment? Is it lack of standards?
The biggest issue in VR is straightforward workflows — from camera to delivery — and then, of course, delivery to what? Compared to a year ago, shooting 360/VR video today has made big steps in ease of use because more people have experience doing it. But it is a LONG way from point and shoot. As integrated 360/VR video cameras come to market more and more, VR storytelling will become much more straightforward and the creators can focus more on the story.

Jeff Edson

And then delivery to what? There are many online platforms for 360/VR video playback today: Facebook, YouTube 360 and others for mobile headset viewing, and then there is delivery to a PC for non-mobile headset viewing. The viewing perspective is different for all of these, which means extra work to ensure continuity on all the platforms. To cover all possible viewers one needs to publish to all. This is not an optimal business model, which is really the crux of this issue.

Can standards help in this? Standards as we have known in the video world, yes and no. The standards for 360/VR video are happening by default, such as equirectangular and cubic formats, and delivery formats like H.264, Mov and more. Standards would help, but they are not the limiting factor for growth. The market is not waiting on a defined set of formats because demand for VR is quickly moving forward. People are busy creating.

What should clients ask of their production and post teams when embarking on their VR project?
We hear from our customers that the best results will come when the director, DP and post supervisor collaborate on the expectations for look and feel, as well as the possible creative challenges and resolutions. And experience and budget are big contributors. A key issue is, what camera/rig requirements are needed for your targeted platform(s)? For example, how many cameras and what type of cameras (4K, 6K, GoPro, etc.) as well as lighting? When what about sound, which plays a key role in the viewer’s VR experience.

unexpected concert

This Yael Naim mini-concert was posted in Scratch VR by Alex Regeffe at Neotopy.

What is the biggest misconception about VR — content, process or anything relating to VR?
I see two. One: The perception that VR is a flash in the pan, just a fad. What we see today is just the launch pad. The applications for VR are vast within entertainment alone, and then there is the extensive list of other markets like training and learning in such fields as medical, military, online universities, flight, manufacturing and so forth. Two: That VR post production is a difficult process. There are too many steps and tools. This definitely doesn’t need to be the case. Our Scratch VR customers are getting high-quality results within a single, simplified VR workflow

How do we convince people this isn’t stereo 3D?
The main issue with stereo 3D is that it has really never scaled beyond a theater experience. Whereas with VR, it may end up being just the opposite. It’s unclear if VR can be a true theater experience other than classical technologies like domes and simulators. 360/VR video in the near term is, in general, a short-form media play. It’s clear that sooner than later smart phones will be able to shoot 360/VR video as a standard feature and usage will sky rocket overnight. And when that happens, the younger demographic will never shoot anything that is not 360. So the Snapchat/Instagram kinds of platforms will be filled with 360 snippets. VR headsets based upon mobile devices make the pure number of displays significant. The initial tethered devices are not insignificant in numbers, but with the next-generation of higher-resolution and untethered devices, maybe most significantly at a much lower price point, we will see the numbers become massive. None of this was ever the case with stereo 3D film/video.

Pixvana: Executive producer Aaron Rhodes

What is the biggest issue with VR productions at the moment? Is it lack of standards?
There are many issues with VR productions, many of them are just growing pains: not being able to see a live stitch, how to direct without being in the shot, what to do about lighting — but these are all part of the learning curve and evolution of VR as a craft. Resolution and management around big data are the biggest issues I see on the set. Pixvana is all about resolution — it plays a key role in better immersion. Many of the cameras out there only master at 4K and that just doesn’t cut it. But when they do shoot 8K and above, the data management is extreme. Don’t under estimate the responsibility you are giving to your DIT!

aaron rhodes

Aaron Rhodes

The biggest issue is this is early days for VR capture. We’re used to a century of 2D filmmaking and decade of high-definition capture with an assortment of camera gear. All current VR camera rigs have compromises, and will, until technology catches up. It’s too early for standards since we’re still learning and this space is changing rapidly. VR production and post also require different approaches. In some cases we have to unlearn what worked in standard 2D filmmaking.

What should clients ask of their production and post teams when embarking on their VR project?
Give me a schedule, and make it realistic. Stitching takes time, and unless you have a fleet of render nodes at your disposal, rendering your shot locally is going to take time — and everything you need to update or change it will take more time. VR post has lots in common with a non-VR spot, but the magnitude of data and rendering is much greater — make sure you plan for it.

