Tuesday, May 9, 2017

VR Content Creation Moves to the Next Phase: Facebook Closes Oculus Story Studio

Beautiful, Creative Tools for Everyone

Many of you will have already seen this blog post by Jason Rubin, revealing that Facebook will be closing Oculus Story Studio. Story Studio has created well-regarded narrative VR content including the Emmy Award winning Henry, as well as creating the Quill VR creative platform.

While the timing of the announcement was surprising, the fact that Facebook isn't an original content studio and doesn't want to get into that business, should not be a surprise. The consensus of how the VR market will develop is that it must hit a critical mass of users, gear and content for it to be sustainable. The initial phase of content generation needed to come from the companies that make hardware and platforms, to showcase what is possible and generate interest.  Facebook decided that it was time to focus on the next phase: supporting third-party content creators financially and technically.

Facebook, like Google, is a data company. The timeline that they're on is aggressive, but again, Facebook pushing the envelope shouldn't really be surprising either.  Even though their actions are predictable from a business perspective, it must be disruptive personally for the crack Story Studio team. With that as a given, it is also a note of optimism for the VR ecosystem, that Facebook feels the community is strong enough and creative enough to pick up the ball.

What I am most worried about is the fate of Quill.  It appears that there will be no new updates to it, but there is a possibility that Oculus may open the source code to developers. Let's hope that this innovative tool doesn't wither away.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Assimilate SCRATCH VR Suite v8.6 Released

SCRATCH VR Suite adds support for multi-cam stitching from 360-degree rigs, ambisonic audio, HDR and more in a major update.

Assimilate has just released the update in anticipation of NAB and it is currently available for download. Assimilate calls its SCRATCH VR Suite the only professional, end-to-end workflow for VR/360 content currently on the market.

Improved Stitching

SCRATCH VR now supports 360-degree stitching and the ability to load shots from multiple cameras, wrap them into a stitch node and combine them into an equirectangular image. They have also added support for various camera stitch templates, including AutoPano, Hugin, PTGui and PTStitch scripts. Users can also now create their own custom templates within SCRATCH VR.   An improved workflow allows you to either render the equirectangular template or continue to edit, grade and composite on top of the stitched nodes and then do a final render.

Ambisonic Audio Support (all images courtesy of Assimilate)

Ambisonic Audio

SCRATCH VR can now load, set and playback ambisonic audio files and publish video with 360-degree sound directly to YouTube 360 or Facebook. It now automatically recognizes ambisonic audio embedded in an h.264 file or you can load a separate .amb audio file and link it in the timeline.

SCRATCH VR now supports PQ and HLG HDR standards

HDR Support

There has been a major upgrade in HDR support. Scratch VR now supports PQ (Perceptual Quantizer) and HLG (Hybrid Log-Gamma), both recognized standards. Scratch's scopes also automatically switch to HDR and use a nit-scale. For output, users can now also define HDR mastering metadata for monitoring and publication.

Other key new features:
  • Support for new formats: 10-bit h.264, .mp4 or .mov output
  • A new high-speed DNxHR MXF encoder
  • Support for ACES 1.0.3
  • Simplified DIT report generation
  • Enhanced Cinema DNG support
  • Improved playback within the application
  • Re-designed UI
  • Support for all major headsets and updates to support others as they are released

Scratch VR Suite 8.6 is now available for download as either a free trial version or $1,995 for the full version.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Film Production Writer Worth Watching

There are a lot of sources out there about filmmaking equipment, technique, processes, etc.  Some are very good, some are slightly veiled product plugs and many are mediocre. I wanted to point out an excellent new resource on the No Film School site, Charles Haine

Here are a few sample articles:

Sony Takes Aim at RED with X-OCN

Casio Thinks Outside The Frame with New 360° Camera

NVIDIA Goes for Live Streaming VR with the Quadro P6000

To Be A Great Cinematographer, You've Got To Be An Inventor (I make a guest appearance with a photo of me gleefully operating a Mole Richardson Carbon Arc lamp in the article.  The only time my name will appear on the same page as Gregg Toland and Vittorio Storaro, for that I will be eternally grateful.)

