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Transcript: Digital Production Buzz – March 24, 2016

Digital Production Buzz

March 24, 2016

[Transcripts provided by Take 1 Transcription]

(Click here to listen to this show.)

HOSTS
Larry Jordan
Mike Horton

SEGMENTS
Tech Talk
BuZZ Flashback: Nick Clarkson

GUESTS
Kevin Bourke, Principal, Founder, Bourke PR
James Mathers, President, CoFounder, Digital Cinema Society
Rick Barrett, VP of Operations, Maxon

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Larry Jordan: Tonight on The Buzz, we look at the current state of the media industry from three different perspectives. I can’t think of a time when our industry’s been more volatile or financially stressed, so tonight we’ll look at why and how to survive it, starting with Kevin Bourke. He’s the founder and Principal of Bourke PR with nearly 30 years’ experience in technology public relations. He’s a marketing consultant to some of the most innovative tech companies in visual effects, post production and production technology.

Larry Jordan: Then James Mathers, cinematographer and founder of the Digital Cinema Society shares his thoughts on camera gear, obsolescence and the challenges of investing in hardware without losing your shirt.

Larry Jordan: Next, we continue with Rick Barrett. He’s the VP of Operations for MAXON, the Americas, and has been helping designers discover and take advantage of Cinema 4D for over 15 years. Rick looks at the new disruptive technology of 360 degree video, VR and what to expect in software at NAB.

Larry Jordan: All this plus Tech Talk and a Buzz Flashback. The Buzz starts now.

Announcer #1: Digital Production Buzz is brought to you by Other World Computing at macsales.com; and by imagineproducts.com, the workflow experts.

Announcer #2: 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: And 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. Hello, Mike.

Mike Horton: I was just reading that thing. I know what you’re going to ask me, Larry.

Larry Jordan: Ok.

Mike Horton: Mike, tonight…

Larry Jordan: Wait, wait, wait. All right, you read it.

Mike Horton: Tonight, we’re taking an overall look at our industry. What’s your perspective? And my perspective, Larry, is – is the glass half empty or half full? Seriously, do you think of me as a pessimist or an optimist?

Larry Jordan: I wanted to give you a binary choice because, goodness knows if I gave you a choice of three…

Mike Horton: Did you write that, by the way?

Larry Jordan: I wrote that. Wasn’t that brilliant?

Mike Horton: It was brilliant.

Larry Jordan: This is Oscar winning material right here.

Mike Horton: I could say anything to that question. What is the… I don’t know. No, that’s honestly true, I don’t know. Do you?

Larry Jordan: Well, I’ve discovered there’s a whole lot more confusion now than usual.

Mike Horton: That’s why I said I don’t know.

Larry Jordan: And I’ve discovered there’s not a lot of spare cash floating around. Cash flow’s really tight.

Mike Horton: No, everything’s weird, everything is tight, as you said, but I don’t know the answer, and I think if you would have asked me last year, I might have, but not this year.

Larry Jordan: I’m looking forward to our three guests because they’re going to be talking about it and providing different perspectives.

Mike Horton: Yes, so I am.

Larry Jordan: It’s going to be an interesting show.

Mike Horton: Yes, well hopefully I will learn from you and our three guests, which is why I show up every week, Larry, because I need to learn from you and our guests. I come home enlightened.

Larry Jordan: You give the illusion of blankness, but underneath that blank slate…

Mike Horton: That’s why I’ve been married for 40 years, because I’m enlightened each week with it.

Larry Jordan: I want to remind you to subscribe to our free show newsletter at digitalproductionbuzz.com. Every issue every week gives you an inside look at The Buzz, quick links to different segments on the show and curated articles of special interest to filmmakers. Mike and I will be right back with Kevin Bourke, after this.

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Larry Jordan: Kevin Bourke is the founder and Principal of Bourke PR. He has nearly 30 years’ experience in technology public relations. He’s a marketing consulting to some of the most innovative tech companies in the visual effects, post production and production technology markets. Hello, Kevin, welcome.

Kevin Bourke: Hey, Larry, how are you?

Larry Jordan: We are doing well and looking forward to chatting with you today. Before we get into the industry overview that I want to head into, first set the scene. Describe what it is that you do. You don’t work for just one company.

Kevin Bourke: No, that’s right. I’m a consultant to actually many companies in, as you mentioned, the production and post production industry, so I work with a lot of different companies on many levels, public relations being a big part of what I do for them, communications strategy and even just navigating the markets, because there’s so much going on and there’s so much constant change. I really help my clients navigate the waters in the markets that we play in.

Larry Jordan: What types of companies do you represent? Not necessarily by name, but by type. Are they really small start-ups? Are they large established companies? How would you describe them?

Kevin Bourke: Primarily I work with small sometimes start-ups, sometimes established companies, but usually they’re small, maybe three or four person shops. When I started my business, my philosophy was I wanted to work with these companies that have great products and great ideas but they might not have the connections or the resources or the wherewithal to tell their stories and I just felt like these little guys deserve their time in the spotlight too, so I partner with a lot of companies like that and help them, like I said, get their time in the spotlight.

Larry Jordan: Well, it’s because you partner with all these different companies that I really want to start tonight’s show with you, because as we are getting ready for NAB and as Mike and I were chatting at the beginning of the show, this is a particularly stressful time in our industry. It seems more confused than usual and I wanted to just get your take on how you would describe the state of the media industry today.