Other questions to ask, because you really can’t ask enough:
• Why is this project being done as VR?
• Does the client have team members who understand the VR medium?
• If not will they be willing to work with a production team to design and execute with VR in mind?
• Has this project been designed for VR rather than just a 2D project in VR?
• Where will this be distributed? (Headsets? Which ones? YouTube? Facebook? Etc.)
• Will this require an app or will it be distributed to headsets through other channels?
• If it is an app, who will build the app and submit it to the VR stores?
• Do they want to future proof it by finishing greater than 4K?
• Is this to be mono or stereo? (If it’s stereo it better be very good stereo)
• What quality level are they aiming for? (Seamless stitches? Good stereo?)
• Is there time and budget to accomplish the quality they want?
• Is this to have spatialized audio?

What is the biggest misconception about VR — content, process or anything relating to VR?
VR is a narrative component, just like any actor or plot line. It’s not something that should just be done to do it. It should be purposeful to shoot VR. It’s the same with stereo. Don’t shoot stereo just because you can — sure, you can experiment and play (we need to do that always), but don’t without purpose. The medium of VR is not for every situation.
Other misconceptions because there are a lot out there:
• it’s as easy as shooting normal 2D.
• you need to have action going on constantly in 360 degrees.
• everything has to be in stereo.
• there are fixed rules.
• you can simply shoot with a VR camera and it will be interesting, without any idea of specific placement, story or design.
How do we convince people this isn’t stereo 3D?
Education. There are tiers of immersion with VR, and stereo 3D is one of them. I see these tiers starting with the desktop experience and going up in immersion from there, and it’s important to the strengths and weakness of each:
• YouTube/Facebook on the desktop [low immersion]
• Cardboard, GearVR, Daydream 2D/3D low-resolution
• Headset Rift and Vive 2D/3D 6 degrees of freedom [high immersion]
• Computer generated experiences [high immersion]

Maxon US: President/CEO Paul Babb

paul babb

Paul Babb

What is the biggest issue with VR productions at the moment? Is it lack of standards?
Project file size. Huge files. Lots of pixels. Telling a story. How do you get the viewer to look where you want them to look? How do you tell and drive a story in a 360 environment.

What should clients ask of their production and post teams when embarking on their VR project?
I think it’s more that production teams are going to have to ask the questions to focus what clients want out of their VR. Too many companies just want to get into VR (buzz!) without knowing what they want to do, what they should do and what the goal of the piece is.

What is the biggest misconception about VR — content, process or anything relating to VR? How do we convince people this isn’t stereo 3D?
Oh boy. Let me tell you, that’s a tough one. People don’t even know that “3D” is really “stereography.”

Experience 360°: CEO Ryan Moore

What is the biggest issue with VR productions at the moment? Is it lack of standards?
One of the biggest issues plaguing the current VR production landscape is the lack of true professionals that exist in the field. While a vast majority of independent filmmakers are doing their best at adapting their current techniques, they have been unsuccessful in perceiving ryan moorehow films and VR experiences genuinely differ. This apparent lack of virtual understanding generally leads to poor UX creation within finalized VR products.

Given the novelty of virtual reality and 360 video, standards are only just being determined in terms of minimum quality and image specifications. These, however, are constantly changing. In order to keep a finger on the pulse, it is encouraged for VR companies to be plugged into 360 video communities through social media platforms. It is through this essential interaction that VR production technology can continually be reintroduced.

What should clients ask of their production and post teams when embarking on their VR project?
When first embarking on a VR project, it is highly beneficial to walk prospective clients through the entirety of the process, before production actually begins. This allows the client a full understanding of how the workflow is used, while also ensuring client satisfaction with the eventual partnership. It’s vital that production partners convey an ultimate understanding of VR and its use, and explain their tactics in “cutting” VR scenes in post — this can affect the user’s experience in a pronounced way.

‘The Backwoods Tennessee VR Experience’ via Experience 360.

What is the biggest misconception about VR — content, process or anything relating to VR? How do we convince people that this isn’t stereo 3D?
The biggest misconception about VR and 360 video is that it is an offshoot of traditional storytelling, and can be used in ways similar to both cinematic and documentary worlds. The mistake in the VR producer equating this connection is that it can often limit the potential of the user’s experience to that of a voyeur only. Content producers need to think much farther out of this box, and begin to embrace having images paired with interaction and interactivity. It helps to keep in mind that the intended user will feel as if these VR experiences are very personal to them, because they are usually isolated in a HMD when viewing the final product.

