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In this keynote, James Milward, winner of the first Prime Time Emmy® awarded to a VR project, describes the current state of Virtual and Mixed Reality, how it’s currently being used in entertainment and the potential of the platform in the near future. Will Virtual and Augmented Reality become a compelling and dominant platform or burst and fade away? What are the revenue streams and viability? What makes VR and AR production possible? What will it take for these platforms and content formats to be accessible and engaged in by audiences? Who will the key players be in both content and platform moving forward?
VR audiences on virtual reality distribution platforms like YouTube 360 and Facebook 360 are transported, unconstrained by the physicality of the real world. New, cutting-edge technology in cameras and VR content dissemination are allowing a powerful method of story-telling to reach more fans. In this video, the president of Secret Location, James Miller, explains how his content studio for emerging platforms won the first ever prime-time Emmy in virtual reality. By combining their own 360-degree camera with innovative and creative story-telling and new VR distribution platforms, Secret Location is extending and transcending reality. In VR experiences like Sleepy Hollow, they merge top-quality CGI graphics, 360-degre sound, and live action video to create the magic of virtual reality for a totally unique fan experience.
Minister of Canadian Heritage
President/Executive Producer, Secret Location
“The race to capture reality is on.”
“Why is [virtual reality] powerful? What does it do? It creates, at its best, a sense of presence. The idea that it takes away the distractions of the world, it transports you somewhere else, and you are present in that environment. You’re no longer constrained by the physicality of the real world. You’re now in a virtual environment that’s got you fully immersed and present.”
“The way we do it is despite the technology, despite the platform, despite many of the shiny corners that we can get hooked on, we just start with story. That’s ultimately what connects people together. That’s what people care about despite the platform.”
“Deep into the world of Sleepy Hollow, [Ichabod Crane says,] ‘Stay where you are. In the dark, in the fog, he might be able to detect you.’ Through the magic of virtual reality, visitors found themselves in the show’s spooky graveyard setting, seeing the dire warning from the main character, Ichabod Crane, moments before a hair-raising encounter with the headless horseman.”
“I’m too Canadian to have an ego about this stuff, but it’s the first time I’ve ever seen someone…finish watching our work with tears in their eyes. I’ve never been able to experience that. We were able to showcase it both in live events, and to get that understanding of how visceral it was for people to be transported to an Ebola treatment hospital or in front of the person that lost their entire family.”
“For me, and where I’m really excited…is in how we extend and transcend reality…If I can go somewhere where I would never be able to go, where my imagination literally couldn’t take me, where we can facilitate experiences that don’t exist in the real world. To me, that’s where we see the huge value.”
“I think the most important thing to leave this room is that we’re all doing something we don’t know how to do, in order to learn how to do it. That’s particularly important today, because by the time this does have the ability to transcend and there’s a VR headset in every house, there won’t be time to figure out how not to screw it up. We’re doing that now, so when we’re there, we’re going to win.”
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Anne-Marie: Hi again. Welcome back.
Hello again, everyone. I hope you enjoyed your first morning.
How was your morning?
Anne-Marie: Yeah pretty good. Amazing. It was fun to read all your tweets and sometimes because you guys are tweeting while you’re talking, it was fun typos to read up there, like bany boomers. I just saw that one go by. This is one of the only conferences where you want people to be not looking at you while you’re speaking.
We had a great morning. I hope you had a good lunch.
Hope you guys had a great lunch break, had a chance to visit the Hub. If you didn’t have a chance to check out the Flixel booth, it’ll also be available tonight at the social event. Speaking of the social event, quick reminder, we hope to see you all there tonight. You can start arriving at six-thirty. Official start is seven pm, and the Burroughs building is about a five-ten minute walk from here. I hope we see you guys there. Food and beverages, cool surprises.
We will see each other at 7 PM.
Now back to business. Before we get to our second keynote of the day, we have a guest of honor with us this afternoon.
The honorable Mélanie Joly, Minister of Canadian Heritage, is with us this after-noon. Thank you for being here. She will say a few words.
Ms. Joly firmly believes that it is important to get involved in your community. Over the years, she has manifested this passion in many organisations, and several councils. Notably those of the Contemporary Art Museum of Montreal, the CHUM Foundation and the Department of Retirement of Quebec.
Throughout the years, that passion showed her involvement in various organizations both community-based and provincial. She’s a lawyer by trade. She’s also the spokesperson for Logis Rose-Virginie and the ambassador for Herstreet in Montreal. Mme Joly believes in the power of positive politics, which actually explains, at least in part, her presence with us here today.
Please join me in welcoming her now. Minister Mélanie Joly.
Madame Joly: Thank you Anne-Marie.
Okay, can everybody hear me now?
Madame Joly: Good. Perfect. I’m very happy to be here with all of you and see again M. Blais, M. Joli-Coeur and all of you. I know you had a very busy morning and had already some productive discussions.
I’d like to first thank the CRTC, and in fact, the NFB, Claude, Jean-Pierre, for organizing this very innovative summit and the passion for discoverability, a term that we’ve all discovered is a little difficult to pronounce but can’t forget and is particularly inspiring. As Minister of Canadian Heritage, I am also really interested in this subject and I know to what end discoverability will help me discuss the plan that we will be implementing with the government to reinforce our creative and culture industries.
Addressing the question of discoverability is crucial to implementing our government’s plan to strengthen our cultural and creative industries. The government of Canada is proud to help support and promote Canadian culture, Canadian artists, and Canadian creators across the cultural industries spectrum. For example, Book of Negroes, Schitt’s Creek, and Orphan Black, all top winners at the recent Canadian Screen Awards, were supported by a Canada media fund.
