Co-pros are no-go

This week, instead of virtual reality, some cold hard reality: there’s no pot of gold waiting for you at the end of the Chinese co-production rainbow.

Zhang Yimou’s The Great Wall, starring Matt Damon and co-produced by Universal, Legendary, LeVision and China Film Group, succeeded in eliciting a universal “Meh” from audiences around the world, earning roughly $172 million USD in China (a figure which once would have been astonishing but now is unimpressive) and around $35 million USD in North America. With combined production and marketing expenses in the neighborhood of $250 million USD, and global revenues expected to peter out at $320 million USD (prior to exhibitors taking their share), it’s safe to say that investors in “the biggest-ever U.S.-China co-production” are less than thrilled.

On the bright side, we’ll hopefully be spared a glut of formulaic Great White Hope films set against the backdrop of other historical Middle Kingdom marvels, pimped by puffy Chinese real estate companies with their eager Hollywood studio mascots in tow. Folks actually have to think now, and that’s a good thing. So, let’s elevate that thinking with some straight talk.

First, the unfortunate fact is that…(full post on AWN)

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Co-pros are no-go

Mixed reality takes off in the Middle Kingdom

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Rick Garson is a unique figure in entertainment. A colorful, controversial executive and entrepreneur, Rick’s range of experience includes promoting Michael Jackson’s “Bad” tour as well as creating and producing the Billboard Music Awards. He career has also been defined by innovation such as his development and promotion of the Rolling Stones’ “Steel Wheels” pay-per-view music special, the first of its kind.

Rick first hit China’s radar in 2008, when he produced the Beijing Olympics’ “Divas in Beijing” concert TV series. Since then, he’s had his hands dirtied and his nose bloodied in the rough-and-tumble world of Chinese events and entertainment. Rather than turn tail and go home, Rick doubled-down and moved to China in 2013.

He’s now breaking new ground in mixed reality with his latest venture, VX Entertainment. VX Entertainment provides world-class content for the immersive media era, and features what may be the first high-end mixed reality showroom (at least the first of its kind in China) combining projection technology, virtual reality and holography.

I had the opportunity to catch up with Rick in his Beijing studio, experience VX Entertainment’s mixed reality showroom for myself (one word review: awesome) and ask some questions about where he is and where he’s…(full post on AWN)

Mixed reality takes off in the Middle Kingdom

SIGGRAPH Asia Macau musings

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Early last month in the gambling haven of Macau, I attended a SIGGRAPH conference for the first time in a long time. My initial SIGGRAPH experience as a student volunteer in 1993 was eye opening, and I was a regular attendee and occasional speaker for the next 15 years – including the very first SIGGRAPH Asia in Singapore, 2008. As an outsourced event, SIGGRAPH Asia has always been a distant relative to “SIGGRAPH SIGGRAPH” (as many folks comparatively refer to the “real” conference), but the initial offerings in Singapore and Yokohama were respectable.

Cut to today. Scarfing down a plate of Doritos at the SIGGRAPH Asia 2016 opening reception is a far cry from doing shots off the back of an SGI Onyx at the Nixon Library in the heady days of 1993 (though perhaps an appropriate analogy for the austerity arc of the graphics industry over the past two decades). Twenty years ago, there was a palpable sense that “anything is possible,” even though much still was not. Now – at a time when anything essentially is possible – we seem to be holding back. These days, CGI is like Doritos: tasty but predictable. And the VR game-changer has yet to emerge.

I attended all four days of the SIGGRAPH Asia conference and decided to distill my notes into three key observations (I’m a big fan of The Rule of Three). The following takeaways are… (full post on AWN)

SIGGRAPH Asia Macau musings

The art of indirection

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The following is a transcript of my presentation on VR storytelling principles, “The Art of Indirection”, delivered on December 1st at the 7th International Conference & Exhibition on Visual Entertainment in Beijing.

I’m here to talk about the development portion of the entertainment workflow, specifically related to virtual reality. My own background focused upon production during the first half of my career, the 12 years I spent with Walt Disney Feature Animation. After moving to China in 2008, I shifted my focus to development. This development work began in traditional areas of film and television – which I have taught here at the Beijing Film Academy – and shifted to virtual reality over the past year.

Virtual reality requires a different way of thinking. I believe you’ve heard this already. There have been great comments made today on this point, not restricted to virtual reality, but related to any new means of storytelling. When Demetri Portelli talked about shooting at 120 frames per second in 4k, he said something obvious, but also easily overlooked: the director needs to think differently about how to direct; the actors need to think differently about how to act; everybody involved in the production chain needs to review their assumptions, to adapt and expand upon what’s possible in the new media environment. This applies to VR as well. It’s easy to bring your preconceptions and old ways of working into play. In this respect – and I’m not the first person to make this observation – the current state of virtual reality is very much like the early days of… (full post on AWN)

The art of indirection

VR market soars during Trump presidency

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The harsh realities of Donald Trump’s presidency, including global recession, riots and the enactment of U.S. martial law, have been a boon to the virtual reality industry, which exceeded projections by breaching $444 billion USD in annual revenue in 2017, driven by demand from Trump detractors and supporters alike. (full post on AWN)

VR market soars during Trump presidency

It’s the CONTENT, stupid – Part Two

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Part One of “It’s the CONTENT, stupid” addressed the VR ecosystem’s current hardware-centric focus with the observation that nobody wants to “use VR”. People want to be entertained, to shop, to assemble their furniture, to find a good place for dinner, to talk to their family, to create things. The technology is a means to an end.

Despite a slew of VR activity across the board, there is still far more attention being paid to the bottles (hardware) than to the wine (content). Nevertheless, despite the general understanding that the wine is more precious than the bottles, no vintner is going to produce a wine that cannot be properly stored and transported. Similarly, VR content creators are dependent upon VR hardware for distribution and monetization, while VR hardware companies require an engaging stream of content for market actualization. The VR hardware/software/content equation is a true chicken/rooster/egg conundrum, with players in each sector creeping forward while calculating where to step and whose hand to hold.

There has indeed been a spike in content production, ranging from the efforts of major-player initiatives such as Google’s Spotlight Stories and Facebook’s Oculus Story Studio, through VC-funded startups such as Baobab Studios and Penrose Studios, to scrappy independent artists and eager students. No matter the size or strength of the team, all VR content creators eventually grapple with the same opportunities/challenges intrinsic to immersive media… (full post on AWN)

It’s the CONTENT, stupid – Part Two

It’s the CONTENT, stupid – Part One

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I’ll let you in on a dirty little secret: nobody wants to “use VR.” People want to be entertained, to shop, to assemble their furniture, to find a good place for dinner, to talk to their family, to create things. The technology is a means to an end. Transformative, perhaps, but a utility nonetheless. Fifteen years ago at Walt Disney Feature Animation, I was reminding our software engineers of this as we worked to develop tools for the traditional animators transitioning to CGI: “Nobody wants to use the computer for the sake of using a computer. People want to write, to draw, to animate, to edit. Our goal is to enable and evolve those activities.” Ironically, by reminding yourself that the technology is not the main event, you better position the technology to become ubiquitous.

VR hardware engineers and software developers must be mindful of this principle if they wish this third wave of VR endeavor to be the one that makes it over the wall. Aside from a vanguard of the few, most ordinary people don’t really care about VR, and… (full post on AWN)

It’s the CONTENT, stupid – Part One