VR is being met with appropriate skepticism, and is widely still considered a ‘“fad” without the media landscape. This is often because the critic has not actually had a chance to try a virtual reality experience firsthand themselves, and does not understand the wide reaching potential of immersive media. At three years in, a majority of the adults in the United States have never had a chance to try VR themselves, relying on what they understand from TV commercials and online reviews. One of the best ways to convince a doubtful viewer is to give them a chance to try a VR headset themselves.

Radeon Technologies Group at AMD: Head of VR James Knight

What is the biggest issue with VR productions at the moment? Is it lack of standards?
The biggest issue for us is (or was) probably stitching and the excessive amount of time it takes, but we’re tacking that head on with Project Loom. We have realtime stitching with Loom. You can already download an early version of it on GPUopen.com. But you’re correct, there is a lack of standards in VR/360 production. It’s mainly because there are no really established common practices. That’s to be expected though when you’re shooting for a new medium. Hollywood and entertainment professionals are showing up to the space in a big way, so I suspect we’ll all be working out lots of the common practices in 2017 on sets.

James Knight

What should clients ask of their production and post teams when embarking on their VR project?
Double check they have experience shooting 360 and ask them for a detailed post production pipeline outline. Occasionally, we hear horror stories of people awarding projects to companies that think they can shoot 360 without having personally explored 360 shooting themselves and making mistakes. You want to use an experienced crew that’s made the mistakes, and mostly is cognizant of what works and what doesn’t. The caveat there though is, again, there’s no established rules necessarily, so people should be willing to try new things… sometimes it takes someone not knowing they shouldn’t do something to discover something great, if that makes sense.

What is the biggest misconception about VR — content, process or anything relating to VR? How do we convince people this isn’t stereo 3D?
That’s a fun question. The overarching misconception for me, honestly, is just as though a cliché politician might, for example, make a fleeting judgment that video games are bad for society, people are often times making assumptions that VR if for kids or 16 year old boys at home in their boxer shorts. It isn’t. This young industry is really starting to build up a decent library of content, and the payoff is huge when you see well produced content! It’s transformative and you can genuinely envision the potential when you first put on a VR headset.

The biggest way to convince them this isn’t 3D is to convince a naysayer put the headset on… let’s agree we all look rather silly with a VR headset on, and once you get over that, you’ll find out what’s inside. It’s magical. I had the CEO of BAFTA LA, Chantal Rickards, tell me upon seeing VR for the first time, “I remember when my father had arrived home on Christmas Eve with a color TV set in the 1960s and the excitement that brought to me and my siblings. The thrill of seeing virtual reality for the first time was like seeing color TV for the first time, but times 100!”

Missing Pieces: Head of AR/VR/360 Catherine Day

Catherine Day

What is the biggest issue with VR productions at the moment?
The biggest issue with VR production today is the fact that everything keeps changing so quickly. Every day there’s a new camera, a new set of tools, a new proprietary technology and new formats to work with. It’s difficult to understand how all of these things work, and even harder to make them work together seamlessly in a deadline-driven production setting. So much of what is happening on the technology side of VR production is evolving very rapidly. Teams often reinvent the wheel from one project to the next as there are endless ways to tell stories in VR, and the workflows can differ wildly depending on the creative vision.

The lack of funding for creative content is also a huge issue. There’s ample funding to create in other mediums, and we need more great VR content to drive consumer adoption.

Is it lack of standards?
In any new medium and any pioneering phase of an industry, it’s dangerous to create standards too early. You don’t want to stifle people from trying new things. As an example, with our recent NBA VR project, we broke all of the conventional rules that exist around VR — there was a linear narrative, fast cut edits, it was over 25 minutes long — yet still was very well received. So it’s not a lack of standards, just a lack of bravery.

What should clients ask of their production and post teams when embarking on their VR project?
Ask to see what kind of work that team has done in the past. They should also delve in and find out exactly who completed the work and how much, if any, of it was outsourced. There is a curtain that often closes between the client and the production/post company and it closes once the work is awarded. Clients need to know who exactly is working on their project, as much of the legwork involved in creating a VR project — stitching, compositing etc. — is outsourced.