Kevin Bourke: Yes, there’s so much going on at every end of the market, so much change, so much in flux from the camera companies, from the capture side of things. We were talking about 4K for a while, then we were talking about 8K cameras. The cameras are getting smaller and cheaper and things are moving so fast. I think in the broadcast side of things, broadcasters are scrambling to figure out what’s going on out there with the shift to the internet with Netflix, Hulu and consumers’ behaviors changing so dramatically and I think a lot of these companies need to figure out this new model and how they fit in.

Larry Jordan: How do you see this affecting traditional broadcast companies? Is it simply a matter of audience fragmentation or is technology itself driving these changes?

Kevin Bourke: I think it’s both. I think technology is moving at light speed and the audiences’ preferences are changing along with it. Traditional broadcast, cable TV – I think I even said this to you – I don’t watch cable TV any more. I want to watch what I want, when I want to watch it and on the device I want to watch it on and I think the traditional broadcasters are really scrambling to catch up with that, figure that out and monetize that. I think that’s a real challenge and they’re scrambling to figure that out.

Larry Jordan: What trends do you see driving media technology? If we shift to the broader market and the independent filmmaker, however that’s defined – whether it’s weddings or corporate or broadcast or cable or documentaries – what trends are driving that media technology that we need to pay attention to?

Kevin Bourke: I think the internet and the democratization of the technology at every end of the pipeline is really driving this and price lines coming down, access so ubiquitous, everyone can be a filmmaker, everyone can be a broadcaster. Like I said before, the cameras are coming down in price, the resolutions and the quality are getting better and better, the availability of distribution channels to share your content is far and wide. YouTube is exploding just within the past year.

Larry Jordan: Yes, but the problem I’ve got with YouTube is that YouTube doesn’t give us the same business models that traditional broadcast or cable does. Based on my views alone, every 100,000 views equates to $110, so a million views is $1,000. You can’t finance much with that.

Kevin Bourke: Yes, and again I think that’s where the strain is, and where people are scrambling to figure out how to monetize that because the value is where the audience is and in traditional models that was easy, you could just put up ads and you would reach those people. But it’s an entirely new era and it’s incredibly challenging to try to monetize that. We’re seeing the rise of the YouTube celebrity with millions – millions – of followers.

Kevin Bourke: Some of these young kids are millionaires because of the audience that they’ve built on this new medium. It’s becoming the new mainstream and that’s where this new era of content creator is now striving for, because that’s where the audience is. They’re skipping over the traditional channels and going directly to their audience and capitalizing on it. The old school models are saying, “What’s going on here? What’s happening? We need to figure this out. How do we get a piece of this?” and I don’t think they have the answers yet.

Mike Horton: They think they’ve got the answers because, what, a couple of months ago they launched YouTube Red and that’s pretty much Netflix for $10 a month for original programming on YouTube. That might end up involving some of their millionaire kids who are doing fashion videos, I don’t know, but right now there are some decent shows. That’s a subscription model, $10 a month.

Kevin Bourke: It’s a subscription model and if you paid attention to some of the characters on some of these new programs, they’re all individual YouTubers that have built a name for themselves, and now they’ve all come together and they’re creating highly produced content in the form of these new shows on YouTube Red.

Mike Horton: Yes, if you go to YouTube Red and scroll down, it’s originals from creators that you love.

Kevin Bourke: Yes, exactly. I was watching a trailer of one of them and I was like, “I know that guy, I know that guy, I know that guy,” and two years ago or a year ago these people were nobodies and suddenly, like I said before, it’s this new mainstream. It’s amazing. I’m fascinated with this whole thing.

Mike Horton: Yes, it’s interesting.

Larry Jordan: One of the challenges is trying to figure out how we’re going to finance all this gear. You’re working with companies that are trying to sell to media people. How are they getting money? What’s getting their attention? Is it all subscription based or what?

Kevin Bourke: On the software side, yes, I’m seeing a lot of software moving to a subscription based model. I think people still are spending money on the capture gear. Camera companies, I think, are still making the money and we’re going to see a lot of very cool things and I’m excited for this NAB. I think we’re going to see a lot of great things from the camera companies. Blackmagic just announced that they’re finally shipping the Micro Cinema camera. I think these guys are making the money and, speaking of trends, I think 360 video and VR, this is the next wave of what’s going to be hot in terms of technologies at NAB.

Kevin Bourke: Last year drones were really hot and everyone was talking 4K. I think this year everyone’s talking and very excited about VR and 360. I think we’re going to see a lot of drone activity but I think the hype is dying off a little bit. It’s just becoming a little too saturated and the regulations are kind of putting a damper on things. It’s become a very saturated market very quickly and it’s getting harder to make money with that, so I think that hype is going to start dying down a little bit.

Larry Jordan: We’re going to be talking in the third segment of this show with Rick Barrett, who is with MAXON, specifically about 360 video and VR, so we’re going to follow up with him on that. I want to come back to content creators, people who are creating content. Not everybody can be a YouTube star and we’re seeing that most people don’t want to pay for online content and other distribution outlets have had budgets fall. Where’s the money going to be? How do we finance our content creation habit?

Kevin Bourke: That’s the big question.

Larry Jordan: Well, come up with the answer because there are a lot of people want to know what it is.