On the French market side, big winners of the Gemini Awards were, among others, ‘Les Beaux Malaises’ and ’19-2’. Two series created with the help from Canada Media Fund. This year, at Cannes, three Canadian virtual reality productions were on projectors from international programs of television and digital content, the MIPtv. The featured productions Liquid Cinema, and Time Machine VR, were created in collaboration and with the support of Telefilm Canada, and the Canada Media Fund. And ‘The Unknown Photographer’ was created by the NFB.
Of course the National Film Board, one of the Summit’s co-hosts, continue its long tradition of ground-breaking excellence. We are very proud of the work you’re doing. For example nfb.ca, home to the NFB’s award-winning online screening room, features over three thousand productions available for streaming at any time and on any device. In this innovative way, the NFB is making its collection of documentary, fiction, annotated and experimental films, as well as interactive productions available to Canadians and audiences around the world. In the recent budget, we announced a 1.9 billion dollar investment in arts and culture over the next five years. The largest investment in this sector in thirty years. As a country, we are leading the pack. We were the first G7 country to do so. Recently, Italy invested one million in its own arts and culture sector.
Please follow the leader. Why do we do that as a government? Well not simply because of the sector’s importance to the economy, and we know it is very important because it is worth forty-eight billion dollars, three percent of our GDP, 640 thousand jobs. We really want to invest in an echo-system of innovation, of creation that will foster innovation. Innovation is of utmost importance in today’s world.
Regardless of the industry sector, our capacity for innovating, for imagining, for creating, and for pushing boundaries is insurmountable. The cultural sector, of course, is one of the most creative and innovative sectors. And must be figurehead in the matter. The worldly creative index for 2015 establishes a direct link with culture, creativity, a good economic sensibility, and durable prosperity. I am proud to underline that Canada occupies the fourth rank amongst 25 countries which were evaluated. But we can’t stop there. We must aim even higher. We live in a digital era, in a worldly economy which demands more and more creativity, flexibility, and ingenuity.
As I just said in French, in any sector, the ability to innovate, to imagine, to create, and to push boundaries, is invaluable. The cultural sector of course is one of the most creative and innovative sectors and must continue to be. The 2015 global creativity index connects culture to creativity and creativity to advance economic growth and sustainable prosperity. I’m proud to know that Canada ranked fourth out of twenty-five countries stagnant. We cannot be content to stop here.
We live in a digital age, in a global economy that demands creativity, flexibility, and activity. Technology has significantly transformed our world and the way we live. Blockbuster video rental stores have been replaced by online services like iTunes and Netflix. Video-on-demand services like Shomi and CraveTV have changed the habits of television viewers. We know that. We must acknowledge that.
More and more Canadians use music streaming services, like Spotify, Google Play Music, CBC music or Ici musique, to listen to the music of their choice. As well, more and more Canadians listen to podcasts of their favorite radio shows or choose to listen to AM/FM radio stations online when they want, where they want. As we speak, even texting is being rivaled by Snapchat and What’s App.
Times are changing and we need to follow the rhythm of evolution. Who is included in “we”? It includes the enterprises, big and small, even the artists, the creators who want to know success on the market which is becoming more and more worldly.
Technology has made creators of almost everyone. Content of all kinds from almost everywhere is available on multiple platforms. This, in many ways, is good news. On the other hand, it has made it more challenging for content creators to stand out and find audiences. Because of the ever-increasing range of content choices, we need to make it easier for Canadians to find the content they’re looking for. I’m encouraged that innovators and industry leaders like you have gathered to discuss the paradigm shifts that are taking place and the challenges and opportunities they present. I believe that Canadian creators who have learned to attract audiences from across our vast and diverse country, but also from around the world, have what it takes to prosper in the economy of the future. It will require thinking outside the box. It will require creativity, courage, and cooperation.
Last week, I was quite inspired by the teens participating in the Youth Summit on discoverability. High school students between fifteen and seventeen, the first real digital generation, brain-stormed and discussed some of the issues you will talk about today and tomorrow. You will have an opportunity to learn what they had to say. I’m sure you will find their perspective enlightening, like my team and I did. I also press you to pay close attention to their opinions and findings. Considering the amount of talent and know-how in this room, I am confident that as you take these and other points of view into account, you will find innovative ways to improve Canadians’ ability to find and access content.
I’m excited to hear your ideas and suggestions. I’m excited to see what will result from your discussions.
As minister of Canadian heritage, I recently launched consultations on what the government can do differently to strengthen the creation, discovery, and export of Canadian content in a digital era. This exercise is driven by our belief that the time is right to review the role of the federal government in helping Canada’s creative sector navigate the digital transformation and chart a course to ensure that we’re poised to position ourselves as global leaders. I’m open to listen to new ideas and considering fresh perspectives on how the government can best assist the cultural sector in navigating the digital transformation. I really urge you to think outside the box.
I urge you to accept that technological changes which impact people’s consumption of news and entertainment can be an opportunity for us to develop a new model that will lead the way to other countries’ own digital strategy. The ideas that come out of this Summit will inform our public consultation, which I encourage you, all of you actually, to participate in. Let’s all work together to discover how to ensure the continued vitality of Canada’s cultural sector. I wish you an interesting and informative discussion this afternoon and tomorrow.
Thank you very much.
Anne-Marie: Thank you very much, Minister.
It’s a real pleasure to have you with us this afternoon. Now before we move on to our afternoon keynote, I want to invite Valerie Creighton, president and CEO of the Canadian Media Fund who sponsored part of this event to come and say a few words. Join me in welcoming her.
