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When we interviewed cinematographer and virtual reality (VR) expert Jim Geduldick for his G-TEAM bio two years ago, the world was a very different place. A vast amount of experimentation, hype, and hope pervades this market, and while opinions may differ on how VR an its close cousin augmented reality (AR) may go mainstream, few believe that it won’t happen. For creatives, the writing is on the virtual wall. Whether you’re looking for a new way to express your creative visions or responding to the rising tide of mixed reality content demands from clients, you don’t want to miss this interview.
G-Technology: Your field is practically moving at light speed, even since our last interview. For those still getting started, though, how would you define the basics?
Jim: For sure, VR has changed a lot over the past two years, and so has augmented reality. With virtual reality, that usually involves putting on a head-mounted display to get transported to a different world. That could be local or a connected world. You could have avatars of other people in the virtual world and whatever experiences they’re having, whether it be entertainment-based, educational, or just social. You could have virtual reality that is potentially an experience. Location-based entertainment is a very popular term. LBE would be like going to a concert or a museum, or to a physical space like an arcade. It’s an interactive, multiplayer scenario.
AR involves augmenting the world around you, like when you put on special glasses that overlay CG on the real world, or maybe you enhance the real world seen through your phones camera. Because there’s so much overlap between VR and AR, we’ve often started to just refer to it all together as “mixed reality.”
G-Technology: Are the tool sets across mixed reality similar?
Jim: Well, AR and VR differ, but it’s similar in ways to traditional production on, say, a commercial. There are a thousand different approaches, each with different tools, to get to the creative vision. You need some of the basic tools, like a camera, computers to process content or CG assets, and platforms. Mixed reality has strong roots in gaming and visual effects processes. For example, we use Epic’s Unreal Engine, the same engine that powers Fortnite, the most popular game in the world right now, for some of what we do in virtual and augmented reality. The assets we’re creating from this technology in post-production have some solid visual effects, but yes, the technology changes so quick these days, as do the workflows.
Sometimes, we still use traditional capture methods with cameras and camera arrays, but then we might add new layers with Lidar scanners and depth data from other sources. When we bring these into the new creation tools, we have lots of data and endless possibilities for creative explorations.
G-Technology: When we wrote up your G-TEAM bio, there was huge buzz around 360-degree video. What happened with that?
Jim: Right. People are still doing it, but a lot of the brands and people who were paying for these 360 video experiences scaled back tremendously. It had a big falloff toward the end of 2017, when people were going, “OK, it’s not really that immersive. It’s basically 2D video stretched around a 360 sphere.” Well, VR at its core has depth, just like how humans perceive depth in everyday life. It’s six degrees of freedom, where we’re looking up, down, left, and right while also being able to move using multiple axes within that environment. People realized that and started to push into what was next in VR.
G-Technology: How does storage play into this story?
Jim: A lot of my recent projects have been on the bleeding edge in terms of creation and technology. And trying new things really pushes me to look at new solutions that are scalable, especially from a hardware standpoint. In the studio, I’ll lean on something like a G-RACK or a G-SPEED Studio XL for its capacity and Thunderbolt 3. Out in the field, I may have a small crew, requiring a very small setup. I’d need something scalable and fast, potentially able to daisy chain through Thunderbolt. I may choose to go fully SSD-based for the speed if I’m working with different forms of capture. For instance, I could be capturing 360 video in a multi-camera array solution, then mixing that with other technologies, like Lidar and 3D scanning and photogrammetry. With all that, I’ve exponentially scaled my data bandwidth needs, even if it’s simply a one-day shoot. We’re not even talking about long-form projects. So, this really hits home and shows the need for G-Technology-type storage solutions for mixed reality.
G-Technology: Integrating so many different types of imaging into one project, it’s a real paradigm shift.
Jim: Yeah, the traditional, easy way – “We’re going to take two or three cameras, plus maybe a few action cameras, and go shoot a traditional commercial” – is disappearing. We’re more likely to shoot a 1,000 FPS camera along with some 8K main cameras. That’s terabytes of data, just there, but then you bring in 3D scanning, Lidar, drones, and CG assets. Your data per medium of capture is now huge because you’re trying to meld all these technologies together to get to an end result that uses a lot of different flavors of technology. All those decisions may be driven by how end users will consume this data. Is it by headset, glasses, or mobile device? Is this going to be projected in a dome that happens to be 180, 220, or 360 in its field of view? The content may end up on multiple screens, like at a concert. We’re dealing with data that’s potentially much bigger than even 16K resolution. That’s why you always want to start with the highest quality possible, even though you’re going to be compressing and scaling things down. Finishing projects at a very high quality future-proofs the assets.
G-Technology: I’ll be honest, this sounds like an overwhelming amount to learn and invest in. Are you saying that people who want to transition into mixed reality work need to master, well, everything?
Jim: True, it’s not “just this one thing.” It’s more a mix of technologies and creative approaches. It’s an artists playground. We have a giant box of creation tools available to us. Sometimes, that’s daunting. Like, which way do I go? What do I use? Which game engine, code, editor, or VFX package? Well, it always comes back to your vision. As an artist, what’s your vision as a businessperson, or what’s your client’s vision? You’re going to choose the tools that match that vision. One thing that helps here is thinking cross-platform. Maybe Mac isn’t going to work for a certain task, so you need to build out a custom PC with a ton of GPU power. Maybe you need plug-and-play storage that can jump between Mac and Windows. I have the new G-DRIVE mobiles with the Paragon software on them for easier cross-platform workflows. I have G-SPEED Studio XLs on one side connected to a bunch of Macs and a bunch of other G-Technology storage connected to Windows systems. You start to paint yourself into a corner if you say, “I only use one kind of system.” I’ve got multiple partitions on each of these machines that have different operating system builds, purely because that’s what I need for this project.
G-Technology: Point taken, but that still doesn’t address concerns around cost of entry.
Jim: Right now, you’re seeing developer kits hit the market, but yeah, they can be $2,000 to $5,000. These are not plug and play like a traditional game console. There’s a barrier to entry with some of this high-end technology. But on the low-end for creating VR and AR experiences, a lot of the game engines like Unreal are free to a certain extent based on the number of users and revenue for the game or application. Free to download, free to use, free to create content. You’ve got kids today creating experiences and apps for augmented reality, and they’re starting to make money. Companies give you all of these assets to play with and learn. They don’t actually charge you until you reach a certain level of downloads or purchases. Each one of them has a different support level and tiered structure. But you don’t need mega-workstations to get started. It’s amazing what you can do with just a phone now. You have cameras with depth sensors. You have a very sophisticated supercomputer in your pocket that will work as a creation tool for VR and AR. Apps out there let you paint in 3D. You can start a project in VR and bring it over into AR, or vice versa. Then, when you get into building out larger and more complex experiences, you can leverage multiple GPUs, multiple servers, and cloud rendering technology.
G-Technology: What’s the one thought you want to leave with readers?
Jim: It doesn’t matter what medium you’re in as long as you’re creating constantly and pushing that medium forward. Whether you are a photographer, filmmaker, game dev, or artist exploring a new path, we have many new tools and technologies enabling us. The trick is not getting lost in any one tech or creative aspect. Just get those creations out into the world. Keep learning and growing.