Michael Wohl, Author, The 360° Video Handbook
Michele Yamazaki, VP Marketing, Toolfarm
Matthew Celia, Creative Director, Light Sail VR
Andy Cochrane, Director, The AV Club
Chris Bobotis, Director of Immersive, Adobe Systems, Inc.
James DeRuvo, Senior Writer, DoddleNEWS
Announcer: The Digital Production Buzz is brought to you by KeyFlow Pro, media asset management software, designed to meet the needs of work groups at an affordable price.
Larry Jordan: Tonight on the Buzz we are looking at the brave new world of virtual reality. VR is captivating the imagination of many filmmakers, but what is it? How is it different from traditional film, and what do you filmmakers need to know to make it work? Tonight we find out.
Larry Jordan: We start with Michael Wohl, filmmaker and author, who’s written a new book called The 360 Video Handbook. Michael shares his thoughts on what makes VR different from traditional filmmaking, and traditional theater.
Larry Jordan: Matthew Celia is the creative director of Light Sail VR. This is a company that specializes in creating VR with great characters and compelling narratives. Tonight, Matthew shares his experiences in what it takes to make VR work.
Larry Jordan: Michele Yamazaki is the VP of marketing for Toolfarm. Tonight she talks about the different software tools that are available to create and improve our VR productions.
Larry Jordan: Andy Cochrane is a director of 360 VR content for the AV Club and tonight he talks about the fundamental and steep learning curve that needs to take place for successful VR storytelling.
Larry Jordan: Chris Bobotis, co founded Mettle, and is now the director of immersive video for Adobe Systems. He describes how Adobe views VR, how they support it in Premiere, and what directors and editors need to know to use it successfully.
Larry Jordan: All this, plus James DeRuvo, with our weekly DoddleNEWS update. The Buzz starts now.
Announcer: Since the dawn of digital filmmaking – authoritative – one show serves a worldwide network of media professionals – current – uniting industry experts – production – filmmakers – post production – and content creators around the planet – distribution. From the media capital of the world in Los Angeles, California, the Digital Production Buzz goes live now.
Larry Jordan: Welcome to the Digital Production Buzz, the world’s longest running podcast for the creative content industry, covering media production, post production and marketing around the world.
Larry Jordan: Hi, my name is Larry Jordan. Virtual reality is a medium that I’ve had a hard time wrapping my brain around. Probably because VR actually wraps around my brain. Still, the more I learn the more I realize that VR is not an offshoot of traditional film or video, it’s something totally different. So this week, we decided to devote our entire show to learning more about this new technology and from what I’ve learned, as I was putting this week’s show together, is that VR can be pretty amazing, as long as you take it on its own merits and don’t try to force it to become something it isn’t. Whether we can use VR for storytelling isn’t really important, as you’ll learn, because VR is far more than just stories. This will be a fascinating show.
Larry Jordan: By the way, I want to invite you to subscribe to our free weekly show newsletter at digitalproductionbuzz.com. Every issue, every week provides quick links to the different segments on the show, plus articles of interest to filmmakers. Best of all, every issue is free, and comes out every Saturday.
Larry Jordan: Now, it’s time for our DoddleNEWS update, with James DeRuvo. Hello James.
James DeRuvo: Hello Larry.
Larry Jordan: It is good to hear you again sir, what’s the news for today?
James DeRuvo: Well Red Giant software has announced a retro 80s update to its Universe Subscription software service. This update, version 2.2 comes with up to 11 new tools which include a retro style 16mm and 8mm film looks from an actual … and that’s enabled people to create that muddy VHS look along with tools that enable them to create channel surfing transitions like you’re watching TV on an old CRT screen. There’s also now support for Avid Media Composer.
Larry Jordan: Well just what I need, muddy retro VHS video from Red Giant. Why do you think the retro look is so popular right now?
James DeRuvo: Well the popularity is going back to the 80s thanks to television series like ‘Stranger Things’, and the upcoming Spielberg film, ‘Ready Player One’, which is filled with 80s references. So old is new again and many want the option of being able to create that dated, VHS video look.
Larry Jordan: OK, Red Giant updates Universe. So they do the update by going back in time, that makes sense. What’s your next story?