Blackmagic Brings DIY Tech into Camera Control With New Arduino Shield 3G-SDI

Here Are the Cameras Used By the 2016 Best Cinematography Emmy Nominees

What's the ISO of Your Eye?

He is a reliable resource, with an encyclopedic knowledge of technology, technique, history and creativity.  I initially met him in a Cinematography class that he taught at Los Angeles City College. He was always pushing his students, many people will remember the RED vs. 35mm shoot-out  we did under his direction way back 2008. Yep, he had a City College class doing that, back then.

Besides being a teacher, he's an excellent cinematographer, colorist and also co-founded Dirty Robber Production and Coyote Post in LA. Since that class I've worked with him and am happy to call him a friend.  I do not know where he gets the energy to do everything he does and still stay on top of what's going on out there in the bigger world of technology and equipment. I'd expect an eclectic stream of information from him.

Mole Richardson  Carbon Arc Putting Me in a Happy Place

Friday, August 19, 2016

Website Refresh, New Stuff

Ubu Roi (links to Wikipedia)

I've recently completely rebuilt my website, ubu-roi.com.  It was time to refresh and consolidate my work in one place (except for this blog, which I am still working on integrating) and make it compatible with mobile of all stripes. If you have any interest in seeing what I've been up to creatively and professionally, please take a look.

Here's are a couple new images there that haven't been published before (click on them to get a decent sized version):

Face (© 2015)

Port of Oakland (© 2016)

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Michael Bloomberg, Traders and Your Media Career

Can I get a little more bounce off that mickey?

Wisdom can come from many places.   Many media makers view themselves more as creative artists than business people.  However, to have a sustainable career, we need to be both (as well as having a fanatical work ethic and mad skills....among other things).  Digging through old materials, I found these nuggets of wisdom, equally applicable to a creative media career as to a career as a Wall Street trader.  The original source is from a post made here by the Mercenary Trader.

In it, he extracts some really great practical advice from Bloomberg on Bloomberg, the autobiography of  NYC's billionaire businessman/Mayor, Michael Bloomberg.  Structure. Structure. Structure.  This stuff is basic, but to build a career, we all need to develop a great foundation, and equally importantly, good habits about how we make decisions.

 For example, his advice with regard to deciding which projects to push forward, is to pick projects of the right size, “Big enough to be useful, small enough to be possible.”  Define the project, and its goals, clearly before starting.  What in heck are you hoping to get out of a project?  The goals can change as the project moves forward, but how do you know where you're going if you haven't defined it clearly?  If you're working on projects, especially for other people, and you don't have clearly defined goals, well, it reminds me of the saying about playing poker.....if you don't know who the sucker is at a poker game, it's you.  You, and your time, are your greatest capital.  Spend it thoughtfully.

Media makers as entrepreneurs,  it's kind of the new reality facing us all.  If you don't, you may end up working for an (increasingly smaller) day rate.  Don't get me wrong, working for a day rate can be great.  I do it, it keeps me alive, gives me connections, polishes my skills and I enjoy it.  But, unless you're on the path to making a real career in one of the craft unions, you really need a plan.  Well, actually, if you want to make a career in one of the craft unions, you also need a plan and focus.  Structure. Structure. Structure.  It's inescapable.
Anyway, he does a great job of summarizing Bloomberg, so I'll quote him directly (the original article is here):
  • “Pick the right project:” Make sure your trading plan is logical and sustainable. Aim high, but stay within the realm of the possible. Expand your roster of knowledge and personal capabilities, so as to naturally expand what counts as possible.
  • “Start with a small piece:” Think of your trading process like an engine. Instead of horsepower, though, this engine produces profits. Now think about the various components of the engine. Take those components apart, and examine each of them individually. Ponder on the individual component level, one piece at a time, the things you can do to make the whole engine improve.
  • “Fulfill one goal at a time, on time:” This goes back to the theory of constraints. What can you do right now to most effectively improve your process? What area of concentrated effort will have the most tangible impact on results? Set incremental improvement goals — again oriented to “small pieces” — and knock them down systematically, like targets at a shooting range.
  • Do it with all things in life:” As poker pro Tommy Angelo says, “The surest way to get better at poker is to get better at everything and let poker rise with the tide.” This also works in trading.
  • “One syllable words:” Start from where you are. Don’t stress how long the journey is, as long as you can see a path from here to there. The journey itself is a huge part of the fulfillment. In trading, a deceptively simple methodology can take a long time to master. But the mastery is well worth it. If you start simple and create a foundation, you will then have something powerful to build on for many years to come.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Getting Paid, Part II: The 13 Most Insidious, Pervasive Lies of the Modern Music Industry

Real money is in selling those DVD's at screenings....