It’s also important to work with a very experienced post supervisor — one with a very discerning eye. You want someone who really knows VR that can evaluate every aspect of what a facility will assemble. Everything from stitching, compositing to editorial and color — the level of attention to detail and quality control for VR is paramount. This is key not only for current releases, but as technology evolves — and as new standards and formats are applied — you want your produced content to be as future-proofed as possible so that if it requires a re-render to accommodate a new, higher-res format in the future, it will still hold up and look fantastic.

What is the biggest misconception about VR — content, process or anything relating to VR?
On the consumer level, the biggest misconception is that people think that 360 video on YouTube or Facebook is VR. Another misconception is that regular filmmakers are the creative talents best suited to create VR content. Many of them are great at it, but traditional filmmakers have the luxury of being in control of everything, and in a VR production setting you have no box to work in and you have to think about a billion moving parts at once. So it either requires a creative that is good with improvisation, or a complete control freak with eyes in the back of their head. It’s been said before, but film and theater are as different as film and VR. Another misconception is that you can take any story and tell it in VR — you actually should only embark on telling stories in VR if they can, in some way, be elevated through the medium.

How do we convince people this isn’t stereo 3D?
With stereo 3D, there was no simple, affordable path for consumer adoption. We’re still getting there with VR, but today there are a number of options for consumers and soon enough there will be a demand for room-scale VR and more advanced immersive technologies in the home.

VR Audio: Virtual and spacial soundscapes

By Beth Marchant

The first things most people think of when starting out in VR is which 360-degree camera rig they need and what software is best for stitching. But virtual reality is not just a Gordian knot for production and post. Audio is as important — and complex — a component as the rest. In fact, audio designers, engineers and composers have been fascinated and challenged by VR’s potential for some time and, working alongside future-looking production facilities, are equally engaged in forging its future path. We talked to several industry pros on the front lines.

Howard Bowler

Music industry veteran and Hobo Audio founder Howard Bowler traces his interest in VR back to the groundbreaking film Avatar. “When that movie came out, I saw it three times in the same week,” he says. I was floored by the technology. It was the first time I felt like you weren’t just watching a film, but actually in the film.” As close to virtual reality as 3D films had gotten to that point, it was the blockbuster’s evolved process of motion capture and virtual cinematography that ultimately delivered its breathtaking result.

“Sonically it was extraordinary, but visually it was stunning as well,” he says. “As a result, I pressed everyone here at the studio to start buying 3D televisions, and you can see where that has gotten us — nowhere.” But a stepping stone in technology is more often a sturdy bridge, and Bowler was not discouraged. “I love my 3D TVs, and I truly believe my interest in that led me and the studio directly into VR-related projects.”

When discussing the kind of immersive technology Hobo Sound is involved with today, Bowler — like others interviewed for this series — clearly define VR’s parallel deliverables. “First, there’s 360 video, which is passive viewing, but still puts you in the center of the action. You just don’t interact with it. The second type, more truly immersive VR, lets you interact with the virtual environment as in a video game. The third area is augmented reality,” like the Pokemon Go phenomenon of projecting virtual objects and views onto your actual, natural environment. “It’s really important to know what you’re talking about when discussing these types of VR with clients, because there are big differences.”

With each segment comes related headsets, lenses and players. “Microsoft’s HoloLens, for example, operates solely in AR space,” says Hobo producer Jon Mackey. “It’s a headset, but will project anything that is digitally generated, either on the wall or to the space in front of you. True VR separates you from all that, and really good VR separates all your senses: your sight, your hearing and even touch and feeling, like some of those 4D rides at Disney World.” Which technology will triumph? “Some think VR will take it, and others think AR will have wider mass adoption,” says Mackey. “But we think it’s too early to decide between either one.”

Boxed Out

‘Boxed Out’ is a Hobo indie project about how gentrification is affecting artists studios in the Gowanus section of Brooklyn.

Those kinds of end-game obstacles are beside the point, says Bowler. “The main reason why we’re interested in VR right now is that the experiences, beyond the limitations of whatever headset you watch it on, are still mind-blowing. It gives you enough of a glimpse of the future that it’s incredible. There are all kinds of obstacles it presents just because it’s new technology, but from our point of view, we’ve honed it to make it pretty seamless. We’re digging past a lot of these problem areas, so at least from the user standpoint, it seems very easy. That’s our goal. Down the road, people from medical, education and training are going to need to understand VR for very productive reasons. And we’re positioning ourselves to be there on behalf of our clients.”