James DeRuvo: Well, going forward in time, Sharp is introducing a new 8K professional cinema camera. It’s got a Super 35 8K CMOS sensor, and comes with a PL mount. The 8C-B60A camera looks to grab a share of the cinematic 8K pie. It records in 10-bit, 422 at 60 frames per second, with real time, uncompressed, 8K output by a 12G SDI.
Larry Jordan: Well what do you see as the target market for this new camera from Sharp?
James DeRuvo: Originally I thought it would be the traditional corporate, video wedding markets, and Sharp is better known for its broadcast quality EMG cameras, but if they’re going after the cinema camera market, and at a price of nearly $80,000, I think it should at least record in 12-bit 444, and at this point, I guess I’m still firmly in Red Helium’s camp, but I welcome the competition.
Larry Jordan: It’s nice to know that Sharp is back in the camera game. What else have you got for stories this week?
James DeRuvo: Well, with a banner sales quarter things are really starting to look up for GoPro. Thanks to a cost cutting plan that included layoffs and a simplification of the action camera company’s product line, that has given the company enough runway to start innovating again and they’ve created the new Hero 6 with a GP1 sensor and the Fusion 360 camera with their over capture feature. You add to that the success of the Karma Grip, the resurrection of their drone, and a third quarter’s growth steadily rising to over 37 percent.
Larry Jordan: It sounds like you see this as a turnaround for GoPro?
James DeRuvo: I think it is. It’s no secret that 2016 was a tough year for GoPro but after making some hard calls that included a massive recall of all the Karma drones, and initiating their cost cutting plan, those moves have paid off and now they have made over $330 million in sales after being over $110 million in the red. The action camera company is back on track and they’re looking forward to some cool new products in 2018.
Larry Jordan: Let’s see, we’ve got GoPro and we’ve got Sharp and we’ve got Red Giant. What other stories are you covering this week?
James DeRuvo: Other articles we’re following include the iPhone X video camera. It’s good, but is it great? Nikon is not only closing a factory in China, they’re also bugging out of South America, and could Disney be buying 20th Century Fox?
Larry Jordan: Now that one I’ve been reading about and that’s a fascinating concept. I’m looking forward to hearing how that story plays out, and for people that need more information, where can they go on the web?
James DeRuvo: All these and more can be found on
Larry Jordan: And DoddleNEWS has just gone through a facelift, the whole website looks a whole lot better, and James DeRuvo is a senior writer for DoddleNEWS, and James, as always, a fun time chatting with you, I look forward to talking to you next week.
James DeRuvo: See you next time.
Larry Jordan: Take care, bye bye.
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Larry Jordan: Michael Wohl is an award winning filmmaker and author of 12 books on post production, including the brand new 360 Video Handbook. But Michael is probably most well known as one of the original designers of Apple’s Emmy award winning software, Final Cut Pro. Hello Michael, good to have you back.
Michael Wohl: I’m so glad to be here.
Larry Jordan: Michael, what makes 360 VR different from traditional filmmaking?
Michael Wohl: Well there’s a lot of things. You know, fundamentally the experience of watching VR is so much more personal and immersive and the word immersive gets thrown around a lot, but I think a good movie can be pretty immersive. I think a good novel can be pretty immersive. What’s different about 360 video is that when you are watching content in that medium, you really do feel transported into a new place and having an experience that is different than that of your normal day to day life. That is what really makes it special.
Larry Jordan: Can we tell stories using VR, or is that actually asking the wrong question?
Michael Wohl: I don’t think it’s asking the wrong question, but I think that it’s still a difficult question to answer because I think the way we tell stories in VR is going to be different than the way we tell stories in traditional media. Fundamentally, VR and 360 video is much more about experiencing life in a new place or in a different perspective than you may be used to and that can be used for storytelling but it also can be used for all sorts of other things too.
Larry Jordan: For instance?
Michael Wohl: People are using VR in therapeutic settings, people are using VR to help veterans with PTSD, it’s being used for training, for trauma situations, or emergency response situations. Any place where the experience of being in a situation can be overwhelming, by being able to do that first in VR, you’re able to have the physical experience and the mental experience of going through that trauma or whatever it is, but you’re in a controlled environment, so you can sort of stop and analyze, and the idea being that then when you are put in that real situation, in real life, you will be that much more prepared.
Larry Jordan: Some people describe VR as more like live theater than traditional films, would you agree?
