Tag Archives: VR

Deluxe VFX

Craig Zerouni joins Deluxe VFX as head of technology

Deluxe has named Craig Zerouni as head of technology for Deluxe Visual Effects. In this role, he will focus on continuing to unify software development and systems architecture across Deluxe’s Method studios in Los Angeles, Vancouver, New York and India, and its Iloura studios in Sydney and Melbourne, as well as LA’s Deluxe VR.

Based in LA and reporting to president/GM of Deluxe VFX and VR Ed Ulbrich, Zerouni will lead VFX and VR R&D and software development teams and systems worldwide, working closely with technology teams across Deluxe’s Creative division.

Zerouni has been working in media technology and production for nearly three decades, joining Deluxe most recently from DreamWorks, where he was director of technology at its Bangalore, India-bsed facility overseeing all technology. Prior to that he spent nine years at Digital Domain, where he was first head of R&D responsible for software strategy and teams in five locations across three countries, then senior director of technology overseeing software, systems, production technology, technical directors and media systems. He has also directed engineering, products and teams at software/tech companies Silicon Grail, Side Effects Software and Critical Path. In addition, he was co-founder of London-based computer animation company CFX.

Zerouni’s work has contributed to features including Tron: Legacy, Iron Man 3, Maleficent, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Ender’s Game and more than 400 commercials and TV IDs and titles. He is a member of BAFTA, ACM/SIGGRAPH, IEEE and the VES. He has served on the AMPAS Digital Imaging Technology Subcommittee and is the author of the technical reference book “Houdini on the Spot.”

Says Ulbrich on the new hire: “Our VFX work serves both the features world, which is increasingly global, and the advertising community, which is increasingly local. Behind the curtain at Method, Iloura, and Deluxe, in general, we have been working to integrate our studios to give clients the ability to tap into integrated global capacity, technology and talent anywhere in the world, while offering a high-quality local experience. Craig’s experience leading global technology organizations and distributed development teams, and building and integrating pipelines is right in line with our focus.”

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If you’re working in post production, animation, VFX and/or VR/AR/360, please take our short survey and tell us what works (and what doesn’t work) for your day-to-day needs.

As today’s visual effects continue to become more sophisticated, and as VR/AR/360 video open up new frontiers for content creation, storage is more important than ever.

What do you need from a storage solution? Your opinion is important to us, so please complete the survey by March 8th.

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Review: Nvidia’s new Pascal-based Quadro cards

By Mike McCarthy

Nvidia has announced a number of new professional graphic cards, filling out their entire Quadro line-up with models based on their newest Pascal architecture. At the absolute top end, there is the new Quadro GP100, which is a PCIe card implementation of their supercomputer chip. It has similar 32-bit (graphics) processing power to the existing Quadro P6000, but adds 16-bit (AI) and 64-bit (simulation). It is intended to combine compute and visualization capabilities into a single solution. It has 16GB of new HBM2 (High Bandwidth Memory) and two cards can be paired together with NVLink at 80GB/sec to share a total of 32GB between them.

This powerhouse is followed by the existing P6000 and P5000 announced last July. The next addition to the line-up is the single-slot VR-ready Quadro P4000. With 1,792 CUDA cores running at 1200MHz, it should outperform a previous-generation M5000 for less than half the price. It is similar to its predecessor the M4000 in having 8GB RAM, four DisplayPort connectors, and running on a single six-pin power connector. The new P2000 follows next with 1024 cores at 1076MHz and 5GB of RAM, giving it similar performance to the K5000, which is nothing to scoff at. The P1000, P600 and P400 are all low-profile cards with Mini-DisplayPort connectors.

All of these cards run on PCIe Gen3 x16, and use DisplayPort 1.4, which adds support for HDR and DSC. They all support 4Kp60 output, with the higher end cards allowing 5K and 4Kp120 displays. In regards to high-resolution displays, Nvidia continues to push forward with that, allowing up to 32 synchronized displays to be connected to a single system, provided you have enough slots for eight Quadro P4000 cards and two Quadro Sync II boards.

Nvidia also announced a number of Pascal-based mobile Quadro GPUs last month, with the mobile P4000 having roughly comparable specifications to the desktop version. But you can read the paper specs for the new cards elsewhere on the Internet. More importantly, I have had the opportunity to test out some of these new cards over the last few weeks, to get a feel for how they operate in the real world.

DisplayPorts

Testing
I was able to run tests and benchmarks with the P6000, P4000 and P2000 against my current M6000 for comparison. All of these test were done on a top-end Dell 7910 workstation, with a variety of display outputs, primarily using Adobe Premiere Pro, since I am a video editor after all.

