By Jarred Cinman. Here’s a brief run-down of some of the biggest trends emerging in the film space and why we need to care.
There’s never been a busier time for the creation of content, the “moving picture” kind of content in particular. Major studios like Amazon and Netflix have booked out stages at Pinewood Studios and others for years to come; and new studios are being built daily. Around the world, ad agencies and content houses are setting up their own studio spaces, while devices like your humble smartphone are becoming full-blown movie cameras, complete with post-production and special effects software.
That’s just one part of the story, however. The very nature of content is being revolutionised in a number of important ways and those of us who make video content — the cool kids call them “films” — need to pay close attention. Here are just three important areas that are about to upend everything we know and experience in content creation.
Virtual sets (& virtual actors)
One of the biggest challenges in shooting imaginative, expansive content is the cost of shooting on location. If you want your ad taking place in New York, you have to pack up your gear, your actors and your creatives and trundle off to New York to shoot your ad. This is a hellishly expensive exercise, for obvious reasons.
The alternative, thus far, has been to shoot in a green screen studio. We’ve all seen those “making of” documentaries where actors mill around a big empty room with green walls pretending to be on Mars (or in New York), only to have the green bits keyed out and replaced with computer-generated scenery. The problem here is that it’s hard and expensive to do this well. Lighting is a nightmare and it’s really hard for actors and directors to operate in a blank studio and imagine themselves on location.
Thanks to the magic of virtual sets, a next generation of studios is emerging. Huge high-definition LED screens are erected in a circle around a stage along with an LED roof, and, using software such as Epic Games Unreal Engine 5, a virtual location is rendered and projected on these screens. Actors then stand on the stage in front and below these screens, and can be lit and directed as part of a location.
WPP’s Hogarth is building one of these stages in South Africa in 2023, and you can expect to see commercial directors making full creative use of the facility.
Alongside these virtual sets is the arrival of virtual actors: real-time 3D renders of people and other characters that can appear alongside (or instead of) humans. The technology here is getting so good that it’s becoming impossible to tell the difference between what is real and what isn’t. Goodbye casting woes and expensive make-up and hello actors in whatever shape, form and setting you want.
Dynamic creative optimisation & similar
If creating the content is about to change, so is the way it’s consumed. Until now, most video content has been linear and static — you make the video, stick it on YouTube or TV, and viewers press play and settle back with their popcorn.
Dynamic content optimisation (DCO) is a family of technologies that instead stores a library of scenes or other modular elements and can assemble videos from them on the fly. This can be as simple as a “choose your own adventure” type experience where you, as a viewer, can make choices that influence the story, or the film can be personalised based on data known about you. Imagine the hero’s car switching out to a brand you love, or the actor and dialogue changing appearance and language.
- Example: Respeecher video
Respeecher is one technology that maps an actor’s face and allows dubbed language to influence the movement of their lips, so that the film actually looks like it was shot in another language. This will become commonplace and, apart from changing language, could change the dialogue entirely to suit individual data points.
3D video, VR, AR & co
Everyone is tired of talking about the “metaverse”. Meta’s attempts to create it have thus far been uninspiring, to say the least. Yet we need to be careful not to judge where the technology will be in future by where it is today.
What’s clear is that a vast number of technologies are converging on the idea of 3D video. Whether this is used as a 3D video that you can view from different angles or environments (like the example above) or an actual environment you can enter into or overlay on your real world, it’s certain that we won’t just be seeing flat video content in the future.
In the VR space (sometimes called interchangeably “the metaverse”), you pop on a set of VR glasses and are entirely immersed in a 3D world. Avatars of you and your friends float around a virtual world and participate in games and other social activities.
- Example: Marvel’s Iron Man VR
This, for now, is the realm of gaming and arb socialising with low resolution versions of your friends. But watch this space: once the technology is cheap enough, we really will move from “films” to “worlds” — narratively rich experiences in which you will be in the action, rather than just watching it.
Even more interesting is the augmented reality (AR) space in which 3D models are overlaid on the real world and can interact with physical objects.
We’ve all seen a version of this by looking ‘through’ our phone in games such as Pokémon but that’s only the beginning. With dedicated hardware such as Snap’s AR Lens (basically a pair of glasses with an embedded computer), the possibilities open up and it’s easy to imagine every environment, from your home to schools to museums to retail stores, transforming into enhanced environments.
Many of the big technical challenges have been conquered already and what remains is a widely adopted, cheap wearable that allows creators and viewers to dive in. While there may be big question marks hanging over the adoption and usefulness of VR, AR is a safe bet. Even Apple is widely rumoured to be launching an AR headset in 2023 which will make this mainstream.
So, what does that mean for brands & content creators?
The implications for all of us are profound and will change how we think about content creation. For starters:
- What locations and characters can you include in your next ad or content piece using virtual sets and actors that were too expensive or impractical before?
- How can you devise content that is modular so that a viewer’s preferences, psychographics or demographics can influence what they are seeing in exciting and creative ways? What does this change in your brief to your production company?
- If you are building ‘worlds’ and not ‘films’, what does that do to how you write stories and what you ask viewers to engage with in those virtual worlds? How can you add elements into their worlds that they can interact with? How will you film and create those elements and what platform will you offer them to users in?
This stuff is all new and thus there are still a lot of ways to be first — and to do it badly. There’s no doubt, though, that within five years this article will seem dated and boring, so the time to start is now.