Michael Wohl: The theater analogy is a good one and I think it’s a useful one for thinking about how to create VR. The actual experience of watching VR is not all that like watching theater, just as that film is not at all that like watching theater, although when films started, people said it was a lot like theater as well. VR is much more immediate and personal. You are physically in a space, you look around you, and you see the room and the space around you in a way that in theater, you know, theater for the most part is done on a proscenium with somebody sitting in the audience watching.
Michael Wohl: There is a type of theater that’s sometimes called immersive theater where the actors are all around you or you’re walking through a space, and something like ‘Sleep No More’ is one of the most famous examples of that, which is set in a hotel in New York, and you walk around the rooms and different experiences happen. Some of the people around you are other guests, some of them are actors, and you do really feel like you’re a part of the scene to some extent. VR is more like that immersive theater, than it is like traditional theater, but even that, I think it’s still a very different experience.
Larry Jordan: Let’s shift gears for a bit. You just finished writing your book 360 Video Handbook. Why did you decide to write it?
Michael Wohl: I was really interested in developing 360 content. I’ve been a filmmaker and video maker for many years, and I’ve been curious about VR since I was a kid, and now the technology was becoming more viable, I wanted to experiment with it so I got a camera and some software tools and started trying to teach myself how to use it and very quickly wanted some help looking around for resources. What I found was very scattershot, like little pieces here or there, it was often contradictory. Different vendors were promoting different workflows and I really felt like there was no unified source of information on how to do this stuff. With my experience in teaching film and filmmaking techniques, I thought this was probably something I could help out with.
Larry Jordan: I know that one of the things that you did in your book is shoot a variety of different VR short films, what is different about working with talent on a 360 shoot versus a traditional film shoot?
Michael Wohl: I think this is one of the areas that’s most exciting in that it really is quite different, and I think that it takes a lot of experience to make sense of that and figure out how to work with talent. Frankly, while I have some ideas about it, I don’t think we’ve answered the question yet. I think it’s still happening. But what I can say is that just like in theater, when theater is good, you feel transported in a way that is difficult in most media. When theater is bad, it’s cringeworthy, embarrassing. There’s nothing like sitting 15 feet from an actor while they’re just not there, they don’t feel present in the space, and it feels really unnatural. VR shares that dilemma, or that benefit too right? When it’s good, it’s great, but when it’s bad, it’s terrible.
Michael Wohl: I think part of the thing is that acting for VR is very different than acting for film and it’s different from acting for theater. It’s maybe a hybrid of the two, but I think it maybe something completely different than both. Part of that is because when you’re shooting a 360 video scene, technically you’re going to be running long takes, we don’t use traditional coverage of multiple angles on the scene. There are some cases where that’s done, but generally most 360 or VR projects are done where there’s continuous action from a particular point of view. So, in that regard, your actors need to be able to work through an entire scene, non-stop, the way they would in a theatrical situation, but the level of performance needs to be regulated and adjusted depending on how close to, or far away from the camera the actor is.
Michael Wohl: So if the actor is standing five feet from the camera, their performance has got to be incredibly subtle and naturalistic, just the way it would be in a close up on a film. But when that actor steps five feet further away or ten feet further away, their performance needs to be different. In order to read the physicality of their actions, they need to be a little bit broader and bigger the way they would perhaps on a stage. But, even still, their vocal performance needs to remain consistent throughout because audio is probably being recorded closed miked, and so if they start raising their voice, or projecting in the way they would with theater, that’s going to read really artificial. So you really have this interesting hybrid of these different models, and it needs to be done dynamically during the course of a scene. So you really have to shift gears as an actor while you’re working.
Michael Wohl: One more piece of this is, as a director, most of the time in 360 or in these VR projects, because the camera is shooting in all directions at once, the director can’t be there on set watching, can’t be sitting behind the camera giving direction and interrupting the scene, and correcting and making all those adjustments. So you really need to be working this all out through the rehearsal process and then letting the scene play out as it goes.
Larry Jordan: For filmmakers who want to get into VR for the first time, what one core piece of advice do you have for them to get them started in the right direction?