I ran a full battery of benchmark tests on each of the cards using Premiere Pro 2017. I measured both playback performance and encoding speed, monitoring CPU and GPU use, as well as power usage throughout the tests. I had HD, 4K, and 6K source assets to pull from, and tested monitoring with an HD projector, a 4K LCD and a 6K array of TVs. I had assets that were RAW R3D files, compressed MOVs and DPX sequences. I wanted to see how each of the cards would perform at various levels of production quality and measure the differences between them to help editors and visual artists determine which option would best meet the needs of their individual workflow.

I started with the intuitive expectation that the P2000 would be sufficient for most HD work, but that a P4000 would be required to effectively handle 4K. I also assumed that a top-end card would be required to playback 6K files and split the image between my three Barco Escape formatted displays. And I was totally wrong.

Besides when using the higher-end options within Premiere’s Lumetri-based color corrector, all of the cards were fully capable of every editing task I threw at them. To be fair, the P6000 usually renders out files about 30 percent faster than the P2000, but that is a minimal difference compared to the costs. Even the P2000 was able to playback my uncompressed 6K assets onto my array of Barco Escape displays without issue. It was only when I started making heavy color changes in Lumetri that I began to observe any performance differences at all.

Lumetri

Color correction is an inherently parallel, graphics-related computing task, so this is where GPU processing really shines. Premiere’s Lumetri color tools are based on SpeedGrade’s original CUDA processing engine, and it can really harness the power of the higher-end cards. The P2000 can make basic corrections to 6K footage, but it is possible to max out the P6000 with HD footage if I adjust enough different parameters. Fortunately, most people aren’t looking for more stylized footage than the 300 had, so in this case, my original assumptions seem to be accurate. The P2000 can handle reasonable corrections to HD footage, the P4000 is probably a good choice for VR and 4K footage, while the P6000 is the right tool for the job if you plan to do a lot of heavy color tweaking or are working on massive frame sizes.

The other way I expected to be able to measure a difference between the cards would be in playback while rendering in Adobe Media Encoder. By default, Media Encoder pauses exports during timeline playback, but this behavior can be disabled by reopening Premiere after queuing your encode. Even with careful planning to avoid reading from the same disks as the encoder was accessing from, I was unable to get significantly better playback performance from the P6000 compared to the P2000. This says more about the software than it says about the cards.

P6000

The largest difference I was able to consistently measure across the board was power usage, with each card averaging about 30 watts more as I stepped up from the P2000 to the P4000 to the P6000. But they all are far more efficient than the previous M6000, which frequently sucked up an extra 100 watts in the same tests. While “watts” may not be a benchmark most editors worry too much about, among other things it does equate to money for electricity. Lower wattage also means less cooling is needed, which results in quieter systems that can be kept closer to the editor without being distracting from the creative process or interfering with audio editing. It also allows these new cards to be installed in smaller systems with smaller power supplies, using up fewer power connectors. My HP Z420 workstation only has one 6-pin PCIe power plug, so the P4000 is the ideal GPU solution for that system.

Summing Up
It appears that we have once again reached a point where hardware processing capabilities have surpassed the software capacity to use them, at least within Premiere Pro. This leads to the cards performing relatively similar to one another in most of my tests, but true 3D applications might reveal much greater differences in their performance. Further optimization of CUDA implementation in Premiere Pro might also lead to better use of these higher-end GPUs in the future.


Mike McCarthy is an online editor and workflow consultant with 10 years of experience on feature films and commercials. He has been on the forefront of pioneering new solutions for tapeless workflows, DSLR filmmaking and now multiscreen and surround video experiences. If you want to see more specific details about performance numbers and benchmark tests for these Nvidia cards, check out techwithmikefirst.com.

Rise Above

Sundance 2017: VR for Good’s Rise Above 

By Elise Ballard

On January 22, during the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, the Oculus House had an event for their VR for Good initiative, described as “helping non-profits and rising filmmakers bring a variety of social missions to life.” Oculus awarded 10 non-profits a $40,000 grant and matched them with VR filmmakers to make a short film related to their community and cause.

One of the films, Rise Above, highlights a young girl’s recovery from sexual abuse and the support and therapy she received from New York City’s non-profit Womankind (formerly New York Asian Women’s Center).