Mike Horton: Come on, Kevin, that’s why you’re on.

Kevin Bourke: Yes, well, if I came up with the answer to that, then we’ll be having a big party because that’s the tough question right now. Absolutely.

Larry Jordan: How does social media affect all this?

Kevin Bourke: Social media plays a huge role in terms of vendors and companies reaching their audiences directly. I think social media has directly turned the old advertising models upside down and, again, I think the tricky part is the younger companies are very comfortable with it. They dive into social media, they engage directly with their end users, they build community, and they build value around those communities, and I think some of the older school companies see this going on, and they don’t quite understand it and they know they have to do it but they don’t know how to, and so they wade into it and it doesn’t quite feel right. It’s a little disingenuous or they just don’t quite get it so they have a hard time making social media effective for them.

Kevin Bourke: Meanwhile, like I said, some of these newcomers to the marketplace have grown up with social media, they know how to engage and they know where to engage and it’s not just Twitter, it’s not just Facebook. In fact, it’s moved on. Snapchat is becoming huge in its video. Vine. Instagram continues to take off as a great way to reach your audiences. We live and die in the visual imagery business, and Instagram is photos and video, and Snapchat is video and it’s becoming the next way to connect with your customers. Again, some of the older generation don’t get it, don’t quite understand it and they’re trying to figure it out, but it’s a challenge.

Mike Horton: You’re speaking to me, because I’m still using Twitter and Facebook a lot for spamming everybody on the Supermeet, and my local user groups and everything like that, but millennials don’t necessarily use Twitter and Facebook any more, they’ve gone over to Instagram, Snapchat and Vine and texting, and how that works marketing wise I have no idea. But that’s what they use and somebody of my generation can’t quite figure that out. When you’re a one man band and you’ve got to do that. Two years ago, it was all Facebook and Twitter. It’s not Facebook and Twitter for the younger generation any more.

Kevin Bourke: Right. Oh, absolutely.

Larry Jordan: Kevin, what can we except from NAB? What trends are you looking at?

Kevin Bourke: Like I said, I think a big one’s going to be VR and 360. I think the camera with 4K, 8K and HDR are going to be a big topic of conversation. The North Hall has a virtual reality pavilion and I think we’re going to see a lot of traffic around there as well. We’re going to see 360 rigs, we’re going to see a lot of vendors creating that virtual or augmented reality experiences and try to show people how they can create immersive experiences for their audiences. I think that’s going to be a really interesting piece of the show this year.

Larry Jordan: What should media professionals do to decide whether to buy into a new trend or not? How do we decide where to jump in?

Mike Horton: Yes, a lot of people got burned on 3D.

Kevin Bourke: Well, yes, a lot of people did because it was clearly a trend. But you know what’s interesting about that trend is a lot of the people from 3D, the stereoscopic experts, they’re the ones who have evolved into VR and 360. If you think about it, the technology for VR and 360 is rooted in 3D, so it wasn’t so much that died away, it’s evolved because it’s rooted in 3D technologies.

Kevin Bourke: But there are visionaries out there who see where things are going and they drive with new technologies, new softwares, new experiences for their audiences and you have to keep a careful watch on how it’s resonating. You mentioned 3D, it never resonated with audiences.

Mike Horton: The same with Google Glass. There’s sociology involved here. There’s the human condition and you take the chance, you take the risk, but you’ve got to look at the human condition because they’re not going to wear those goofy glasses and the same thing possibly with VR, I don’t know.

Larry Jordan: Kevin, for people who are interested in keeping track of what you’re doing, where can they go on the web?

Kevin Bourke: They can follow me at bourkepr.com or on Twitter, @BourkePR.

Larry Jordan: That’s bourkepr.com and Kevin Bourke is the founder, the President and the chief bottle washer of Bourke PR. Kevin, thanks for joining us today.

Mike Horton: And Kevin always helps us with the Supermeet too, thanks Kevin.

Kevin Bourke: Absolutely, and looking forward to seeing you guys down in Vegas.

Mike Horton: Yes, me too.

Larry Jordan: Oh, it’ll be fun. Take care.

Kevin Bourke: All right, take care, guys.

Larry Jordan: Bye bye.

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Larry Jordan: James Mathers is a veteran cinematographer and founder of the non-profit educational cooperative The Digital Cinema Society. It’s always a delight having James on the show. Hello, welcome back.

James Mathers: Thank you, Larry, thanks for having me.

Larry Jordan: James, as we get ready for NAB, we’re taking a look at the current status of our industry, so wearing your Digital Cinema Society hat, how would you describe what you’re seeing today?

James Mathers: NAB’s always a big deal for our group. We go up there and we shoot interviews to try to show what’s new at NAB to the people that can’t make it, as I know you do, and what I’m sensing in the industry right now is a lot of fear. There’s fear the producers have, that they’re not able to keep up with the technology, that their material’s going to be obsolete.

James Mathers: There’s fear from equipment owners and facility owner/operators like myself all the way up to large rental facilities that they’re not going to be able to amortize their investment in this new gear before the next big thing that the producers demand is going to come along

James Mathers: And the manufacturers fear that they’re not going to be perceived as having the latest and greatest, the next cutting edge technology, so they’re always trying to offer something new, something better and at the same time there’s a lot of price pressure, so they have to make it cheaper.