Michael Wohl: This is maybe an easy answer or a cliché answer, but the best thing you can do is to get a cheap camera like a Ricoh Theta, or the Samsung 360. These are decent quality cameras, very lightweight and easy to work with, and will allow you to experiment and play, because the one thing I would say is that, you’re going to make a lot of mistakes. There are a lot of ways, especially for experienced filmmakers, that your instincts are going to be wrong. What I would say is, don’t do your project you’re passionate about first. Do a bunch of experimentation, do a bunch of testing, play with it, and then see the results and watch those results in a headset because you will experience the scene in a very different way than most people I think expect to.
Larry Jordan: Michael your book is 360 Video Handbook. Where can people go to get it?
Michael Wohl: It’s available on Amazon, and it’s also available through my personal website, which is 360videohandbook.com.
Larry Jordan: The book is the 360 Video Handbook, it’s just excellent, and Michael Wohl is the author and Michael, thanks for joining us today.
Michael Wohl: Thank you so much Larry.
Larry Jordan: Matthew Celia is the managing director and creative director of Light Sail VR, a company that creates engaging VR content. Hello Matthew, welcome.
Matthew Celia: Hi, thanks for having me.
Larry Jordan: How would you describe Light Sail VR?
Matthew Celia: Light Sail VR is an immersive production company focusing on creating live action, narrative entertainment with a real focus on story.
Larry Jordan: Now you used the term live action, what does that mean for VR?
Matthew Celia: There’s two kinds of virtual reality. There’s game engine based, which is your shoot them up video games or anything created in a 3D world, and then there is live action which is cinematic VR, stuff that’s captured with one or multiple cameras to create this virtual reality scene.
Larry Jordan: Do you view VR as something for games, or telling stories, or providing experiences, or something totally different?
Matthew Celia: I define virtual reality as anything that transports an audience member into a new environment. So it’s anything that replaces your vision, or your sound and makes you feel like you’re in a place that you’re not currently. That could be video, that can be games, it can be 2D, it can be 3D. It doesn’t really matter as long as it’s in a headset.
Larry Jordan: Well tell me about a recent project you guys have created.
Matthew Celia: Recently we’ve just embarked on our first live action interactive narrative, is what we’re calling it. It’s called ‘Speak of the Devil’ and it’s really exciting, because what we did is, we’ve made a mesh narrative where we give the audience the ability to go from location to location whenever they want, and they’ll experience the story in different ways, depending on which part of the forest they explore. Of course it’s horror, so it’s pretty exciting, and I think a lot of people are going to love it, but I don’t think I’ve seen a project like this before in this space. It’s immersive theater, but it’s in VR.
Larry Jordan: Is it released or in production?
Matthew Celia: Currently we are racing to finish it in time for hopefully a Black Friday release. We’re going to be releasing it on Google Daydream, Gear VR, HTC Vive, and Oculus Rift.
Larry Jordan: I wish you great success, though horror is not a genre that I like, I still wish you success with it. But before we talk more about projects, I want to talk about equipment. What equipment do you use to shoot your projects?
Matthew Celia: We use a range of different cameras because not every camera is right for every single project. But on Speak of the Devil, we were fortunate enough to be partnered with Google and use the GoPro Odyssey and their Google Jump Cloud Stitching which offers 6K over 6K stereoscopic, at 60 frames a second. It really is one of the highest quality cinematic VR productions you can do right now.
Larry Jordan: OK, I want to just focus on that for a second, so it’s 6000 pixels horizontal, 6000 pixels vertical? Is that a correct statement?
Matthew Celia: Technically it’s 5,760 pixels horizontal and 5,760 pixels vertical. Your vertical’s divided into a left eye and a right eye. Each eye has a two to one aspect ratio that you stack on top of each other so the software can decode it and give you the 3D feel.
Larry Jordan: So basically, the resolution horizontal is double the resolution vertical?
Matthew Celia: Yes, exactly, per eye.
Larry Jordan: That means you’ve got to have massive storage.
Matthew Celia: Massive storage. We’re really lucky in this to have a partner of ours, Lumaforge, which makes network storage drive. They’ve donated a 125 terabyte server for this project, and this project’s taking up almost that whole server. I think we’re at 80 terabytes of footage right now, which is the biggest project our studio’s ever undertaken.
Larry Jordan: That’s a mind-blowing amount of storage. For people who want more information about the kind of work your company is doing and to track your projects on the web, where can they go?
Matthew Celia: Go to www.speakofthedevilvr.com to take a look at our latest project, and sign up to get notified of when it gets released, and then while you’re there, you can head to www.lightsailvr.com to see some of our great brand of work and 360 storytelling.