Rise AboveRise Above is a gorgeous film — shot on the Nokia Ozo camera — and really well done, especially in as far as guiding your eye to the storytelling going on in a VR360 environment. I had the opportunity to interview the filmmakers, Ben Ross and Brittany Neff, about their experience. I was curious why they feel VR is one of the best mediums to create empathy and action for social impact. Check out their website.

Referencing the post process, Ross said he wore headsets the entire time as he worked with the editor in order to make sure it worked as a VR experience. All post production for VR for Good films was done at Reel FX. In terms of tools, for stitching the footage they used a combination of the Ozo Creator software from Nokia, Autopano Video from Kolor and the Cara plug-in for Nuke. Reel FX finished all the shots in Nuke (again making major use of Care) and Autodesk’s Flame for seam fixing and rig removal. TD Ryan Hartsell did the graphics work in After Effects using the mettle plug-in to help him place the graphics in 360 space and in 3D.

For more on the project and Reel FX’s involvement visit here.

The Oculus’ VR for Good initiative will be exhibiting will be at other major film festivals throughout the year and will be distributed by Facebook after the festival circuit.

Visit VR for Good here for more information, news and updates, and to stay connected (and apply!) to this inspiring and cutting-edge project.

Elise Ballard is a Los Angeles-based writer and author of Epiphany, True Stories of Sudden Insight, and the director of development at Cognition and Arc/k Project, a non-profit dedicated to preserving cultural heritage via virtual reality and digital media.

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.

VR Post: Hybrid workflows are key

By Beth Marchant

Shooting immersive content is one thing, but posting it for an ever-changing set of players and headsets is whole other multidimensional can of beans.

With early help from software companies that have developed off-the-shelf ways to tackle VR post — and global improvements to their storage and networking infrastructures — some facilities are diving into immersive content by adapting their existing post suites with a hybrid set of new tools. As with everything else in this business, it’s an ongoing challenge to stay one step ahead.

Chris Healer

The Molecule
New York- and Los Angeles-based motion graphics and VFX post house The Molecule leapt into the VR space more than a year and a half ago when it fused The Foundry’s Nuke with the open-sourced panoramic photo stitching software Hugin. Then, CEO Chris Healer took the workflow one step further. He developed an algorithm that rendered stereoscopic motion graphics spherically in Nuke.

Today, those developments have evolved into a robust pipeline that fuels The Molecule’s work for Conan O’Brien’s eponymous TBS talk show, The New York Times’s VR division and commercial work. “It’s basically eight or ten individual nodes inside Nuke that complete one step or another of the process,” says Healer. “Some of them overlap with Cara VR,” The Foundry’s recently launched VR plug-in for Nuke, “but all of it works really well for our artists. I talk to The Foundry from time to time and show them the tools, so there’s definitely an open conversation there about what we all need to move VR post forward.”

Collaborating with VR production companies like SuperSphere, Jaunt and Pixvana in Seattle, The Molecule is heading first where mass VR adoption seems likeliest. “The New York Times, for example, wants to have a presence at film festivals and new technology venues, and is trying to get out of the news-only business and into the entertainment-provider business. And the job for Conan was pretty wild — we had to create a one-off gag for Comic-Con that people would watch once and go away laughing to the next thing. It’s kind of a cool format.”

Healer’s team spent six weeks on the three-minute spot. “We had to shoot plates, model characters, animate them, composite it, build a game engine around it, compile it, get approval and iterate through that until we finished. We delivered 20 or so precise clips that fit into a game engine design, and I think it looks great.”

Healer says the VR content The Molecule is posting now is, like the Conan job, a slight variation on more typical recent VR productions. “I think that’s also what makes VR so exciting and challenging right now,” he says. “Everyone’s got a different idea about how to take it to the next level. And a lot of that is in anticipation of AR (augmented reality) and next-generation players/apps and headsets.

‘Conan’

The Steam store,” the premiere place online to find virtual content, “has content that supports multiple headsets, but not all of them.” He believes that will soon gel into a more unified device driver structure, “so that it’s just VR, not Oculus VR or Vive VR. Once you get basic head tracking together, then there’s the whole next thing: Do you have a controller of some kind, are you tracking in positional space, do you need to do room set up? Do we want wands or joysticks or hand gestures, or will keyboards do fine? What is the thing that wins? Those hurdles should solidify in the next year or two. The key factor in any of that is killer content.”

The biggest challenge facing his facility, and anyone doing VR post right now, he says, is keeping pace with changing resolutions and standards. “It used to be that 4K or 4K stereo was a good deliverable and that would work,” says Healer. “Now everything is 8K or 10K, because there’s this idea that we also have to future-proof content and prepare for next-gen headsets. You end up with a lot of new variables, like frame rate and resolution. We’re working on stereo commercial right now, and just getting the footage of one shot converted from only six cameras takes almost 3TB of disk space, and that’s just the raw footage.”