James Mathers: There’s just a lot of fear going around and it makes people reticent to invest in new equipment, reticent to move ahead.

Larry Jordan: That ties in exactly with what I’m seeing – not only is there fear, but everybody is sort of sitting back and waiting, which means that budgets are collapsing and we’re all chasing our tail, afraid of what’s going to happen. Is that a true summary?

James Mathers: I think it might be. I hope not because that’s the surest way to freeze a whole economy, freeze the economy of our industry. We will keep marching ahead, technology keeps improving and we want to utilize it, we want to utilize the best tools, so I hope that these kind of fears ease and that people can move forward in a rational way. Would you like to hear my analysis of how this got started?

Larry Jordan: I would love to hear your analysis of how this got started.

James Mathers: I think there’s one word, it’s a color, it’s a company – RED – started this and, don’t get me wrong, I give them a heck of a lot of credit for coming up with the systems that they did and really turning the industry on its ear. That did start a race in at least camera technology, which is what I follow the most as both a cinematographer and for the Digital Cinema Society. But RED was able to persuade these really top end filmmakers like Steven Soderbergh and Peter Jackson and Ridley Scott and David Fincher to use their gear on some major motion pictures, which started winning Oscars and other awards for the cinematography and best picture and that really elevated the prestige of their cameras.

James Mathers: Meanwhile, they had a lot of aspiring filmmakers and they were able to convey the idea, I think, to these people that they could, for a fairly small investment, have the same tools that these top filmmakers were having, so suddenly you had aspiring filmmakers – and everybody’s an aspiring filmmaker – investing in these cameras. You had all the camera crew and camera assistants buying a camera so they could move up and you had actors and producers, I say everybody and their dentist suddenly owned a RED camera.

James Mathers: It went from an industry where maybe there were several thousand cinema cameras in the world to suddenly there are several tens of thousands of cinema cameras almost overnight in the period from, say, 2007 to 2009. Since so many people had them, that started to devalue the rental that you could get for them and, as I said, a lot of aspiring cinematographers would throw in the camera if they could get hired to shoot a movie.

James Mathers: Then RED got out-REDed by Blackmagic Design, who came out with an even less expensive, more capable camera and RED kept coming up with more models and the other camera manufacturers, the large multinational companies like Sony, Panasonic and Canon, who were making these high end digital cinema cameras came at it from the DSLR side and that was a whole other part of the revolution.

James Mathers: So you had all these people buying cameras and they didn’t always have everything they needed for a proper package, but they had a RED package that they were able to make available. I once wrote an article on how I spent $100,000 on a $17,500 camera. That’s because of the lenses and all the support gear you need to really make a professional package. These are the people that have what they started with using still camera lenses but they were able to make some form of a movie.

James Mathers: A lot of these movies were made and then there’s a glut of indie and low budget movies, so that meant that the budgets started coming down for what people could expect to get for their indie movie and a lot of them never saw the light of day. Sure, they’re maybe on the internet and they might be able to be seen by millions of people, but if they don’t get proper promotional release by one of the major studios with all the advertising and everything, nobody’s ever going to know about it, nobody’s ever going to see these movies.

James Mathers: It’s sort of a whole cycle of devaluation and there are a lot of… out there and a lot of them sit in closets. Yes, there’s been a democratization where people can make a movie more easily – now you can make a movie with your iPhone – but it doesn’t mean that they’re going to be properly distributed and I think that that has contributed to the devaluation of equipment and then somehow those producers get the idea that if they’re not paying a lot for the equipment, then they shouldn’t pay a lot… so it has become a very difficult way to make a living, to work on indie movies like I used to for many years.

Larry Jordan: This gets to be so depressing I don’t want to think about it, because budgets collapse to the floor and it’s the old argument that we had with DSLR cameras – just because you own a camera doesn’t mean you know how to take a photograph – that’s what snapshots are all about – and it seems that the video industry’s been trapped in this for the last several years, where gear keeps getting cheaper and producers discount the expertise of the operator and feel that the operator’s fee should go down as well. How do we fight this? It’s easy to say it’s really depressing, because it is, but how do we fight it? How do we get past it?

James Mathers: I’m not sure what the answer is, and I hate to just bitch and moan, as I have been doing. It’s not to say that I have anything against better camera technology. I think we should still keep going and get the best tools that are available at our disposal. Like I said, filmmakers will use just about any tool they can get their hands on to make a movie, even an iPhone. But if they can get better and better quality, why not? That’s the good side of it, that all these tools are coming down in price and the ability to produce higher quality images is getting to be more and more accessible.

James Mathers: It doesn’t mean that you’re a master craftsman because you own a camera, but it does at least allow you to have that ability, say 4K. 4K’s something that’s a hot topic. It was last year, anyway. This year I think it’s going to be HDR, but that’s another question. But 4K, it’s great. You can reframe, you can stabilize and then, of course, there’s the big argument, archival value, and it is better. It’s better to capture at the highest level you can possibly afford because the quality’s going to keep getting better and if you want to have your product accessible in years from now, then you’d better be in the best format you can.

James Mathers: I’m paraphrasing a funny comment that I saw on CML recently – the best way to maintain your archival value is to make something that people want to watch in the future, and that’s really it. The content is king and these are all just tools to do the best you can.