Valerie: It’s always nerve-racking to follow the minister, but how about that kick-ass announcement on the consultation? Yes. It’s a pleasure to be here this afternoon to introduce James, president and executive producer at Secret Location, the Toronto-based award-winning content studio for emerging platforms, which we at the CMF have had the pleasure to work with and support on numerous occasions. Thanks Minister Jolie for your on-going support of the industry and the CRTC and the NFB. Now there’s a scary bench. The NFB for hosting this interesting dialogue over the next couple of days.
James is going to describe to you the current state of virtual reality and how it’s being used in entertainment and the potential of this great platform in the near future. Eight of the fortune top ten technology giants are now in the VR business, with several other tech innovators investing in the technology to get ahead of the market. Recent studies suggest that the global market for VR could reach US thirty billion by 2020. Primarily driven by the proliferation for various uses of VR technology and content, from entertainment to healthcare, from education and industrial applications, new ways of using VR are constantly being developed.
Content producers in Canada are turning to VR projects as a way to create experiences that push the limits of art and technology. Offering immersive VR content from new and unexplored perspectives, VR content creators have literally widened and deepened our horizons with consuming this type of media. We’re really proud that Canadian companies are at the forefront of digital media innovation. Thanks to the reputation of Canadian digital media content, the expertise acquired by producers and a funding ecosystem that supports innovation and creative story-telling, Canada is well-positioned to lead the promising VR market and respond to consumer trends.
In the past year alone, the CMF has supported over thirty innovative VR projects through the experimental stream. We recently showcased six of those at MIPTV to a packed house. It was some of the most interesting, stellar content and had great buzz at the market. We’re seeing boundless applications for Canadian VR and its impact in the way we experience our content is palpable. The question is: how will virtual reality play alongside the multitude of devices consumers are using to consume content? What are the revenue streams? What does the long-term liability of this type of content look like? What makes large-scale VR production possible? What will it take for these platforms and content formats to be increasingly accessible by audiences. Here to give you the answer to all of these questions right, please welcome me in joining James Miller.
James: Thanks. Hi. How’s it going? This is when I pray it turns on behind me. Can we get the screen on? Can anyone…
I’m James Miller. I founded a company called Secret Location. We’re a content studio for emerging platforms, whatever that means. It’s adequately confusing to me, nothing and hopefully everything all at once. I’ll give you a little bit of background. We started as a digital agency because that’s how we needed to make money, by doing work and getting paid for it. Over time, we’ve been able to evolve our business, not just in terms of the content we create … I see it up there. Oh there, perfect. I’m going to ditch what I was saying. I was just scrambling for something to say.
We’re based in Toronto and LA. We’re a content studio for emerging platforms. All that really means is we’re seventy people who are a diverse team of producers, creatives, technologists, strategists. Really all you need to know is that we make things. We don’t talk about making things. We just make things. It’s really simple. The way we do that is despite the technology, despite the platform, despite many of the shiny corners that we can get hooked on, we just start with story. That’s ultimately what connects people together. That’s what people care about despite the platform. Then we figure out where it should live and why it should live there. Then we make things. The reality of it is, using that pretty simple story format and execution formula, we’ve been able to create some interesting experiments and some great projects.
I wanted to start off by doing a little bit of background on VR. I’m sorry if anybody has already got this background, but it might be helpful just to start from the beginning. At our company, and I think for a lot of people making content, we’ve been chasing this idea of emerging for a long time, the idea that viewing content or participating content on emerging platforms could actually have a sort of visceral effect that could transcend traditional media formats or at least, automat and extend them. We’ve been able to do this on big shows like Rookie Blue, with big brands like Red Bull. We won our first Emmy working with a TV show called End Game here on Showcase with Shaw. We were lucky enough to do the launch campaign for the Blacklist, which turned into one of the larger shows in the US.
What all of these executions and the platforms that we had at our disposal had in common was that they were framed. We had to live in a box, literally. Then this little guy, scrappy little guy, came up with the Oculus Rift and put it on Kickstarter. He was looking for a little bit of money, 250 grand, and within two days had had two and a half million. I’ll tell you about Oculus here in a minute. It’s important to understand that VR isn’t new. We’ve been chasing some form of immersive content for a long time, Sensorama, this weird thing if anybody remembers the old Sega Genesis VR that was a gem. Virtual Void, we actually have one of these in our office, and it’s awesome.
This really crescendoed in 1992 with popular culture emerging and creating the Lawnmower Man, and then of course, a lot of Keanu Reeves in a lot of movies about VR. The difference really now is that for the first time, virtual reality at a consumer level is possible. What’s happened is essentially, computers have miniaturized. Phones and mobility have miniaturized and become more powerful. The age-old issues of delivery has transcended. What that allowed was basically the perfect storm of technology and distribution to emerge and to be fit into one small box. This was the Oculus Rift developer kit. This was what we got in the mail from our Kickstarter contribution. About four months later, it was acquired by Facebook for two billion dollars. That sort of put the first legitimacy in the market of VR.
To be honest with you, when we first got that developer kit, it was really just a door stop in our office. We were tinkering with it. We were trying to figure out what to do. It really had no practical purpose. Once Facebook kissed into it with two billion dollars, it had a couple of uses that we could think of. We started working more earnestly on it.
Just a step back. There’s really a few critical tiers of VR to understand. A lot of you have probably seen the Google cardboard device. This isn’t actually a proprietary Google cardboard device, this is just Google putting out the plans. A lot of people have said it’s been a direct response to Oculus Rift saying that thing’s going to cost you eight hundred bucks, how about we do it for four bucks? Which worked because they found about five million into the market. Last year the New York Times launched a million of them to their subscribers.