When every client suddenly wants to dip their toes into VR, how does a post facility respond? Healer thinks the onus is on production and post services to provide as many options as possible while using their expertise to blaze new paths. “It’s great that everyone wants to experiment in the space, and that puts a certain creative question in our field,” he says. “You have to seriously ask of every project now, does it really just need to be plain-old video? Or is there a game component or interactive component that involves video? We have to explore that. But that means you have to allocate more time in Unity https://unity3d.com/ building out different concepts for how to present these stories.”

As the client projects get more creative, The Molecule is relying on traditional VFX processes like greenscreen, 3D tracking and shooting plates to solve VR-related problems. “These VFX techniques help us get around a lot of the production issues VR presents. If you’re shooting on a greenscreen, you don’t need a 360 lens, and that helps. You can shoot one person walking around on a stage and then just pan to follow them. That’s one piece of footage that you then composite into some other frame, as opposed to getting that person out there on the day, trying to get their performance right and then worrying about hiding all the other camera junk. Our expertise in VFX definitely gives us an advantage in VR post.”

From a post perspective, Healer still hopes most for new camera technology that would radically simplify the stitching process, allowing more time for concepting and innovative project development. “I just saw a prototype of a toric lens,” shaped like the donut-like torus that results from revolving a circle in three-dimensional space, “that films 360 minus a little patch, where the tripod is, in a single frame,” he says. “That would be huge for us. That would really change the workflow around, and while we’re doing a lot of CG stuff that has to be added to VR, stitching takes the most time. Obviously, I care most about post, but there are also lots of production issues around a new lens like that. You’d need a lot of light to make it work well.”

Local Hero Post
For longtime Scratch users Local Hero Post, in Santa Monica, the move to begin grading and compositing in Assimilate Scratch VR was a no-brainer. “We were one of the very first American companies to own a Scratch when it was $75,000 a license,” says founder and head of imaging Leandro Marini. “That was about 10 years ago and we’ve since done about 175 feature film DIs entirely in Scratch, and although we also now use a variety of tools, we still use it.”

Leandro Marini

Marini says he started seeing client demand for VR projects about two years ago and he turned to Scratch VR. He says it allows users do traditional post the way editors and colorist are used to — with all the same DI tools that let you do complicated paint outs, visual effects and 50-layer-deep color corrections, Power Windows, in realtime on a VR sphere.”

New Deal Studios’ 2015 Sundance film, Kaiju Fury was an early project, “when Scratch VR was first really user-friendly and working in realtime.” Now Marini says their VR workflow is “pretty robust. [It’s] currently the only system that I know of that can work in VR in realtime in multiple ways,” which includes a echo-rectangular projection, which gives you a YouTube 360-type of feel and an Oculus headset view.

“You can attach the headset, put the Oculus on and grade and do visual effects in the headset,” he says. “To me, that’s the crux: you really have to be able to work inside the headset if you are going to grade and do VR for real. The difference between seeing a 360 video on a computer screen and seeing it from within a headset and being able to move your head around is huge. Those headsets have wildly different colors than a computer screen.”

The facility’s — and likely the industry’s — highest profile and biggest budget project to date is Invisible, a new VR scripted miniseries directed by Doug Liman and created by 30 Ninjas, the VR company he founded with Julina Tatlock. Invisible premiered in October on Samsung VR and the Jaunt app and will roll out in coming months in VR theaters nationwide. Written by Dallas Buyers Club screenwriter Melisa Wallack and produced by Jaunt and Condé Nast Entertainment, it is billed as the first virtual reality action-adventure series of its kind.

‘Invisible’

“Working on that was a pretty magical experience,” says Marini. “Even the producers and Liman himself had never seen anything like being able to do the grade, do VFX and do composite and stereo fixes in 3D virtual reality all with the headset on. That was our initial dilemma for this project, until we figured it out: do you make it look good for the headset, for the computer screen or for iPhones or Samsung phones? Everyone who worked on this understood that every VR project we do now is in anticipation of the future wave of VR headsets. All we knew was that about a third would probably see it on a Samsung Gear VR, another third would see it on a platform like YouTube 360 and the final third would see it on some other headset like Oculus Rift, HTC or Google’s new Daydream.”