Larry Jordan: There’s a philosophical question, and I also want to get your take on what’s happening at NAB, but philosophically is there much more that we can do with image quality? Once image quality equals human sight, then really there’s no advantage to an 8K or 16 or 32 or 2,000,000K, because our eyes can’t perceive the difference. Are we going to top out soon with what image quality consists of?

James Mathers: You do raise some good points. There’s a point of diminishing returns as we keep increasing resolution. I should have mentioned another big advantage of shooting at higher resolutions, is that whenever you down res, you’re always going to get a better image. If you start with 4K or 6K, even though you’re only delivering in HD, you’re going to get a better quality product.

James Mathers: But then it’s limited by the size of the screen. If you have a 4K monitor display and you get back more than a few feet, you’re not really able to tell the difference between 4K and HD. So unless the screens get bigger – and they can’t really fit into a house unless we start making larger and larger rooms – there’s really no reason to go much beyond 4K for display. Maybe we could go 8K and more for production to take advantage of some of the things I said before, but I don’t think that there’s any need to really go for display much beyond 4K in the foreseeable future.

Larry Jordan: What are you looking at for NAB?

James Mathers: I’m looking at HDR, and that’s what I was going to mention next. I think that research has shown that you can show somebody an HD image next to a 4K image, and you can turn off the 4K, and butterfly them and people really can’t tell the difference, like I said, more than a few feet back. However, you butterfly an image of 4K, and then one that’s 4K with HDR, and you turn the HDR off and people say, “Hey, what happened? Why did the picture go so squirly?” It’s because they can really see and value the image improvement that you get with HDR.

James Mathers: Now, HDR is mostly a post production effect but you have to have a good camera, you have to have a camera with a lot of dynamic range and that has the ability to capture that kind of an image that makes it worthwhile to show in HDR, but all the top end cameras are there. They’re talking 15 stops of dynamic range these days, which is quite a bit.

Larry Jordan: Where can people go on the web to learn more about the Society?

James Mathers: If they’d like to learn more, they can go to www.digitalcinemasociety.org. That’s our homepage.

Larry Jordan: And for people who feel that you yourself need more projects to keep you busy, where can they go on the web to learn about you?

James Mathers: Well, the name of my business is Migrant Film Workers, a little takeoff of the migrant farm workers, and they can reach that at migrantfilmworkers.com.

Larry Jordan: And James Mathers is the founder of the Digital Cinema Society and a cinematographer himself. James, thanks for joining us today. This has been fun.

James Mathers: Thank you, Larry, it’s always a great time with you. Take care.

Larry Jordan: Welcome to Tech Talk.

Larry Jordan: Once you’ve created a compression setting, well, the best way to phrase this is compressing is about as exciting as watching paint dry. I think paint probably is more fun. Once you’ve figured out what your settings are, you don’t want to have to do this movie after movie after movie. Life is too short. It’s what popcorn was invented for. You want to do something meaningful with your life, so I want to automate the process so that I don’t have to open Compressor and create all these different settings each time. That’s where droplets come in.

Larry Jordan: Just as we can automate inside Adobe Media Encoder with a watch folder, we can automate inside Compressor with a droplet. Here’s how this works. Find the setting that you like. In this case, I’m going to pretend that this is my favorite setting for compressing files for the website. Hold the control button or right mouse click on the file and say ‘Save as droplet’. Now I’m going to say drop here to compress for website. We’ll save this to the desktop and click save.

Larry Jordan: There on my desktop is this droplet. Drop here to compress for website. I don’t even have to start Compressor. With watch folders, AME needs to be running. With droplets, Compressor does not. Simply grab the files that you want to compress – here I’ve grabbed a bunch of them – drag the entire stack on top of the droplet and the droplet says, ‘I’m about to compress all of these files and store them in the default location of compressed files’. When I click ‘OK’, it goes off in the background and happily chugs away compressing all these files without me having to start Compressor or change a setting.

Larry Jordan: In the beginning, when I was putting these webinars together, I spent a lot of time trying to figure out the best compression settings for streaming and for downloading, but I’ve nailed those, I’m happy with where they are. I don’t want to have to reset these each time, so I’ve created a droplet. Just drop the file onto the droplet, compress it and it’s done. And, in fact, if you’ve got a job action associated with the droplet, it can compress it and transfer it to YouTube or Facebook without you even being at the computer. Very, very cool.

Larry Jordan: Rick Barrett is the VP of Operations for MAXON, the Americas, and has been helping designers discover and take advantage of Cinema 4D for over 15 years. He’s a frequent contributor to the MAXON Cineversity, which is a website that MAXON runs, and Rick has developed plug-ins for Cinema 4D, including CV VR Cam, CV ArtSmart and CV Smart Export, none of which I understand. Hi, Rick, welcome.

Mike Horton: That was my line.

Rick Barrett: Thanks for having me.

Larry Jordan: So help me understand, what does a VP of Operations do?

Rick Barrett: I manage the technical side of MAXON, basically, the tech support department where we offer really great free tech support, the IT side of it and sort of help to find the general strategy. I do a lot of work with the Cineversity site, helping users with new workflows and training and some plug-ins.

Larry Jordan: Which gets me to the fact that you wear a software hat and James Mathers, who we just heard from, wears a hardware hat and Kevin is sort of looking across all of the different industry segments that are out there. How would you describe the state of the software industry now, from your perspective which is art and media?

