After attending the Game Developers Conference (GDC) last month, it was clear the pace of innovation is accelerating throughout the gaming industry – particularly in content production. Virtual Reality (VR) is absolutely putting renewed pressure on game engines, graphics chips, and ultimately the PCs and mobile devices that drive the experiences. The entertainment industry as a whole has a lot to gain from these advancements. Whether you’re focused on cinematic animated features, video games, animated series, or even graphic novels – the storytelling discipline is in store for some amazing advancements. The following five trends stand out as major influences on risk, cost, and quality of production for years to come.
Think back to Avatar - great movie, but more importantly, it was revolutionary in advancing film making technology – particularly in performance capture (the collection of all the data about a performers body and face movements which can ultimately drive a 3D character). At the time, hundreds of millions of dollars went into making effects like that work. Fast forward to today, and the cost of quality performance capture is declining rapidly. New technology approaches (optical or gyroscopes/accelerometers) and lower cost manufacturing are enabling products like Perception Neuron’s suite and OptiTrack’s capture stages – the former costing only $1500 to get up and running. Face capture systems are also reducing in price significantly – FaceWare Tech just restructured their pricing with Indie systems starting around $2500. Opening up performance capture as a tool to storytellers of all budgets will undoubtedly lead to an explosion of new content with way more realistic animation. And, without a doubt, the lower cost solutions will be getting better and better.
Example of Perception Neuron performance capture, source: Noitom Mocap
For decades, game engines (or real-time 3D engines) have kindled the idea that someday, somehow, they would allow cinematic animators to author and see the finished product at the same time. Gone would be the need for multi-million dollar render farms (huge networks of computers necessary to render each frame of a movie). Well that day is drawing closer and closer. A number of cinematic experiences have been produced on game engines like Unity’s Adam and Unreal’s A Boy and His Kite. In addition both Unity and Unreal (two of the top game engines) recently shared new tools for cinematic sequencing. Nickelodeon just announced that it’s developing a new real-time animated series using Unreal. For YouTubers and animated television developers, using game engines for production has arrived. For feature film creators – game engines can serve as massive improvements to the previsualization pipeline. (More on Game Engines in a future post)
(Unity's Adam animated short, source: Unity)
Virtual Reality (VR)
Pretty much everywhere you look, VR is being touted as the “next big thing”. In reality, VR systems have just recently started selling to consumers. There are many flavors - untethered mobile experiences like GearVR, PC driven experiences like Oculus, and full room experiences like the HTC Vive. While each system is definitely a “version 1.0” product - they offer significantly different capabilities and thus dramatically different experiences. VR is incredibly new but will likely become the largest new entertainment platform since the advent of video games, but it will also take more time to achieve a major audience than the hype suggests. No matter what, it sure is fun to see the future – OptiTrack had an amazing demonstration of these first three trends in one example. (More on VR and Augmented Reality (AR) in a future post)
OptiTrack system with VR and real-time rendering, source: Optitrack
Some parts of the entertainment world have been slower than others to embrace data science and analytics. It is one of the areas where art and science have often seemed to be most philosophically opposed. But particularly in video games, data science has become an essential tool in driving customer engagement and deriving profits. Data science is transforming what content you see and how you see it. Netflix, YouTube and Amazon are some of the companies at the forefront. Startups like Quantifind and large names like IBM are lining up to help companies tackle the data science and analytics opportunity both in marketing and distribution. As tools become more readily available, creators will be able to connect with audiences in new ways and deliver content that delights.
GoPro has been the poster child for this trend, but the past 12 months have seen an explosion in miniaturization with higher and higher quality. Recently, our office produced a video to announce the winners of our Neoverse Writing Contest. We had a fun idea for a single take shot and began to plan to use a high-end camera on the awesome gyroscopic Ronin mount from DJI – like in this film they produced. Then we just decided to use the handheld stabilizer mount from a drone with an iphone as the monitor and it produced amazingly solid results with way less time and energy. Many film makers are realizing that they can get 95% of the quality with 10% of the gear (size, weight and cost). This miniaturization will lead to more film makers having near pro tools to produce their content, and eventually lead to more creative and innovative art.
(Neoverse video shot with DJI Osmo, source: Neoglyphic)
And that’s probably the most important point – all these trends make it clear that there are huge gains to be made by deeper collaboration across art and science. Technology is revolutionizing the tools, but it remains with the storyteller to use them to create art.
There are obviously lots of other tech trends impacting entertainment production – what did I miss?