How do you develop a grading workflow that fits all of the above? “This was a real tricky one,” admits Marini. “It’s a very dark and moody film and he wanted to make a family drama thriller within that context. A lot of it is dark hallways and shadows and people in silhouette, and we had to sort of learn the language a bit.”

Marini and his team began exclusively grading in the headset, but that was way too dark on computer monitors. “At the end of the day, we learned to dial it back a bit and make pretty conservative grades that worked on every platform so that it looked good everywhere. The effect of the headset is it’s a light that’s shining right into your eyeball, so it just looks a lot brighter. It had to still look moody inside the headset in a dark room but not too moody that it vanishes on computer laptop in a bright room. It was a balancing act.”

Local Hero

Local Hero also had to figure out how to juggle the new VR work with its regular DI workload. “We had to break off the VR services into a separate bay and room that is completely dedicated to it,” he explains. “We had to slice it off from the main pipeline because it needs around-the-clock custom attention. Very quickly we realized we needed to quarantine this workflow. One of our colorists here has become a VR expert, and he’s now the only one allowed to grade those projects.” The facility upgraded to a Silverdraft Demon workstation with specialized storage to meet the exponential demand for processing power and disk space.

Marini says Invisible, like the other VR work Local Hero has done before is, in essence, a research project in these early days of immersive content. “There is no standard color space or headset or camera. And we’re still in the prototype phase of this. While we are in this phase, everything is an experiment. The experience of being in 3D space is interesting but the quality of what you’re watching is still very, very low resolution. The color fidelity relative to what we’re used to in the theater and on 4K HDR televisions is like VHS 1980’s quality. We’re still very far away from truly excellent VR.”

Scratch VR workflows in Invisible included a variety of complicated processes. “We did things like dimension-alizing 2D shots,” says Marini. “That’s complicated stuff. In 3D with the headset on we would take a shot that was in 2D, draw a rough roto mask around the person, create a 3D field, pull their nose forward, push their eyes back, push the sky back — all in a matter of seconds. That is next-level stuff for VR post.”

Local Hero also used Scratch Web for reviews. “Moments after we finished a shot or sequence it was online and someone could put on a headset and watch it. That was hugely helpful. Doug was in London, Condé Nast in New York. Lexus was a sponsor of this, so their agency in New York was also involved. Jaunt is down the street from us here in Santa Monica. And there were three clients in the bay with us at all times.”

‘Invisible’

As such, there is no way to standardize a VR DI workflow, he says. “For Invisible, it was definitely all hands on deck and every day was a new challenge. It was 4K 60p stereo, so the amount of data we had to push — 4K 60p to both eyes — which was unprecedented.” Strange stereo artifacts would appear for no apparent reason. “A bulge would suddenly show up on a wall and we’d have to go in there and figure out why and fix it. Do we warp it? Try something else? It was like that throughout the entire project: invent the workflow every day and fudge your way through. But that’s the nature of experimental technology.”

Will there be a watershed VR moment in the year ahead? “I think it all depends on the headsets, which are going to be like mobile phones,” he says. “Every six months there will be a new group of them that will be better and more powerful with higher resolution. I don’t think there will be a point in the future when everyone has a self-contained high-end headset. I think the more affordable headsets that you put your phone into, like Gear VR and Daydream, are the way most people will begin to experience VR. And we’re only 20 percent of the way there now. The whole idea of VR narrative content is completely unknown and it remains to be seen if audiences care and want it and will clamor for it. When they do, then we’ll develop a healthy VR content industry in Hollywood.”


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.

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.

 

VR Production: A roadmap for stereo 360, AR, VR and beyond

By Beth Marchant

It may still be the Wild West in the emerging virtual reality market, but adapting new and existing tools to recreate production workflows is nothing new for the curious and innovative filmmakers hungry for expanding ways to tell stories.

We asked directors at a large VR studio and at a nimble startup how they are navigating the formats, gear and new pipelines that come with the territory.

Patrick Meegan

Jaunt
Patrick Meegan was the first VR-centric filmmaker hired by Jaunt, a prolific producer of immersive content based in Los Angeles. Now a creative director and director of key content for the company, he will also be helping Jaunt refine and revamp its virtual reality app in the coming months. “I came straight from my MFA at USC’s interactive media program to Jaunt, so I’ve been doing VR since day one there. The nice thing about USC is it has a very robust research lab associated with the film school. I worked with a lot of prototype VR technology while completing my degree and shooting my thesis. I pretty much had a hacker mentality in graduate school but I wanted to work with an engineering and content company that was streamlining the VR process, and I found it here.”