Larry Jordan: Matthew Celia is the managing director and creative director of Light Sail VR, and Matthew, thanks for joining us today.
Matthew Celia: Thank you so much.
Larry Jordan: Take care, bye bye.
Larry Jordan: Michele Yamazaki is the VP of marketing at Toolfarm, a company that specializes in plugins and effects for video editors. She has written or co-written two books on plugins as well as becoming the go to person on software and plugins for our editing systems. Hello Michele, welcome back.
Michele Yamazaki: Thank you very much.
Larry Jordan: This week we’re talking about VR. So far we’ve got a good idea of what it is, and how to use it to tell stories, but I’m not exactly sure what kind of software and plugins we need. Do you guys carry VR plugins? Or is that a concept that doesn’t yet exist?
Michele Yamazaki: No it definitely exists. What’s interesting is that a lot of the software that you’ve been using for years, is now incorporating VR, immersive video effects, and 360 tools right into the software. The latest Adobe suite, Adobe Creative Cloud CC 2018 has, in Premiere and other software, they have this immersive 360 video, with tools and there’s all sorts of tutorials on it online to help you get started with it. 3DS Max, from Autodesk, also has a VR workflow that you can download portions of, or is included in it and you can jump right in. There’s a new Spherical camera in Cinema 4D R19 which came out a couple of months ago, and the latest Boris Continuum Complete, that just came out a month ago, that also has several tools to help you edit and work with VR formats, 180 degree or 360 degree formats. Mocha VR has tracking and roto and masking tools that all work in a VR format. So yes, it’s really popular.
Larry Jordan: Well it hasn’t yet shipped but Apple did a reveal of the new Final Cut X which also will include VR in it, so I’m curious to see what happens when Apple ships their product as well.
Michele Yamazaki: So am I.
Larry Jordan: Michele, one of the things that filmmakers focus on is telling stories. But VR actually is a much bigger environment than storytelling. What have you discovered in terms of how VR is being used outside of filmmaking?
Michele Yamazaki: It’s used in such a huge number of positive ways. It’s been used to treat medical disorders like PTSD, to help cancer patients, to help cure disease with researchers being able to use VR to learn about cellular structures and the immune system. It can be used to diagnose dementia or help children with autism. Outside of that it can be used in training. Wal-Mart I know is using it to train new employees, they’re using it to train police officers, new teachers, the Chicago Bears quarterbacks even are using VR.
Larry Jordan: Well now that we’ve got a sense of where VR is useful, we need to think about the kind of tools that we can use to create VR. What software right now can we use for VR?
Michele Yamazaki: Well there’s all sorts of different tools out there. There’s certain things for blurring and for depth of field and for tracking things. There are all different tools, so it really depends on what you’re going to be needing, and if you’re going to be working with motion graphics, or just video. So there’s a lot to take into account and there really aren’t that many tools out there, but if you’re working in 3D you’ll need a 3D tool for example.
Larry Jordan: Some of these tools are complex to learn and take a while to figure out even if we’re going to be able to use them or not. Is there any easy way to get our hands on some of these tools without breaking the bank?
Michele Yamazaki: I highly recommend downloading a demo version. Most of these tools have free demos that you can download. As a matter of fact, we have a free 30 day rental license of Boris Continuum 11, the one that just came out with the VR tools, and you just go to Toolfarm and you can fill out a form and we’ll send you a license for that.
Larry Jordan: There’s a product that you guys just announced called Render Garden, tell me about that.
Michele Yamazaki: It’s coming out next week and what it is is an After Effects script that instead of rendering one big file, it will break up a big file into several pieces and they call those seeds, garden seeds. They’ll segment it, and so it can maximize your CPU cores on one machine, or you can do it across network rendering. So it will speed up your renders by quite a bit, and it will work with these VR tools or any other plug in that you may be using. It works for After Effects and it will sell for $99 and it does background rendering as well, so you’ll be able to work in After Effects on more content while you’re rendering.
Larry Jordan: Help me, as someone who doesn’t know After Effects that well, what does this do that After Effects does not?