The next tier up is the Samsung Gear VR, which runs off specific Samsung phones. By using a slightly more sophisticated operating system in phones, they’re able to deliver a slightly more sophisticated experience. Then you now have the consumer version of the Oculus Rift, which launched just about four weeks ago. Between the first two developer kits, which were really for developers like us, they actually shipped about three hundred thousand units, which is crazy because there aren’t that many developers in the world who could do anything with it. What that meant is a lot of people who thought they could do something with it, ordered it and then had it sitting there, and now they’re getting the full package to play with.
HTC and Valve, which is one of the largest video game distribution networks, has also partnered to develop a headset, and Sony PlayStation will be coming out with theirs later in the year. It’s important to understand that VR is a combination of a few things at once. There’s also 360 video, which is what we like to call the gateway drug to VR. It gets you hooked and going and wanting more and more. YouTube has launched 360, and Facebook has launched 360. That has started to propel even more heat and activity.
Why is VR powerful? What does it do? It creates, at its best, a sense of presence. The idea that it takes away the distractions of the world, it transports you somewhere else, and you are present in that environment. You’re no longer constrained by the physicality of the real world. You’re now in a virtual environment that’s got you fully immersed and present. It allows you to do something that you couldn’t possibly do in real life, both because it can transport you somewhere, and it can also enable an experience that isn’t actually physically possible, and of course, empathy. It’s like these two paths of empathizing with one another.
It is actually quite striking to see people experiencing competent VR because even on their first go-round, if it’s the right experience, you’ll see an emotional reaction that’s hard to describe. It’s hard to quantify these to other media. This is one of my favorite clips. I’ll show you this project later. This was a kid that sat in our virtual reality experience for two minutes. No matter how good Games of Thrones is, that’s pretty unique.
How does it do that? The first thing is it puts you in a 360 degree point of view. It uses spatial audio, which follows your head. Where you look in that 360 space, the audio reacts to it. Ultimately, at its best, it has 3D visuals, which means it creates depth and the ability to have things happen in a x and z space that is not necessarily possible in traditional media.
What this has meant is that we’ve had to figure out new processes to create content. We’ve figured out how to storyboard, how to plan shoots, and ultimately how to build technology that really gets us to the goal of making things that are professional quality, which actually is quite hard today in virtual reality. I wanted to show some projects and then how we sort of did them to explain what the world is like to make and distribute content in VR.
I picked this project. Spoiler alert, these are all our projects. We were fortunate enough that we got an opportunity to work with Fox very very early on two years ago for Comic Con 2014. We were able to build an experience that I’ll show you guys. Basically it allowed us to jump in very early and put something out in the world before anybody could even have heard of VR and get an illicit reactions, which has then informed our work. Here’s the video of it.
Video Speaker 1: The Sleepy Hollow virtual reality experience is an innovative, narrative-driven, fan experience that debuted at San Diego Comic Con 2014 in support of the hit Fox series. Combining Oculus Rift technology, a custom-built app, and an atmospheric live setting, Secret Location created an immersive one-of-a-kind installation that thrilled thousands of excited visitors and reached millions in social media.
The cutting edge VR experience utilized top quality CGI graphics, 360 degree sound, and live action video to deliver a gripping narrative that plunged users deep into the world of Sleepy Hollow.
Video Speaker 2: Stay where you are. In the dark, in the fog, he might be able to detect you.
Video Speaker 1: Through the magic of virtual reality, visitors found themselves in the show’s spooky graveyard setting, seeing the dire warning from the main character, Ichabod Crane, moments before a hair-raising encounter with the headless horseman. The experience thrilled visitors and generated huge buzz at Comic Con, as well as socially through a custom, digital souvenir. To capture the experience for attendees, we built a custom mobile app that created personalized images for each visitor to the installation, creating engaging content directly out of the event. The app took visitors’ photos and automatically composited them into a pre-designed backdrop from the virtual reality scene they were watching in the Oculus Rift, along with tune-in details for the second season airings.
By the time the scene was over, the finished souvenir images were already on display at the event and sent to the user’s email or twitter accounts, enhancing the impulse social pass along. The final piece was designing the whole installation around Fox’s eye-catching Sleepy Hollow bridge for maximum exposure and participation. Over the entire production process, Secret Location worked hand-in-hand with Fox for a deeply authentic experience. We collaborated with the show runners and writers to capture the tone of the series, resulting in an engaging narrative that is firmly grounded in the world of Sleepy Hollow.
Key to this was Secret Location filming [inaudible 00:30:45], Tom Mison’s original performance in live action 3D and incorporating it into the virtual environment for a totally unique fan experience. In fact, this was the first time live action and CG animation had been combined in virtual reality for a television series or a film project.
The Sleepy Hollow virtual reality experience offered something new and thrilling and received a massive response from fans and the media. Over four days at Comic Con, thousands of people took part, including cast members from the show, creating millions of media impressions online and socially, enabling a totally unique experience for a legion of loyal fans and those new to the series.
James: What that project has in common with almost everything else that’s been done in virtual reality at a large budget or for studio or for anything that many people have seen is that we also had to figure out how to put it in an installation so that anybody could see it because nobody had headsets. That’s been the case for the last year and a half. We’ve done probably twenty projects in virtual reality that nobody has been able to see unless we put it somewhere physical. We’ve only just started to be able to deliver this content to a market of people who have headsets in their hands or their houses. That’s a pretty crazy thing to talk about as a content creator, that you make things and you just hope that you actually have to build a place for them to see it.