Meegan shot with a custom camera system built with GoPro cameras on those first Jaunt shoots. “They had developed a really nice automated VR stitching and post workflow early on,” he says, “but I’d built my own 360 camera from 16 GoPros in grad school, so it wasn’t so dissimilar from what I was used to.” He’s since been shooting with the company’s purpose-built Jaunt One camera, a ground-up, modular design that includes a set of individual modules optimized with desirable features like global shutter, gunlock for frame sync and improved dynamic range.

Focusing primarily on live-action 3D spherical video but publishing across platforms, Jaunt has produced a range of VR experiences to date that include Doug Limon’s longer-form cinematic serial Invisible, (see VR Post) and short documentaries like Greenpeace’s A Journey to the Arctic and Camp4 Collective’s Home Turf: Iceland. The content is stored in the cloud, mostly to take advantage of scalable cloud-based rendering. “We’re always supporting every platform that’s out there but within the last year, to an increasing degree, we’re focusing more on the more fully immersive Oculus, HTC Vive, Gear VR and Google Daydream experiences,” says Meegan. “We’re increasingly looking at the specs and capabilities of those more robust headsets and will do more of that in 2017. But right now, we’re focused on the core market, which is 360 video.”

invisible

Invisible

When out on the VR directing jobs he bids on through Jaunt’s studios, Meegan typically shoots with a Jaunt One as his primary tool and rotates in other bespoke camera arrays as needed. “We’re still in a place where there is no one camera but many terrific options,” he says. “Jaunt One is a great baseline. But if you want to shoot at night or do aerial, you’ll need to consider any number of custom rigs that blend off-the-shelf cameras and components in different types of arrays. Volumetric and light field video are also on the horizon, as the headsets enable more interaction with the audience. So we’ll continue to work with a range of camera systems here at Jaunt to achieve those things.”

Meegan recently took the Jaunt One and a GoPro drone array to the Amazon Rain Forest to shoot a 10-minute 360-degree film for Conservation International, a non-profit organization with a trifold community, corporate partnership and research approach to saving our planet’s natural resources. An early version of the film screened this November in Marrakech during the UN’s Climate Change Conference and will be in wide release through the Jaunt app in January. “I’ve been impressed that there are real budgets out there for cause-based VR documentaries,” he says. “It’s a wonderful thing to infuse in the medium early on, as many did with HD and then 4K. Escaping into a nature-based experience is not an isolating thing — it’s very therapeutic, and most people will never have the means or inclination to go to these places in the first place.”

Pitched as a six-minute documentary, the piece showcases a number of difficult VR camera moves that ended up extending its run. “When we submitted 10-minute cuts to the clients, no one complained about length,” says Meegan. “They just wanted more. Probably half the piece is in motion. We did a lot of cable cams through the jungle, as if you are walking with the indigenous people who live there and encountering wildlife, and also a number of VR firsts, like vertical ascending and descending shots up along these massive trees.”

Tree climbing veterans from shows like Planet Earth were on hand to help set the rigs on high. “These were shots that would take three days to rig into a tree so we could deliver that magical float down through the layers of the forest with the camera. Plus, everything we had to bring into the jungle for the shoot had to fit on tiny planes and canoes. Due to weight limits, we had to cut back on some of the grip equipment we’d originally planned on bringing, like custom cases and riggings to carry and protect the gear from wildlife and the elements. We had to measure everything out to the gram.” Jaunt also customized the cable cam motors to slow down the action of the rigs. “In VR you want to move a lot slower than with a traditional camera so you get a comfortable feel of movement,” says Meegan. “Because people are looking around within the environment, you want to give them time to soak it all in.”

An example of the Jaunt camera at work – Let’s Go Mets!

The isolated nature of the shoot posed an additional challenge: how to keep the cameras rolling, with charging stations, for eight hours at a time. “We did a lot on the front end to determine the best batteries and data storage systems to make that happen,” he says. “And there were many lessons learned that we will start to apply to upcoming work. The post production was more about rig removal and compositing and less about stitching, so for these kinds of documentary shoots, that helps us put more of our resources into the production.”

The future of narrative VR, on the other hand, may have an even steeper learning curve. “What ‘Invisible’ starts to delve into,” explains Meegan, “is how do we tell a more elaborate, longer-form story in VR? Flash back to a year or so ago, when all we thought people could handle in the headset at one time was five or six minutes. At least as headsets get more comfortable — and eventually become untethered — people will become more engaged.” That wire, he believes, is one of VR’s biggest current drawbacks. “Once it goes away, and viewers are no longer reminded they are actually wearing technology, we can finally start to envision longer-form stories.”