In my last blog post, I mentioned an article that tore apart the conventional wisdom about making money in the "new" music industry.  I finally found it, The 13 Most Insidious, Pervasive Lies of the Modern Music Industry, by Paul Resnikoff, published last week in the Digital Music News.

It is really worth reading by anyone involved in any kind of media creation.  Much of this conventional wisdom will sound vaguely familiar to people in the film world.   And isn't horrible bandwidth in the U.S. really the main protection the domestic film industry has right now from suffering massive amounts of high quality downloading by regular folks?

Regardless, the article is worth a read.

My favorites from the article:

Lie #1: Great music will naturally find its audience.

Lie #2: Artists will thrive off of 'Long Tail,' niche content.

Lie #8: Kickstarter can and will build careers.

Lie #10: Google and YouTube are your friends.

Lie #13: 'Streaming is the future...'

Monday, September 30, 2013

Getting Paid

Sorry if I beat on this drum once again, but why are so many talented people still spending so little time thinking about how they're actually going to get paid for their content?  There are yet even fewer conventional wisdom answers, than just a few short years ago (you should be reading Ted Hope to get up to speed, if you aren't already). And even some of the newer revenue models, say YouTube, have been shown to be....how do I say it politely.....heavily in the interest of YouTube and less in your longterm interests (this article is essential reading if you're thinking about building a channel on YouTube).

I have a foot in the more technology oriented content world, app development, interactive content, transmedia, call it what you will.  I can do some iOS coding,  am actually pretty good at UX design, and have published my own content, as well as helped others with their projects.  I'm also currently developing an interactive project which incorporates live video.  I spend a lot of time thinking about the quickly changing economics of the app economy.  One thing which has changed very quickly, in the world of apps, is how content creators get paid.  Pay for an app up front?  Fuggedaboutit.  It's the kiss of death for your content.  No one wants to pay for apps in a marketplace where there are a million plus apps.  Even heavy-hitters like Marco Arment (co-founded Tumblr, founded Instapaper) publicly state that trying to get people to pay for content up-front is a losing proposition.

We're 45% of the way to our Kickstarter goal for materials

Currently in the iTunes App Store, between 60-70% of all app income is from in-app purchases.  In a few short years, developers have gone from making millions from $.99 apps to having to come up with a completely new way of thinking about generating revenue.  Yes, there are still a few blockbusters from established brands but they are far and few, most developers are lucky to get a couple hundred downloads......starting to notice a pattern?

I find many traditional media makers are still in the "if you build it, he will come" mode (albeit with some Kickstarter, community building twists).   Really hardworking, creative folks generating lots of content on no-budgets and hoping to get traction somehow.  Ironically, the very act of generating a lot of no-budget content undermines the very system of which they're hoping to become part.  So, if in the relatively new world of apps, where even quality $.99 content can't find its way, why are more traditional media makers still thinking that they can get paid up front?  This slow-motion implosion has been happening since even before the iPhone existed, it's not like we haven't had time to think about it.  Facebook likes are vapor, celebrities are high-jacking Kickstarter, where is it all headed? 

I need to find an analysis of the conventional wisdom of money-making in the new music industry which I recently read.  It did an effective job of tearing apart the fiction that streaming, touring, selling merchandise and CD's off of a table, and building community with home concerts was making it easier for indie musicians to make a sustainable living.  In the end, what we're seeing is a even more highly stratified music industry with the Lady Gaga's, et al. making a lot of cash and the musical "middle class" disappearing.  Should filmmakers be running down all of these paths without really thinking about this previous experience?  I do know people who have bootstrapped their films by touring around the world for a year, or more, with them.  Really good films. But how many people realistically can do this?  How much is your content really worth, per minute, in the streaming content world?  I can't pretend to have answers, but let's take a moment, stand back, and reassess the questions we need to be asking.