It’s also crazy when you think about what it takes to make something. This is a traditional set of storyboards. This is how we normally fan a shoot. We had to start to rethink everything we did about production in order to make this. What ended up happening when we tried to shoot what was in these storyboards is that it really sucked. We had to think about what the story was in a much simpler way. We actually had to figure out to design 360 degree story boards so that we could determine action around the entire audience.
We had to devise a way of positioning how the camera would face out and where it would face out and where the person would look. Things happen all around you in 360 space. We don’t get to control the frame anymore. We have to moderate how we produce. Therefore, when we come back to storyboards so that we can actually show an actor we’re using these little pie slices to show you what part of the environment we’re actually looking at in the 360 scene. That then sort of defined how we shot the experience. What we realized quickly was if we shoot it with one camera, we end up with billboard video that basically just falls down in experience. We had to figure out what cameras exist where we could use 360, but are not overly cumbersome or expensive.
The result two years ago was that we had to make our own camera, was dubbed Johnny 5 by the lead actor because it looked like the robot from Short Circuit. We actually had to show the actor in virtual reality a preface of what he was going to be doing. Explaining to him how to perform in virtual reality was not going to happen. He didn’t get it. We had to completely redesign how we made audio. All of these things taught us how to make content at a higher level and ultimately led to the next thing we worked on, which was this The LA Philharmonics virtual reality piece.
I should say not too Canadian to have a big thing, the Sleepy Hollow experience was the first project ever to win a prime-time Emmy in virtual reality, which we won just this last September. It’s interesting because there isn’t actually a category for virtual reality at the Emmy’s. We won in this user experience and design category, which is totally ill-fitted for what we did. Because it was sort of this moment in time for VR, they decided to give it to us, which has been really great because it has helped create a lot of leverage for us as a Canadian company with the US platforms and the international platforms. It’s also allowed us to get access to these kinds of projects that are higher level. We were super lucky.
Our clients at Fox introduced us to the LA Philharmonic, and they had this idea … They have Gustavo Dudamel, who is the world’s highest speed conductor and who is really interested in new technology. We had the ability to shoot the entire orchestra in virtual reality. We did that. It was a pretty crazy experience because you’re in the Walt Disney concert hall with a 130 person orchestra in full orchestra dress. We had one hour to shoot them because of union regulations.
We had to figure out how to make the original Johnny 5 into a better version of Johnny 5. We actually joined a collective called Vrse, which is a guy named Chris Milk in the US and a bunch of other VR creators. Together we’ve all built this camera system together, which continues to get improved. The reality of it is you can’t just go up to a rental house and rent something. You can’t go get equipment. You have to make everything today, and you have to scrap it together. We ultimately added a huge amount of CG, and I’ll show you what this looks like.
Video Speaker 3: Here’s the most dramatic beginning in the history of music. Because he’s so direct, Beethoven opens to you the door to go inside of your essence. To arrive there, you have to go in the middle.
Video Speaker 4: At the LA Phil, we are so proud of this new virtual reality tour, not just because we’re using brand new technology in an unprecedented way, but also because we’re sharing our music with the community. We are inviting LA to experience classical music in a way it never has before.
Video Speaker 5: Virtual Reality is a 3D computer-generated environment that the user can enter and explore. We’re really taking an old art form and making it new for our modern audience.
Video Speaker 6: We used a spherical camera that’s essentially made up of eight modified GoPro’s to capture the space, to give a sense of presence in and amongst the orchestra that would otherwise not be achievable in real life. We took that footage and sewed it together to create a stereoscopic 360 degree image. All of this to say, you’ve never experience Beethoven’s Fifth like this before.
Video Speaker 7: What we’re doing is we’re taking this VR experience, we’re loading it into a truck, and we’re taking it to arts festivals, to museums, to outdoor events, trying to get it seen by people who might otherwise not get to experience one of our concerts. It’s called Van Beethoven.
Video Speaker 8: The CG element brings this piece to the next level. Essentially we’re allowing the user to have a representation of what the music does in the mind’s eye. I often love watching people go into VR for their first time, to watch them take off that headset afterwards and see that sense of wonder on their faces incredible.
Video Speaker 9: You can come see us at one of our Van Beethoven tour stops for free or …
James: You don’t need to come see one of their Van Beethoven tour stops. Long story short, we had to load it into a frickin van just to get anyone to see it. It’s kind of ridiculous.
In the fall, we were able to launch a project, and this is one of the first projects we launched on a mass scale. We worked with Frontline on PBS and the Columbia School of Journalism to create an interactive documentary about the Ebola outbreak. We had our 360 cameras, took them to Sierra Leon, deep into the jungle, which was an experience, and was able to create an eleven minute documentary about the spread of Ebola in Sierra Leon and West Africa. I’ll show you that project. What’s interesting is that just in the fall we actually were able … This went out on thousands of Google cardboards that Frontline printed. Millions of people have seen this on YouTube 360 and even more on Facebook 360. I think in the first forty-eight hours after launching on Facebook 360, it had thirty million views or something crazy like that.
There’s audience for this content. It’s just a question of where they find it. It’s essentially what we did here.
Video Speaker 10: A microscopic virus began a deadly journey. It was the beginning of the worst Ebola outbreak in history.
Video Speaker 11: [inaudible 00:39:25]. You see dead what is [inaudible 00:39:29] in body bags.
Video Speaker 12: We lit a fire and they fell from the top of the tree. Then we ate them.
Video Speaker 13: We had the idea the Ebola was something which was severe but typically occurred in a certain way and then could be handled …
Video Speaker 10: Her burial will cause an explosion of new cases.
Video Speaker 14: When she died, we washed the whole body.