Rick Barrett: Well, I think it’s interesting. People are consuming media in different ways than ever before and the workflows, I think, have gotten easier and easier. The technical requirements have fragmented so that it can be as simple as using an iPhone or as complex as 4K and 8K renders with four graphics cards in a computer and it gets more and more complex on the high end.

Larry Jordan: But are you seeing that the high end is expanding or is the low end expanding and not migrating up? I’m sensing that more and more people are doing less and less expensive work, but the budgets are drying up which is really crushing the high end.

Rick Barrett: I think that there is a challenge for the people in the middle to move up to the high end and definitely the low end is expanding more and more as the workflows get easier and there’s less and less money and YouTube distribution and things like that.

Larry Jordan: One of the challenges that a lot of software developers have is the whole concept of free updates in perpetuity, which the App Store started, that you buy it once but then you get upgrades forever without having to pay for them. That has to change the development cycle in terms of how you find funding, doesn’t it?

Rick Barrett: I think that’s why a lot of software is starting to move towards a subscription type model, because that eliminates that problem. But we’ve been very committed to perpetual licensing at MAXON, so it’s a problem we continue to face but one that we attack with as much vigor as we can.

Larry Jordan: Without being able to share secrets, because I can ask but you won’t answer, but it means that you’re always having to look for new customers because the revenue comes from the people that buy it the first time. The revenue doesn’t come from ongoing customers, does it?

Rick Barrett: Well, we have annual upgrades where we add features to the software and we do get recurring revenue from the annual upgrades and our service agreements, which include the annual upgrades. But, yes, you’re always looking for new customers. I think any software company is, regardless of whether it’s perpetual or subscription.

Larry Jordan: With the constant change in technology, and three or four years ago we were looking at 3D and then we were looking at 4K and now we’re looking at HDR and VR, which we’ll talk more about in a minute, it gets terrifying for media creators and filmmakers to decide what technology to buy into. How do they decide where to invest dollars, especially when dollars are getting harder and harder to find?

Rick Barrett: It is difficult. The fantastic thing about VR from the 3D software perspective is that there’s really not an additional investment once you invest into 3D software. It’s not like on the video side with cameras, where you have to make a high end investment in a camera system for VR. With Cinema 4D, there’s no additional cost once you have the software to explore VR.

Larry Jordan: Well, help me understand the difference because I’m hearing terms like 360 video and VR and augmented reality. How would you define the differences between these?

Mike Horton: Yes, define those, will you?

Rick Barrett: VR can take two forms, basically. You’ve got VR video, which is pre-rendered, it’s an experience that can be delivered on YouTube or Facebook and it’s a workflow that artists are familiar with. You have to render in a special format but then you can edit and composite pretty much in the same that you do now. Then you have interactive VR, which takes things to a game development type of a workflow.

Larry Jordan: Where the situation changes based upon gameplay?

Rick Barrett: Well, it’s more programming involved.

Mike Horton: It’s more CGI.

Rick Barrett: Well, you’d have to export your assets into a game engine, then the game engine does the rendering, so it’s just a different workflow than what most of our artists are really familiar with right now. But the nice thing about pre-rendered VR is that it’s a workflow that people really can understand now and it’s easy to distribute on YouTube or Facebook.

Larry Jordan: Does this imply that all VR is 3D?

Rick Barrett: Well, I would say all VR is 3D, but 360 video can be either monoscopic or stereoscopic, and so I would say that to be a VR video it would have to be a stereoscopic video.

Larry Jordan: So 360 video could be captured by a camera, you just put it out in the middle of a crowd somewhere and you’re capturing the video. VR implies that it’s being drawn, that it’s artificial, that it’s not captured with a camera?

Rick Barrett: No, it could still be captured with a camera but it would have to be captured in stereo, which is actually very tricky to do with the camera systems that are available today.

Larry Jordan: Then how do you see the difference between stereoscopic 3D and VR?

Rick Barrett: There’s not necessarily a difference. They marry each other. The interesting thing is that I think that our clients are going to be asked more and more to composite motion graphics on top of VR video, to actually build VFX, set extensions, matt painting in VR video. I don’t think that it’s an either/or but it’s an and.

Mike Horton: This might be too simplistic, but the Oculus Rift, which is always tethered, that’s more of an immersive VR experience than the Google Cardboard, which is a put your iPhone in the Cardboard and do the 360 thing.

Rick Barrett: Well, the big difference between the Cardboard, which is an experience that basically anyone can have by putting their phone in a $10, $15 piece of Cardboard or one they got free, and the Oculus Rift is positional tracking. With Cardboard and the Gear VR, you have rotational tracking – you can move your head around – but once you move to the Rift or the Vive, it can actually track where you are in space, so you can actually look around the side of something rather than just looking around from a single point.

Larry Jordan: In other words, you can move around an object with the Rift and with Cardboard you just simply pan from one side to the other. Is that what I’m hearing?

Rick Barrett: Basically, yes.

Mike Horton: And down and up.

Larry Jordan: Well, all of these would be considered disruptive technologies, new ways of creating media that didn’t exist a couple of years ago, and we’ve talked about virtual reality and 360 video and augmented reality. Are we seeing other disruptive technologies? And that’s a lead into talking about what we can expect at NAB.