Michele Yamazaki: It lets you background render for one. So in the old days you were always working in After Effects and once you’re ready to go, you set it to render and walk away for depending on how long your render would take. Back in the old days I can remember going away for 24 hours and it would still be going, but that was a long time ago. This will speed up your effects, so there are some plugins out there that are very intensive on your CPU or RAM or whatever, and this will really speed up your render processes. I tried it a couple of nights ago, and I didn’t really take a good benchmark, but it was easily twice as fast.
Larry Jordan: For people that need more information about the tools that you have available, where can they go on the web?
Michele Yamazaki: To www.toolfarm.com.
Larry Jordan: Michele Yamazaki is the VP of marketing at Toolfarm, and Michele, thanks for joining us today.
Michele Yamazaki: Thank you so much.
Larry Jordan: Andrew Cochrane is a director working in interactive and immersive media such as virtual and augmented reality, installations, live events and mobile and web apps. Hello Andrew, welcome.
Andy Cochrane: Thank you for having me.
Larry Jordan: It’s my pleasure. Andy, we’re learning a lot about VR tonight and one thing Michael Wohl said earlier in the show is that VR is not like traditional film or live theater, but something totally different. What’s your opinion?
Andy Cochrane: I think that as a medium, that’s absolutely true. It shares a lot of techniques and feels like a lot of other things. It feels like film, and video games and theater, and even amusement parks and other live entertainment, but it pulls from all of those other disciplines but it’s not any one of them. It is something new. It’s an experiential medium which if you look at most of the media that we use for entertainment, they’re not really experiential. They’re more passive and something you listen to or view or experience passively. Whereas VR is a much more involving medium that when it’s really working well, makes you feel like you’re actually a part of the experience and not just an observer of it, so it definitely is a new thing and we’re only at the very beginning of figuring it out.
Larry Jordan: You’ve been working in VR for a while. What’s the learning curve like? How much do you have to forget, or can you really build on what you already know?
Andy Cochrane: I think the only way to create VR is to come into it with some experience in some other form of media, be it traditional live action or visual effects and animation or video games. But you definitely need to bring your knowledge with you, but check your ego at the door. It’s a team sport and it’s massively multi disciplinarian, so I think the folks who are doing really great work in VR are people who have traditional skills in a different format and they’ve come into VR open minded and looking to collaborate and have not approached it with an “I know what I’m doing, I’ve got 20 years of experience. I’m good at that, so of course I’m going to be good at this” approach.
Larry Jordan: Do actors need to learn a different way of acting?
Andy Cochrane: Yes, in terms of live action VR, I think we’re witnessing as dangerous a technological transition as sound. I think there were a lot of silent film stars whose talent did not translate into the talkies when we got sound, and I think we’re at as large a crossroads, if not larger. Because a lot of theatrical and film training really starts to fall apart in this medium, I don’t believe we have any stars of VR yet. I don’t think we have any actors who have really figured out how to work in this medium fully. There’s certainly folks that are doing a good job, but it’s not theater, it’s not film, it’s not TV. The audience feels like they’re there and because of that the writing has to be very natural, very believable, very realistic and the performances need to match that. They need to feel real instead of feeling like they’re a movie star, or feeling like a drama, or a comedy. It has to actually feel like it’s really happening. That’s a skill that I don’t think there’s anybody that has really demonstrated they have that nailed yet.
Larry Jordan: Andrew, for people that want to hire you for their next project, or just keep track of what you’re thinking, where can they go on the web?
Andy Cochrane: My website is Andrew-cochrane.com.
Larry Jordan: That’s Andrew-cochrane.com, and Andrew, thanks for joining us today and we’ll keep in touch and see how your projects turn out.
Andy Cochrane: Thank you so much.
Larry Jordan: Take care, bye bye.
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Larry Jordan: Chris Bobotis was the co-founder of Mettle, where he architected Mettle’s Skybox cinematic 360 VR software for Premiere and After Effects. Now he’s the director of immersive for Adobe Systems, bringing his deep experience in 360 VR to Adobe. Hello Chris, welcome.
Chris Bobotis: Hey Larry, how are you?
Larry Jordan: What makes 360 VR different from traditional video?
Chris Bobotis: I think the biggest thing is what we used to rely on is what we know as the frame or a framing device. So a frame is the silver screen, it’s your computer monitor, your TV monitor. That’s gone away. So in a sense the frame in front of us has become the whole world around us in 360 VR. That lends itself to great opportunity to reinvent storytelling and even reinvent content creation tools.