As VR production technology matures, Meegan also sees an opening for less tech-savvy filmmakers to join the party. “This field still requires healthy hybrids of creative and technical people, but I think we are starting to see a shift in priorities more toward defining the grammar of storytelling in VR, not just the workflows. These questions are every bit as challenging as the technology, but we need all kinds of filmmakers to engage with them. Coming from a game-design program where you do a lot of iterations, like in visual effects and animation, I think now we can begin to similarly iterate with content.”

The clues to the future may already be in plain sight. “In VR, you can’t cut around performances the way you do when shooting traditional cinema,” says Meegan. “But there’s a lot we can learn from ambient performances in theater, like what the folks at Punchdrunk are doing in Sleep No More immersive live theater experience in New York.” The same goes for the students he worked with recently at USC’s new VR lab, which officially opened this semester.

“I’m really impressed by how young people are able to think around stories in new ways, especially when they come to it without any preconceived notions about the traditional structure of filmmaker-driven perspectives. If we can engage the existing community of cinematic and video game storytellers and get them talking to these new voices, we’ll get the best of both worlds. Our Amazon project reflected that; it was a true blend of veteran nature filmmakers and young kid VR hackers all coming together to tell this beautiful story. That’s when you start to get a really nice dialog of what’s possible in the space.”

Wairua
A former pro skateboarder, director of photography and post pro Jim Geduldick thrives on high-stakes obstacles on the course and on set. He combined both passions as the marketing manager of GoPro’s professional division until this summer, when he returned to his filmmaking roots and co-founded the creative production and technology company Wairua. “In the Maori tradition, the term wairua means a spirit not bound to one body or vessel,” he explains. “It fits the company perfectly because we want to pivot and shape shift. While we’re doing traditional 2D, mixed reality and full-on immersive production, we didn’t want to be called just another VR studio or just a technology studio. If we want to work on robotics and AI for a project, we’ll do that. If we’re doing VR or camera tech, it gives us leeway to do that without being pegged as a service, post or editorial house. We didn’t want to get pigeonholed into a single vertical.”

With his twinned background in camera development and post, Geduldick takes a big-picture approach to every job. “My partner and I both come from working for camera manufacturers, so we know the process that it takes to create the right builds,” he says. “A lot of times we have to build custom solutions for different jobs, whether that be high-speed Phantom set-ups or spherical multicam capture. It leaves us open to experiment with a blend of all the new technology out there, from VR to AR to mixed reality to AI to robotics. But we’re not just one piece of the puzzle; knowing capture through the post pipeline to delivery, we can scale to fit whatever the project needs. And it’s inevitable — the way people are telling stories and will want to tell them will drastically change in the next 10 years.”

Jim Geduldick with a spherical GoPro rig.

Early clients like Ford Motors are already fans of Wairua’s process. One of the new company’s first projects was to bring rally cross racer Ken Block of the Hoonigan Racing Division and his viral Gymkhana video series to VR. The series features Block driving against the clock the Ford Focus RS RX rallycross car he helped design and drove in the 2016 FIA World Rallycross Championship on a racing obstacle course, explaining how he performs extreme stunts like the “insane” and the “train drift” along the way. Part one of Gymkhana Nine VR is now available via the Ford VR app for iOS and Android.

“Those brands that are focused on a younger market are a little more willing to take risks with new content like VR,” Geduldick says. ‘We’re doing our own projects to test our theories and own internal pipelines, and some of those we will pitch to our partners in the future. But the clients who are already reaching out to us are doing so through word of mouth, partly because of our technical reputations but mostly because they’ve seen some of our successful VR work.” Guiding clients during the transition to VR begins with the concept, he says. “Often they are not sure what they want and often you have to consult with them and say, ‘This is what’s available. Are they going for a social reach? Or do you want to push the technology as far as it will go?’ Budgets, of course, determine most of that. If it’s not for a headset experience, it’s usually going to a platform or a custom app.”

Wairua’s kit, as you might expect, is a mix of custom tools and off-the-shelf camera gear and software. “We’re using GoPro cameras and the GoPro Odyssey, which is a Google Jump-ready rig, as well as the Nokia Ozo and other cameras and making different rigs,” he says. “If you’re shooting an interview, maybe you can get away with shooting it single camera on a panohead with one Red Epic with a fisheye lens or a Sony A7s ii. I choose camera systems based on what is the best for the project I’m working on at that moment.”