Rick Barrett: I think that, as far as 3D is concerned, VR and AR are the primary disruptive technologies I see right now. Certainly on video, you’ve got things like HDR and 4K and 8K, things like that, but as far as 3D is concerned, VR and AR change the workflow quite a bit and especially depending on whether you go with the interactive form or the video form of VR.

Larry Jordan: Now, why does it change the workflow?

Rick Barrett: There are different rules and the interesting thing about VR is that we’re still writing the rules. That’s what’s really fun about it, is that it’s not moving into something, a workflow that we’re already familiar with, but it’s a workflow where every day something’s changing. I’ve always been someone who loves to learn and so the great thing about this technology is every day there’s something new to learn about VR; and there’s always something new to teach too to help people understand the workflow, so that’s what’s been really fun about our initiatives on Cineversity with VR.

Larry Jordan: One of the things that I want to get a sense of is where is VR working? There are lots of people who are saying, “We’re doing VR for this, we’re doing VR for that,” but what are some of the success stories in terms of genres where VR works? And the other is where can 360 video work? You had some examples, especially in news, that I wasn’t expecting, so tackle 360 video first.

Rick Barrett: Ok. Well, I know that in news especially, there’s a company called Ryot that’s developing a lot of news stories. ABC news just did a piece on Nepal, putting you basically on the ground in Nepal post-earthquake. It’s a new kind of journalism where you actually can feel what it’s like to be in a conflict zone or post-disaster and in many cases it can drive people to action, to donate or to support the cause, whatever that might be, and also it just immerses you more in the news story itself, so those are interesting experiences.

Mike Horton: Brain Farm is now way into VR and they’re doing a lot of interesting action sport videos.

Rick Barrett: Right. Fox has been streaming lots of things. I watched part of the Big Easter March Madness competition, it was broadcast in VR.

Mike Horton: Oh, really?

Rick Barrett: Yes, through NextVR.

Mike Horton: Where?

Rick Barrett: On the Gear VR, through the NextVR app.

Larry Jordan: How do you do sports in VR?

Mike Horton: Yes, where do they put the camera?

Larry Jordan: I’m having a hard time getting my brain wrapped around this, so try that one more time.

Rick Barrett: In that case, and this is where it’s interesting, we haven’t seen the motion graphics built into these types of things yet, but I think that’s what’s coming next, to bring Cinema 4D into it. But for sports and VR, they’ve got several 360 cameras in various places on the court, in the case of basketball, and you can put yourself in that position. I think what’ll be even more interesting for sports is, I’m a big NASCAR fan and already with NASCAR you can watch the cars, it’s a video game type of playback where you can follow whichever car you want.

Rick Barrett: With VR, you could actually put people inside each of the cars so that they can be in the driver’s seat, basically, whether it be with a 360 camera or… real time rendering.

Mike Horton: …see the clutch and the pedal. Oh my gosh.

Larry Jordan: So where does MAXON fit in with all of this? What piece of the puzzle do you solve?

Rick Barrett: It’s adding motion graphics onto your sports VR or your news piece. It’s adding visual effects, matte painting and set extensions into VR. It’s really tricky to shoot VR because the camera sees everything, so the ability to do sex extensions and things is going to be really important. Things like scientific and medical, being able to illustrate things that are happening inside the body and actually put people there.

Rick Barrett: That’s what I think’s really fun and interesting, are the opportunities for education. To have kids be able to be transported into these places, it’s a virtual field trip every day. It’s like the magic school bus all over again. My daughter has toured the Palace of Versailles virtually through the Google Cardboard. Just earlier today, I was exploring the Royal Academy of Art’s exhibition of Ai Weiwei and they actually have a virtual experience where you can experience that without travelling to London.

Mike Horton: What about stories? Have you ever seen anyone attempt or do a story that you’ve said, “This works”?

Rick Barrett: There are some. Without listing specific examples, I think that where we’re at right now with that is short form. I think that first of all to look at someone putting a headset on for two hours is…

Mike Horton: Yes, it isn’t going to happen.

Rick Barrett: But five minutes is the perfect length. It’s a length that a director can think about how the specific challenges of VR can be dealt with.

Mike Horton: Speaking of that, how do you edit this stuff?

Rick Barrett: With VR video, it’s pretty much a traditional editing process. There are tools and utilities where you can put a headset on and be inside.

Mike Horton: Yes, I know with Tim Dashwood’s plug-in, you can put the headset on and meddle and those are the two things, but I guess you have to preview it every once in a while, take the headset off, put it on, take it off. I don’t know. It’s weird.

Rick Barrett: It’s a little bit of both, yes.

Larry Jordan: How about advertising and brand management? Do they have a role to play in VR?

Rick Barrett: Absolutely. I think there’s going to be a lot of demand for brands to use VR especially this year, with VR being so hot. You attach the VR tag to anything and it instantly becomes a top news item. I think that brands are going to want VR content just to be a part of that craze, whether it’s valuable or not, but I think it is valuable because it provides an opportunity for a brand to get people to immerse themselves in that brand, distraction free, for two to five minutes perhaps. Even if you’re watching a commercial, you’re distracted but when you’re inside a VR headset, that’s your world.

Mike Horton: You are immersed.

Rick Barrett: Right, and because this is a new thing and there’s not a ton of content out there yet, people will explore content even if it’s blatantly branded just for the sake of being able to try out a new VR experience.