Larry Jordan: We’re going to talk about storytelling in just a minute, but I was looking at your title and your title is Director of Immersive, and yet we call the format 360 VR. Why are you a director of not 360 VR?
Chris Bobotis: I think 360 VR is one component. It’s a bit of a stepping stone to a lot more that will make its way to business and consumer. So that’s augmented reality as we started to see with Pokémon Go in mobile devices and we’re starting to see with Head-Up Display technology such as the HoloLens … Then eventually, augmented reality and all that we know of 360 VR spatial video converges to something that people are starting to call mixed reality or extended reality. We’ll get that down pat when we get there, but for now it’s one of the two and this was why we chose Director of Immersive because it’s further reaching and it’s a better umbrella term than just 360 VR. So 360 VR’s a great starting point, but I think there’s a lot more that we can accomplish.
Larry Jordan: Now would you include audio as part of that immersive experience?
Chris Bobotis: Audio is huge Larry. It’s even bigger than it ever was in our framed world or in our rectilinear world. You can break immersion very easily with bad audio so one of the pushes that you’ve seen at Adobe is special audio effort. I don’t know if you got a chance to see our sneaks at Adobe Max? So sneaks is basically technology that we show that may make its way into the product line, but a big part of that was what we call Project Sound … and that’s basically spatial audio offering and everything to help that along in Adobe products. So I’m very excited about that.
Larry Jordan: Let’s shift back into software development for just a minute. What are the software challenges of working with immersive video?
Chris Bobotis: I think the biggest challenge is that regardless of titles and all that, I don’t think anybody really knows how it’s going to shape up and shape out. I think the biggest challenge is staying very in tune with the user base and watching what pain points come our way and trying to be as pro active as possible. In some ways, trying to be a bit of a thought reader, but really being in tune with the content creators, and helping determine what tool set we should prioritize next. And even being, I hate to call it reactive because that’s a horrible word in my world, I would rather call it pro active, so if you’re well entrenched and in tune with the user base like our customers, then you can kind of anticipate what the next set of tools can happen. It’s what we did at Mettle, and that’s what we’re going to continue to do at Adobe now that I’m at Adobe.
Larry Jordan: From an editing point of view, once I’m looking at VR inside Premiere, what makes editing immersive video different from editing traditional video?
Chris Bobotis: Not much. I think one of the easiest things short term, was to demystify the whole format. Though the format for 360 VR video is kind of strange. It’s this thing called Equirectangular, and when you first look at it, you don’t quite know what to do with it as an editor, but one of the first things that I worked with Adobe on, even before I joined Adobe, I said we need to demystify this. So what we did is, in Premiere Pro we introduced a viewer based system, so you’re not looking at an equirectangular anymore instead you’re looking at rectilinear view which is basically what you would see if you look in the browser, a mobile device, or in a head mounted display. So right away, as soon as you introduce that, the editor gets comfortable because now they’re looking at something in context, not at this foreign looking format that neither the editor really knows what to do with, nor does the compositor, nor for that matter do a lot of the algorithms, like the camera tracking algorithms you know what to do with because it’s way too distorted. So as soon as you switch over to rectilinear workflow paradigm, a lot of the pain goes away.
Chris Bobotis: That’s part of it. The other part is, again it’s a frameless world, so some of the things you have to do more than you did in rectilinear is you have to help influence gaze because you can’t depend on that framing device any more. So you’re not sure where the viewer can be looking at any given point in time, so some of the things that we did with Transitions, when we started to build Transitions for 360 VR production, is we introduced a point of interest so an animatable point of interest where you can influence the gaze. Spatial audio will help along tremendously with audio cues so that you are sure that your cuts and transitions work well and this helps of course drive narrative.
Larry Jordan: I’m still trying to get my brain wrapped around VR as a traditional film and video guy. This idea of losing the frame is very difficult for me. But one of the things I’ve learned is that VR is much more like live theater than it is traditional filmmaking, that it’s much more of an experience rather than pure storytelling. Would you agree with either one of those comments?