Video Speaker 15: It’s extremely horrible because people are doing sometimes pretty distressing deaths beside [inaudible 00:40:07].
Video Speaker 16: I was afraid it would just be this black plague with this inexorable spread across the continent and beyond.
Video Speaker 17: Ebola was not an exception. Ebola is unprecedented.
James: The other thing’s that been interesting to me about this project and why I wanted to show it is it’s the first time I’m ever … I’m too Canadian to have an ego about this stuff, but it’s the first time I’ve ever seen someone take off or finish watching our work with tears in their eyes. I’ve never been able to experience that. We were able to showcase it both in live events, and to get that understanding of how visceral it was for people to be transported to an Ebola treatment hospital or in front of the person that lost their entire family. It’s a pretty powerful mechanism to induce creativity, to say what can you do next with it? What can you do at the highest or most emotional level of that?
The next couple projects I’m going to show are just title slides. We’ve been fortunate enough that we’re working on the first cable VR and linear series with Sci Fi international. It’s a ten episode linear series, five episode VR, that’s completely interwoven. It’s a future-facing police procedural. That’s going to launch in September. We’ve been funded by the CMF experimental to do a ten episode virtual reality project with Stephen King, which is pretty crazy. It took us quite a while to convince Stephen King to have a conversation with us, let alone to do something in VR. This is a pretty big opportunity, and quite frankly, not just because Val is sitting in the third row, but because we have this funding and these resources to put forward against a very valuable piece of IP in a format that to other people hadn’t been able to get to yet.
I just wanted to talk through where we see this going next. As content creators, it’s a really exciting time. It’s an exciting time for a few reasons. The first is that the creative potential is out of control, that’s out of bounds. You can do anything. The question we’re continuing to ask ourselves is not what can we do but what should we do. What’s appropriate? Why does watching or participating in something in virtual reality matter more than watching it or participating in it on another platform?
It’s our belief that media is not a zero sound game. You don’t stop watching TV to watch VR. You don’t stop listening to the radio to watch TV. You do it all at once, and you divert your attention based on the loudest or most exciting or most conducive to that attention of that moment. For us, asking ourselves what should we do means that if somebody’s going to put on a headset and buy a computer and go through all the rigmarole to get theirself in VR, then we better have something really good for them. Otherwise, they’re going to take that headset off and return it to Best Buy, and we’re done.
For us, looking ahead, we’re both excited by the numbers. This year it’s a build year for sure, next year probably a build year as well. The content that gets created and published, it’s not going to be Angry Birds in my opinion. It might be, and that would be very exciting, and I hope it’s ours. I think it’s better to take a bit of a long view towards this. These headsets are not that cool. They’re really not. It’s an incredible experience to watch people participate in it, and you’d be surprised how much the content and the possibility of the content overcomes how uncool these headsets are. The reality of it is it’s a bummer to wear that thing. It sucks. We need to get these things smaller and more conducive to the content in order for them to be successful.
The potential of this, and this is real data, is that this market grows by 2025 to 125 million headsets. That’s divided somewhere between software content and hardware. You’re talking about an eighty billion dollar market by 2025. That’s only nine years away. That probably does or maybe doesn’t seem like a long time, but between 2007 and now just whipped by for me. What we’re really trying to do is think about what this means. We have some encouraging understanding audience. I always hate the word millennial because I don’t know, I’m one of them. The reality of it is that millennials, they want VR. They’re participating in it. 360 video on YouTube and Facebook is punching way above its weight. We’re starting to see that gateway drug hook people. The question is what will we come with to continue to monetize that behavior.
Fifty percent of millennials expressed a favorable purchase intent, whatever that means. Hopefully that means they’re going to buy it. It’s hard when PlayStation VR launches that’s going to be a big watershed moment. Twenty plus million people have PlayStation 4’s in their house right now. That means you don’t have to go and buy a computer. The headset’s four or five hundred bucks max. You plug it in, and you play. If this is good, when it’s good, we have a developer kit, it’s good. It’s going to be a game changer. It might mean that games are what make a game changer happen earlier than other things. That doesn’t mean that just because people enter through gaming, they stay because of gaming. In fact you look at Xbox Live and Sony Playstation network, and you see a huge amount of people using those for home entertainment.
The reality of it for us is that we want content. We want story-telling. We definitely or probably are interested in TV, movies, and films in VR. The big players are seeing that. Netflix is waiting, and there’s no question about it. Oculus, it’s their whole game. They’re going hard on it. Hulu, bit of a better judge in my opinion, because I don’t know if they weighed in, but they’ve also carved out in creating some original VR content. The Netflix screening room where you can watch all their content VR, that happens today. Buy a Samsung VR, and watch all your Netflix shows on a forty-foot screen VR. It’s cool. Streaming concerts is cool. 3D theater like Sleep No More is going to come to this. Watching sporting events. You can already go see the Martian experience.
I think personally that sporting events is a gateway, but it’s not a firmed up position until you understand how editorialized sports are, whether that can be replicated in VR. There’s a lot of talk that you can just put a camera at center court, and poof, you’ve got millions of people subscribing. I don’t know if you’ve ever had an opportunity to sit at center court and never get up from your seat, but it’s not that much fun. You want a beer, and you kind of want to watch some highlights, and you want to talk to somebody. That’s why I think social VR is going to be the ultimate watershed moment, the ultimate gateway. If you think about why Facebook would acquire Oculus Rift, you have to think that the future of the social network is at least in some degree, based in virtual environment.
