Technology Outlook – Driving Transformational Shifts

Originally published in Post Magazine December 2018 Issue

Technologies like the Unity game engine are arguably the most important developments at a time when our industry is going through transformational shifts where you not only have digital and cloud, but you also have AI, machine learning and blockchain all emerging at the same time.

You have virtual storytelling, you have cloud orchestration, you have blockchain. All these things are hitting us at the same time. We are focusing on Unity! That’s not to say that Unity is the only game in town, because there is Unreal, and other engines, but right now we have a unique relationship with Unity and appreciate their trajectory as a solution.

Leveraging DigitalFilm Tree’s post headquarters in Los Angeles, we recently founded a new company called Cinemacode, incorporating state-of-theart mocap and VR capture facilities that have been tailor made for the needs of the production, post and animation industry. Leveraging Unity’s realtime storytelling and world-building capabilities, Cinemacode is also developing educational programing to support talent in the M&E space for those who may not be familiar with Unity.

I’m really taken by how the tool is complementing what we do in the physical production and post production world. Unity grew up as a game engine, supporting game publishers that were trying to look cinematic or look like Hollywood in some cases. They mimicked photorealism and created realistic characters and backgrounds. It’s gotten to the point where now a game engine like Unity or Unreal can be utilized for traditional storytelling, even in broadcast and in features.

Productions are also facing a wide variety of file types, and Unity gives us a way to work on 2D video with 3D elements. The software was used recently, for example, on the Oscar award-winner for Best Visual Effects, Blade Runner 2049. Whereas 2D filmmaking and traditional NLE editing locks a creator into a very specific capture of a time and a place, adding composites and animations to the editing process, like shading and texturing, gives post far more leverage in influencing the look of foreground objects, backgrounds and even talent.

In 1999, thanks to the early adoption of digital filmmaking and post technologies like Final Cut Pro and FireWire, DigitalFilm Tree, or DFT as we are more informally known in Hollywood, got a prescient start as an education and post services company for successful narratives like Bill Lawrence’s Scrubs, Steven Soderbergh’s Full Frontal and Anthony Minghella’s Cold Mountain. It’s perhaps no surprise for us to continue as innovators in the field of edit and post with the recent adoption of Blackmagic’s DaVinci Resolve 15 as a collaborative editing tool for our many in-house editors, VFX creatives and colorists. Resolve 15 provides remote access opportunities to our clients and post teams, as well. Remote collaboration and IP-based delivery of content, both related, are other topics that we are quite enthusiastic about when looking at upcoming transitions in the M&E and post industries.

I recently found myself on a whirlwind tour, visiting light field and volumetric capture facilities to familiarize myself with a brand new world of compositing and effects with Unity, while also visiting partners and building relationships worldwide to establish a flexible IP-based delivery and management system. Offering secured military-grade VPN (virtual private network) tunneling and encrypted security protocols for production dailies and original camera files, the overall quality of the Internet has led to a far more secure, as well as much more rapid delivery system than ever imagined, even now.

The robustness of the Internet is much greater than what productions are currently leveraging. With centralized camera files, DigitalFilm Tree and our clients, like ABC, have direct, trackable, coordinated and immediate access to any variety of files no matter where they may be needed. In many cases now, if you’re shooting, there is this notion that you can send either to a private cloud or to a public cloud, and centralize the camera RAW, which is what we used to call the original camera negative. That changes everything! Because all production emanates from the original camera negative, or what Netflix now calls the original camera file.

Far more efficient for post as well as marketing and other needs, we are also enthusiastic for the onset of 5G, as it will deliver even faster Internet alongside the promise of a wireless workflow that can send a RAW file directly from camera to the cloud.