Chris Bobotis: I don’t think it’s quite theater or cinema to tell you the truth. I’ve always been hard pressed to answer that until about maybe about four or five months ago when somebody stuck a microphone in my face, in New York, and said “What about it?” Pretty much the same question. And I said, “To me it feels a lot more like dreaming than it does cinema or theater, so I don’t dream in a frame.” I don’t know about you, but I would guess most people don’t. They don’t frame their dreams, nor are they really linear. A lot of them are abstracted, non-linear and yet we’re OK with that. We live in a dream, experience dreams and we’re very OK with that. I think there’s the opportunity where 360 VR as a medium can help move along and even evolve a storytelling experience, so do things really have to be that linear anymore? Do we really need to depend on frames anymore? I’m guessing this is a natural evolution so I can’t quite call it theater, but I can’t quite call it cinema either. I think it’s an evolution and it taps into both.
Larry Jordan: So then, what advice do you give editors who are going to start editing a VR project for the first time? What mindset should they bring, or how should they think about it?
Chris Bobotis: Experimentation. By all means experiment, make mistakes, keep what you like, throw away what you don’t. Don’t over invest in expensive cameras or anything else. Keep it simple to begin with. Either find some footage or maybe a friend’s been shooting footage, find some footage that you can work with, or rent or buy something that’s very affordable and just start cutting. Start to understand the medium and give it it’s due respect I guess. So, you’re right, some people find it very daunting, the idea of this frameless new environment, others finding it very challenging. And I mean challenging in the best way as in a fresh challenge like, there are no rules, maybe I can help establish some of the rules. Or establish a vocabulary to help narrative along.
Larry Jordan: Switching back to software again, which part of the computer is taxed the most during editing VR? Do we need to worry about setting a specific spec? Do we need a faster CPU or a faster GPU or just plain more RAM? Is there something special from our hardware point of view that we need to worry about when we’re starting to edit VR?
Chris Bobotis: So I would prioritize my investment. A better CPU, a better all round system certainly serves you better, so it’s not one thing, but if I had to prioritize it would be GPU, and then I would get into very fast disks, the speeds are amazing, they’re very affordable these days, so I would definitely run SSDs. And then start looking at the RAM and the CPU. So GPU is high in my book. In time, more and more companies will … on the GPU.
Larry Jordan: GPU, the graphics processing unit should be your highest priority and then optimize everything else after that?
Chris Bobotis: Correct. Your SSD you want data moving back and forth fast. Then you start looking at CPU, mother board and RAM is important, but less as you move towards the GPU.
Larry Jordan: Chris, we’re going to have to come back and talk to you about this again. There’s just so much that we need to cover, but for people that want to learn more about the products that Adobe has that can help them in a VR environment, where can they go on the web?
Chris Bobotis: So Adobe.com. We don’t have a designed URL yet for all that is immersive, but there is a passion at Adobe for this, you know, it’s obvious with the acquisition of Mettle and having … lead the efforts, so you’ll see a lot more tutorials, a lot more courseware, a lot more information available on adobe.com, so I think that’s a very good starting point.
Larry Jordan: That website is adobe.com and Chris Bobotis is the director of immersive for Adobe, and Chris, thanks for joining us today.
Chris Bobotis: My pleasure Larry, thanks for having me.
Larry Jordan: You know, I was just thinking, the problem I’ve had with VR is that I kept thinking of it as another way to tell stories, and it is but as we learned tonight, it’s much more than that. In fact, it’s another way to experience reality. As I was listening to Michele recite some of the different uses of VR, I realized that almost none involved traditional storytelling but all involved immersing the viewer in a different environment. As Chris said, VR isn’t like traditional filmmaking, but it isn’t like theater either. It’s more like dreaming, creating illusions without walls, and environments we move through without being attached.
Larry Jordan: I was also struck by Michael’s comment that acting for VR was completely different, blocking and rehearsals are like live theater, audio is like film, while the actual performance needs to switch seamlessly between the subtlety of a film close up, with the ability to engage an audience as though you were on stage. All without changing the modulation of your voice. As Andy said, VR has a fundamentally steep learning curve. We need to set our sights on how this craft develops over the next decade, because we won’t have it all figured out by next year. Exciting times and the perfect opportunity to experiment with this new technology for yourself. Just something I’m thinking about.
Larry Jordan: I want to thank our guests for this week, author Michael Wohl, Michele Yamazaki with Toolfarm, Matthew Celia from Light Sail VR, Andy Cochrane, the AV Club, Chris Bobotis from Adobe Systems, and James DeRuvo from DoddleNEWS.
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