For us, we’re thinking about a number of different ways that those environments, those social experiences, those narratives, whether it be 3D content and reactive-themed environments, is going to ultimately allow you to participate in ways with content that you haven’t yet. I think today the way to understand what’s happening in VR is that there’s really a lot of focus on making the fidelity high enough to be palatable. That means that in its most derivative form, and I don’t mean this in a negative way, I just mean that the way people are contemplating it right now is that they’re replicating reality. The race to capture reality is on. We’re doing it, and that’s why we hear from the LA Phil. We’re starting to see aspirations this is [inaudible 00:48:03], which is a really big game and really awesome in VR. You have alien isolation, which allows you to be put in alien movies.
For me, and where I’m really excited, and where we’ll see our Angry Birds moment or those next level monetizations, is in how we extend and transcend reality. For me, I think that if you try to replicate reality, at the end of the day, reality is still going to win. Primarily because the headsets are not that much fun after you’re in them for half an hour or an hour max. If I can watch a beach, I might as well just go to the beach at some point. If I can go somewhere where I would never be able to go, where my imagination literally couldn’t take me, where we can facilitate experiences that don’t exist in the real world. To me, that’s where we see the huge value.
Ultimately, what’s going to happen is, Morse law dictates this stuff gets faster and faster and cheaper and cheaper, hardware and peripheral advancements, hopefully that don’t look like this are going to be awesome. It is possible that a VR headset is in every home. Social standards will adapt and evolve around that. I think the most important thing to understand is that for us, we really live by this. The art that we make, and the story telling, it challenges the technology to do something. The technology that we have at our disposal inspires us to make stories that are meaningful on these platforms. I think the most important thing to leave this room is that we’re all doing something we don’t know how to do in order to learn how to do it. That’s particularly important today because by the time this does have the ability to transcend and there’s a VR headset in every house, there won’t be time to figure out how not to screw it up. We’re doing that now, so when we’re there, we’re going to win.
Hopefully we’re creating a pipeline and a potential to get to that point where again it’s not a mutually exclusive situation, but where we can create virtual reality content just as well as we can create television and film and where all of those platforms merge and work better together and involve audiences and tell stories and make those stories more meaningful to people across all platforms, when and where they want to have that experience. That’s it. Thank you.
There’s totally time for some questions unless you guys are running late. Do you guys want to ask questions? I can also go over there. Cool. No question is too dumb. There are no dumb questions. Hit me.
Audience: This is fascinating. The 3D movement in televisions a couple years ago, it didn’t seem that that took off very well. Was it because the content wasn’t there, which is why the devices weren’t intriguing because if you recall just two years ago Sony and others were enabling 3D TV’s, but the market didn’t seem to pick up on it as quickly. Do you think it was because the content was just not available?
James: I think it’s combination of a few things. I think that people already have a TV. There’s already an inaction there that’s going to happen with me needing to get a TV for that explicit reason. It’s not necessarily a compelling reason. Definitely the content wasn’t there. There’s not even a question. Furthermore, the ability to create that content was sort of not viewed as something that needed to be paid specific attention to. It was sort of like oh let’s do a post converger. Oh we’ll just make this at the same time, oh to shoot the stares [inaudible 00:52:06]. Didn’t really work out that way.
They were also really expensive. We’re talking in the VR headsets that I’ve shown, Google cardboard, fifteen bucks, Samsung Gear VR, ninety-nine dollars, Oculus, five, six hundred bucks in the US. You’re not talking about four thousand dollars. The end of the day when you combine a number of things, I think we are in a moment where this will be a shade closer to 3D TV’s or it could be the iPad. It really just depends on that content ecosystem and the controlling mechanisms and the way that developers are given the ability to create content versus a closed ecosystem. It’s very difficult as somebody who makes content to get my stuff on 3D TV’s or to get into their own networks. The ecosystem wasn’t quite there. The ecosystem is being set up better here. It’s obviously got a long way to go. I think it’s a different set of framers.
Audience: What do you do in the editing room, once you have all this footage? I can’t quite imagine. There’s a sequence to story-telling that you kind of know and close-up reaction…
James: Post production, across the board, is by far the most difficult re-think, gnarliest version of this. When you shoot VR content either with a 360 degree camera or with two stereoscopic cameras that are then put into a CG environment, you basically have to do a first almost an assembly. The assembly is more sophisticated because you’re actually like stitching shots together. That’s stitching of multiple camera from a 360 degree rig or it’s just really arduous manual crappy work. I wish there was a plug n’ play system. We’re one of the earliest people to use the Google jump camera. We’re actually getting trained on it this week. I am literally praying every night that it works because it sucks so bad doing that level of post-production.
Assuming that you can get stitched, well-placed footage, then it’s actually not that different. You can either just put the front-facing cameras into a traditional editing program like [inaudible 00:54:29] or you can actually just unfold, unstrip that video so that it looks like a giant panoramic. Then you basically cut your shots together. That goes back over to a separate team that takes those shots, does a fine edit, a fine finish to the stitching, and then does another assembly, then you tweak from there. It’s more like doing a CG pipeline and having multiple steps with multiple authors and multiple different machines than it is doing a straight edit of just linear reality footage where you’re just going to put it in and find the story there. It’s a much more collaborative iterative process.
One of the most difficult things, quite frankly, is just actually publishing rough VR projects for approval for people to see it. We actually had to build a proprietary platform that allows us to distribute content so that we could just get that caught in the hands of our partners. It’s not ideal. These are not the things we go to work every day to do. We go to tell stories. In order to tell those stories, you have to figure out the tools, and that’s what we’ve been doing part and parcel of our structure. There’s no right answer. There’s no silver bullet. There’s slight variations. It’s actually a lot of open-sourced documents on the internet that have just given people’s techniques of how they do it or differing gluges or different work arounds. A lot of communities, a lot of our post guys and technical guys just going into Reddit forums reading stuff. It’s gnarly. I wish it was more glamorous or I had some secret answer for you. It’s just hardcore.