Hobo’s all-in commitment to VR has brought changes to its services as well. “Because VR is an emerging technology, we’re investing in it globally,” says Bowler. “Our company is expanding into complete production, from concepting — if the client needs it — to shooting, editing and doing all of the audio post. We have the longest experience in audio post, but we find that this is just such an exciting area that we wanted to embrace it completely. We believe in it and we believe this is where the future is going to be. Everybody here is completely on board to move this forward and sees its potential.”

To ramp up on the technology, Hobo teamed up with several local students who were studying at specialty schools. “As we expanded out, we got asked to work with a few production companies, including East Coast Digital and End of Era Productions, that are doing the video side of it. We’re bundling our services with them to provide a comprehensive set of services.” Hobo is also collaborating with Hidden Content, a VR production and post production company, to provide 360 audio for premium virtual reality content. Hidden Content’s clients include Samsung, 451 Media, Giant Step, PMK-BNC, Nokia and Popsugar.

There is still plenty of magic sauce in VR audio that continues to make it a very tricky part of the immersive experience, but Bowler and his team are engineering their way through it. “We’ve been developing a mixing technique that allows you to tie the audio to the actual object,” he says. “What that does is disrupt the normal stereo mix. Say you have a public speaker in the center of the room; normally that voice would turn with you in your headphones if you turn away from him. What we’re able to do is to tie the audio of the speaker to the actual object, so when you turn your head, it will pan to the right earphone. That also allows you to use audio as signaling devices in the storyline. If you want the viewer to look in a certain direction in the environment, you can use an audio cue to do that.”

Hobo engineer Diego Jimenez drove a lot of that innovation, says Mackey. “He’s a real VR aficionado and just explored a lot of the software and mixing techniques required to do audio in VR. We started out just doing a ton of tests and they all proved successful.” Jimenez was always driven by new inspiration, notes Bowler. “He’s certainly been leading our sound design efforts on a lot of fronts, from creating instruments to creating all sorts of unusual and original sounds. VR was just the natural next step for him, and for us. For example, one of the spots that we did recently was to create a music video and we had to create an otherworldly environment. And because we could use our VR mixing technology, we could also push the viewer right into the experience. It was otherworldly, but you were in that world. It’s an amazing feeling.”

boxed-out

‘Boxed Out’

What advice do Bowler and Mackey have for those interested in VR production and post? “360 video is to me the entry point to all other versions of immersive content,” says Bowler. “It’s the most basic, and it’s passive, like what we’re used to — television and film. But it’s also a completely undefined territory when it comes to production technique.” So what’s the way in? “You can draw on some of the older ways of doing productions,” he says, “but how do you storyboard in 360? Where does the director sit? How do you hide the crew? How do you light this stuff? All of these things have to be considered when creating 360 video. That also includes everyone on camera: all the viewer has to do is look around the virtual space to see what’s going on. You don’t want anything that takes the viewer out of that experience.”

Bowler thinks 360 video is also the perfect entry point to VR for marketers and advertisers creating branded VR content, and Hobo’s clients agree. “When we’ve suggested 360 video on certain projects and clients want to try it out, what that does is it allows the technology to breathe a little while it’s underwritten at the same time. It’s a good way to get the technology off the ground and also to let clients get their feet wet in it.”

Any studio or client contemplating VR, adds Mackey, should first find what works for them and develop an efficient workflow. “This is not really a solidified industry yet,” he says. “Nothing is standard, and everyone’s waiting to see who comes out on top and who falls by the wayside. What’s the file standard going to be? Or the export standard?  Will it be custom-made apps on (Google) YouTube or Facebook? We’ll see Facebook and Google battle it out in the near term. Facebook has recently acquired an audio company to help them produce audio in 360 for their video app and Google has the Daydream platform,” though neither platform’s codec is compatible with the other, he points out. “If you mix your audio to Facebook audio specs, you can actually have your audio come out in 360. For us, it’s been trial and error, where we’ve experimented with these different mixing techniques to see what fits and what works.”

Still, Bowler concedes, there is no true business yet in VR. “There are things happening and people getting things out there, but it’s still so early in the game. Sure, our clients are intrigued by it, but they are still a little mystified by what the return will be. I think this is just part of what happens when you deal with new technology. I still think it’s a very exciting area to be working in, and it wouldn’t surprise me if it doesn’t touch across many, many different subjects, from history to the arts to original content. Think about applications for geriatrics, with an aging population that gets less mobile but still wants to experience the Caribbean or our National Parks. The possibilities are endless.”