His advice for seasoned producers and directors — and even film students — transitioning to VR is try before you buy. “Go ahead and purchase the prosumer-level cameras, but don’t worry about buying the bigger spherical capture stuff. Go rent them or borrow them, and test, test, test. So many of the rental houses have great education nights to get you started.”

The shot of NYC was captured by a spherical array shoot on the top of the Empire State Building.

Once you know where your VR business is headed, he suggests, it’s time to invest. “Because of the level that we’re at, we’ve purchased a number of different camera systems, such as Red Epic, Phantom, tons of GoPros and even a Ricoh Theta S camera, which is the perfect small spherical camera for scouting locations. That one is with me in my backpack every time I’m out.”

Geduldick is also using The Foundry’s Cara VR plug-in with Nuke, Kolor’s Autopan Video Pro and Chris Bobotis’s Mettle plug-in for Adobe After Effects. “If you’re serious about VR post and doing your own stitching, and you already use After Effects, Mettle is a terrific thing to have,” he says. A few custom tetrahedral and ambisonic microphones made by the company’s sound design partners and used in elaborate audio arrays, as well as the more affordable Sennheiser Ambeo VR mic, are among Wairua’s go-to audio recording gear. “The latter is one of the more cost-effective tools for spatial audio capture,” says Geduldick.

The idea of always mastering to the best high-resolution archival format available to you still holds true for VR production, he adds. “Do you shoot in 4K just to future-proof it, even if it’s more expensive? That’s still the case for 360 VR and immersive today. Your baseline should always be 4K and you should avoid shooting any resolution less than that. The headsets may not be at 4K resolution per eye yet, but it’s coming soon enough.”

Geduldick does not believe any one segment of expanded reality with take the ultimate prize. “I think it’s silly to create a horse race between augmented reality and virtual reality,” he says. “It’s all going to eventually meld together into immersive storytelling and immersive technology. The headsets are a stopgap. 360 video is a stopgap. They are gateways into what will be and can come in the next five to 10 years, even two years. Yes, some companies will disappear and others will be leaders. Facebook and Google have a lot of money behind it, and the game engine companies also have an advantage. But there is no king yet. There is no one camera or or no single software that will solve all of our problems, and in my opinion, it’s way too soon to be labeling this a movement at all.”

Jim with a GoPro Omni on the Mantis Rover for Gymkhana.

That doesn’t mean that Wairua isn’t already looking well beyond the traditional entertainment marketing and social media space at the VR apps of tomorrow. “We are very excited about industrial, education and health applications,” Geduldick says. “Those are going to be huge, but the money is in advertising and entertainment right now, and the marketing dollars are paying for these new VR experiences. We’re using that income to go right back into R&D and to build these other projects that have the potential to really help people — like cancer patients, veterans and burn victims — and not just dazzle them.”

Geduldick’s advice for early adopters? Embrace failure, absorb everything and get on with it. “The takeaway for every single production you do, whether it be for VR or SD, you should be learning something new and taking that lesson with you to your next project,” he says. “With VR, there’s so much to learn — how the technology can benefit you, how it can hurt you, how it can slow you down as a storyteller and a filmmaker? Don’t listen to everybody; just go out and find out for yourself what works. What works for me won’t necessarily work for someone like Ridley Scott. Just get out there and experiment, learn and collaborate.”

Main Image: A Ford project via Wairua.


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.

Missing Pieces hires head of VR/AR/360, adds VR director

Production company Missing Pieces has been investing in VR recently by way of additional talent. Catherine Day has joined the studio as head of VR/AR/360. She was most recently at Jaunt VR where she was executive producer/head of unscripted. VR director Sam Smith has also joined the company as part of its VR directing team.

This bi-coastal studio has a nice body of VR under its belt. They are responsible for Dos Equis’ VR Masquerade and for bringing a president into VR with Bill Clinton’s Inside Impact series. They also created Follow My Lead: The Story of the NBA 2016 Finals, a VR sports documentary for the NBA and Oculus.

In her new role, Day (pictured) will drive VR/AR/360 efforts from the studio’s Los Angeles office and oversee several original VR series that will be announced jointly with WME and partners in the coming months. In her previous role at Jaunt VR, Day led projects for ABC News, RYOT/Huffington Post, Camp 4 Collective, XRez, Tastemade, Outside TV, Civic Nation and Conservation International.

VR director Smith is a CD and VR director who previously worked with MediaMonks on projects for Expedia, Delta, Converse and YT. Smith also has an extensive background in commercial visual effects. His has a deep understanding of post and VFX, which is helpful when developing VR/360 projects. He will also act as technical advisor.