Mike Horton: Actually, there is a ton of content out there on YouTube VR and it’s all crap. Honest to God, I haven’t seen anything. I know you said there are a couple of things out there that are really good, but I haven’t found them yet.

Rick Barrett: There are some good things and there’s more on the Gear VR side of things, but it’s definitely a challenge with VR.

Mike Horton: Because you’ve got to download these plug-ins like Verse and New York Times and things like that to really enjoy some of the stuff that they’re doing, and I did, I downloaded Verse and watched some of the stuff that they’re doing and the interesting stuff is news.

Rick Barrett: It is definitely a challenge to do this right…

Larry Jordan: And thinking about doing it right, Rick, where can people go to learn about the products that MAXON has available?

Rick Barrett: Our website’s maxon.net and you can also visit cineversity.com/learn/vr for more information on our VR efforts.

Larry Jordan: And Rick Barrett is the VP of Operations for MAXON and if you haven’t had a chance to see MAXON’s booth at NAB, it’s all artists all the time. If you want to see what can be done with virtual reality or just 4D work – that’s 3D over time – check out MAXON’s booth at NAB. Rick, thanks for joining us today, it’s been wonderful having you visit.

Rick Barrett: Thanks for having me. Take care.

Mike Horton: Thanks.

Larry Jordan: It’s time for a Buzz Flashback. Five years ago today…

Rick Clarkson (archive): What Signiant does is we have a protocol that was designed and built here at Signiant and what it will do is essentially take away or account for some of the inefficiencies of FTP. We have a custom protocol that will allow you to take advantage of that entire…

Larry Jordan: This was a Buzz Flashback.

Larry Jordan: Welcome back. You know, Mike, I was just thinking, you’ve had a chance to hear from three different perspectives, so now that you have a much better understanding, what’s your view of the industry?

Mike Horton: I don’t know, Larry. I’m confused. Has anything changed since an hour ago?

Larry Jordan: Well, we’ve got consensus that the world’s confusing.

Mike Horton: It is, and it’s getting tougher for the media professional. But then again, is it tougher now than it was, say, five years ago? Because everything changes all the time. It’s changed since the 1920s and ‘30s and ‘40s.

Larry Jordan: Yes, but I think the big difference now is that budgets are more squeezed than they have been and the gear’s still costs money.

Mike Horton: So what do you do to adapt? You adapt. You somehow adapt, there are people out there adapting.

Larry Jordan: Can’t rob a bank?

Mike Horton: Something like that. I don’t know exactly what you do to adapt but people are adapting and people will adapt so in that case the glass is half full.

Larry Jordan: One of the things we’re going to do next week is we’ve got a special show on The Buzz. We’re going to take a look back at the last year, but then we’re going to look ahead at NAB 2016 and we’ve got a special line-up of guests, people we haven’t had on the show for a long time. We’re going to start with Steve Martin, the trainer.

Mike Horton: Yes, we haven’t had him forever.

Larry Jordan: In fact, Steve founded The Buzz more than 15 years ago; and Philip Hodgetts, probably the leading technology futurist; and then Michael Kammes and Cirina Catania, we’ll have Ned Soltz and Randi Altman all joining us and several surprise guests, giving us a chance to take a look at not only where we are now, but a preview of what we can expect from NAB coming up in less than a month.

Mike Horton: We should film it in VR. We should film this whole thing in VR. Digital Production Buzz in VR. It’d be awesome. The only podcast ever in VR.

Larry Jordan: It would be something, and thinking of something I thank our guests for tonight – Kevin Bourke, the principal…

Mike Horton: We’ll put it in the cloud.

Larry Jordan: …of Bourke PR; James Mathers, the founder of the Digital Cinema Society, and Rick Barrett, the VP of Operations at MAXON.

Larry Jordan: There’s a lot of history in our industry and it’s all posted to our website, at digitalproductionbuzz.com – thousands of interviews all online and all available today. Be sure to sign up for our free weekly show newsletter that comes out every Friday.

Larry Jordan: Talk with us on Twitter, @DPBuZZ, and Facebook at digitalproductionbuzz.com. Mike is going to be opening our own Instagram/Snapchat/Vine channel…

Mike Horton: That’s right, I’ll get it all done by next Thursday.

Larry Jordan: You can count on it.

Mike Horton: In VR.

Larry Jordan: Our theme music is composed by Nathan Doogie Turner with additional music provided by smartsound.com. Text transcripts are provided by Take 1 Transcription – visit take1.tv to learn how they can help you.

Mike Horton: You know what we could do? We could do it in 3D and VR.

Larry Jordan: Ignore the guy on the other side of the table.

Mike Horton: We could bring the excitement of 3D back, Larry.

Larry Jordan: Our Supervising Producer is Cirina Catania; Show Producer Debbie Price. Production team led by Brianna Murphy and includes Ed Golya, Keegan Guy and James Miller. On behalf of the voice, Mike Horton, my name’s Larry Jordan and thanks watching.

Mike Horton: Goodbye.

Announcer #1: The Digital Production Buzz was brought to you by Other World Computing, providing quality hardware solutions and extensive technical support to the worldwide computer industry since 1988; and by imagineproducts.com, specializing in workflow applications for over 25 years.

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BuZZ Flashback

March 24, 2011


Rick Clarkson described Signiant’s new service providing high-speed file transfers for media companies.