At one point, he admits, it may even become difficult to distinguish one’s real memory from one’s virtual memory. But is that really such a bad thing? “I’m already having this problem. I was watching an immersive video of Cuban music, that was pretty beautifully done, and by the end of the five-minute spot, I had the visceral experience that I was actually there. It’s just a very powerful way of experiencing content. Let me put it another way: 3D TVs were at the rabbit hole, and immersive video will take you down the rabbit hole into the other world.”

Source Sound
LA-based Source Sound, which has provided supervision and sound design on a number of Jaunt-produced cinematic VR experiences, including a virtual fashion show, a horror short and a Godzilla short film written and directed by Oscar-winning VFX artist Ian Hunter, as well as final Atmos audio mastering for the early immersive release Sir Paul McCartney Live, is ready for spacial mixes to come. That wasn’t initially the case.

Tim

Tim Gedemer

“When Jaunt first got into this space three years ago, they went to Dolby to try to figure out the audio component,” says Source Sound owner/supervising sound designer/editor Tim Gedemer. “I got a call from Dolby, who told me about what Jaunt was doing, and the first thing I said was, ‘I have no idea what you are talking about!’ Whatever it is, I thought, there’s really no budget and I was dragging my feet. But I asked them to show me exactly what they were doing. I was getting curious at that point.”

After meeting the team at Jaunt, who strapped some VR goggles on him and showed him some footage, Gedemer was hooked. “It couldn’t have been more than 30 seconds in and I was just blown away. I took off the headset and said, ‘What the hell is this?! We have to do this right now.’ They could have reached out to a lot of people, but I was thrilled that we were able to help them by seizing the moment.”

Gedemer says Source Sound’s business has expanded in multiple directions in the past few years, and VR is still a significant part of the studio’s revenue. “People are often surprised when I tell them VR counts for about 15-20 percent of our business today,” he says. “It could be a lot more, but we’d have to allocate the studios differently first.”

With a background in mixing and designing sound for film and gaming and theatrical trailers, Gedemer and his studio have a very focused definition of immersive experiences, and it all includes spacial audio. “Stereo 360 video with mono audio is not VR. For us, there’s cinematic, live-action VR, then straight-up game development that can easily migrate into a virtual reality world and, finally, VR for live broadcast.” Mass adoption of VR won’t happen, he believes, until enterprise and job training applications jump on the bandwagon with entertainment. “I think virtual reality may also be a stopover before we get to a world where augmented reality is commonplace. It makes more sense to me that we’ll just overlay all this content onto our regular days, instead of escaping from one isolated experience to the next.”

On set for the European launch of the Nokia Ozo VR camera in London, which featured a live musical performances captured in 360 VR.

For now, Source Sound’s VR work is completed in dedicated studios configured with gear for that purpose. “It doesn’t mean that we can’t migrate more into other studios, and we’re certainly evolving our systems to be dual-purpose,” he says. “About a year ago we were finally able to get a grip on the kinds of hardware and software we needed to really start coagulating this workflow. It was also clear from the beginning of our foray into VR that we needed to partner with manufacturers, like Dolby and Nokia. Both of those companies’ R&D divisions are on the front lines of VR in the cinematic and live broadcast space, with Dolby’s Atmos for VR and Nokia’s Ozo camera.”

What missing tools and technology have to be developed to achieve VR audio nirvana? “We delivered a wish list to Dolby, and I think we got about a quarter of the list,” he says. “But those guys have been awesome in helping us out. Still, it seems like just about every VR project that we do, we have to invent something to get us to the end. You definitely have to have an adventurous spirit if you want to play in this space.”

The work has already influenced his approach to more traditional audio projects, he says, and he now notices the lack of inter-spacial sound everywhere. “Everything out there is a boring rectangle of sound. It’s on my phone, on my TV, in the movie theater. I didn’t notice it as much before, but it really pops out at me now. The actual creative work of designing and mixing immersive sound has realigned the way I perceive it.”

Main Image: One of Hobo’s audio rooms, where the VR magic happens.


Beth Marchant has been covering the production and post industry for 21 years. She was the founding editor-in-chief of Studio/monthly magazine and the co-editor of StudioDaily.com. She continues to write about the industry.