Audience: For every hour you produce… for every minute you produce, it’s very unconventional, what would be the percent, but is there a factor? Is it ten times more resources for each minute?
James: I think it depends on what your comparison is. Certainly it’s not more to go to Game of Thrones or to do LA Philharmonic, probably compared to Game of Thrones, man hours wise. To do the Kardashians, probably a little bit less time in that comparison. I’m not trying to be glib or shitty, I’m just saying how long is a piece of string when it comes to what the comparison is.
I think what you’re talking about, the best way to compare it, is it’s a scripted mid-level with some CG execution. You’ve got more post than normal. You’ve got to think about it like a scripted experience in terms of your writing staff and your creative team even if you’re doing something that’s unscripted. Sometimes even more. We’ve had to figure out how to tell five different stories so that when we go into the field to tell a documentary, one of those is hopefully right so we can actually create the prep and the assembly to take the materials out. It’s an arduous process, but to us it’s something that we would like to get and reduce. I’m really praying that I get this Google camera, and we just plan and play.
The idea of the Google camera is it’s made with GoPro. It’s 360 degree of cameras that are all around in array that’s in a box. They basically all get connected together. All the footage drops down onto hard drives. You literally plug those hard drives in at night. It shoots it out to the Google cloud. They do some Google algorithm magic, stitch it together. Then the next morning you wake up and have your coffee, and you’ve got this stitched footage down, and you’re just ready to go like you should be able to …
Unfortunately I’ve seen that not happen on like seven other cameras. The problem is that it’s just some genius needs to crack it. It’s actually just like there’s a physics problem with it that’s tough. I think there’s no short answer, obviously, because I’m rambling. The middle to long answer is there’s no silver bullet. It depends on what you’re executing, and it gets better every day. Sometimes it’s going to get dramatically better over night. In the last year and a half, literally every week I do one of these, and then I look like a jerk the next day because something comes out and says half the stuff I said was wrong. It’s moving so quickly.
Audience: You mentioned that the headsets, I believe it’s your words, are a barn. For a long time, they also make people feel sick. Are we past that yet?
James: Yeah. The headsets don’t make people feel sick anymore. That was a function of screen resolution, refresh rate, frame rate. The hardware issues that made people feel sick are gone. The content issues that made people feel sick will never be gone, no matter how good it is, which means that there are rules to creating content VR. Those rules are associated with not doing things that make the brain lose presence in the environment. The best way I can explain it is that nausea arouses when … It’s like you’ve got your eyes closed in the back of a car, really hungover.
If you can avoid some of those factors, better off. We don’t move people in VR without being attached to something that they can see that is moving. That’s what makes you feel like your motion sickness. At the beginning, you can be a disembodied head or you don’t need to be associated with anything. You’re just like shifted across. Everyone used to think in [inaudible 01:00:05] shots. We’ll move you through this room in VR. That just made people barf right away. Now if we want to do that, we have to associate them with something that they can see is moving with them, whether that’s a vehicle or legs. There’s a number of other factors like that that we’ve figured out, and that we’ve worked out with the platforms that help associate best case scenarios. There’s also the factors of interactivity and controllers that make it easier to cause nausea. The reality of it is, it’s not a hardware issue, it’s an us issue. It’s just trial and error until we get it right basically.
Peter: I’m Peter Miller. You’re doing great work. There are other companies in the Canadian space, both the hardware and software space that are doing great work. You’re obviously very optimistic about how this can develop. My question is how do you think Canadian companies are positioned in this space? Is there a real opportunity for Canada to punch above its weight here? Particularly because it is a new medium, and we’re getting in on the ground floor, and also because related to the earlier question, it’s not about high resolution fancy graphics, it’s about immersion in an environment that works. The costs don’t have to be ridiculously high. Any thoughts on that?
James: It’s an even playing field. There aren’t any dramatic territorial benefits like in the late nineties when there was just way better broadband and in Sweden. We don’t have any of those. If you were based in Kansas City with Google Fiber, you’d probably have a slight advantage just with your work flow. Other than that, nobody has a better advantage. It’s interesting to go to the US. We have an office there. I’ve spent a lot of time there recently. America is wonderful, as we all know. It also is not a place that shepherds early-stage stuff without it having market validation. The advantage that we have is that we do have some funding here that is willing to take earlier bets more often until we figure out what that monetization is and evaluate it with maybe some slightly different criteria. That’s definitely good.
There’s a company in Montreal, Felix & Paul We’re friends with that company. We won the first Emmy in VR prime-time Emmy. They won the second Emmy in VR daytime Emmy. You know what I’m saying. Just joking. I love those guys. I think we just got two out of the only Emmy’s in VR. We definitely have that capacity to punch above our weight. The other thing’s that been crazy to me, we are very honest. We have a Canadian office. A lot of our work gets done in Canada. Most of our work gets done in Canada. No one in the US or England or anywhere else has been like oh you guys work from Canada. It’s more like oh, we got to work with somebody from Canada. I think it’s about the perception changes, the resources, the financing that happen, ultimately that effort, that willingness to try things and hit it and hope for the best. When those things combine, coalesce, we get a better shot at it than anybody.
Anne-Marie: Thank you. I think it’s amazing that you guys are applauding, but because we’re going to break, James if you’re willing, you guys can just go up specifically to James and ask your question because we have about a twenty minute break. Does your brain hurt after hearing that? With the stitching of the images. I can’t even take a panoramic picture…
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