Cloud economics, AI disruption, environmental action and Xtended Reality are the big themes to watch at NAB 2023, writes Adrian Pennington
One of the benefits of the move to cloud is that workflows and costs can be streamlined. However, the very term ‘cloud’ masks huge complexity for CTOs to grapple with, whether in a post house or live content producer setting.
That’s why the prevailing approach is to keep a foot in both camps.
An NAB conference session titled ‘If Cloud Is The Answer, What Is The Question?’ tackles the practicalities of cloud transition. It argues that on-prem “is not necessarily the relic it might have been even a few years ago”. While acknowledging the many advantages of cloud, speakers including from Ross Video will identify general misunderstanding about the problems cloud actually solves, and equal uncertainty about the new issues it creates.
For example, many postproduction owners are wary of cloud economics. David Klafkowski, Founder & CEO, Racoon, said unexpected monthly bills from public cloud “can be pretty fierce” and that “controlling cloud cost is a science in itself” especially for small to mid-sized facilities.
Envy, one of the biggest UK edit houses, said its clients want to work flexibly and that includes going into a suite. Jai Cave, Technical Operations Director, said, “If clients want to offline remotely they can, but three days out of five they want the ability to come into a suite. That’s why, due to our size and the way we work day to day, we are the client’s public cloud.”
At the other end of the equation are massive projects able to take advantage of cloud’s economies of scale. None has been bigger recently than Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power which used cloud to crunch production times and unite hundreds of remote VFX crews as will be detailed by Jesse Kobayashi, the project’s VFX Producer, at another NAB2023 session. For all the groundbreaking efforts to perform crafts like colour grading in the cloud, it’s worth bearing in mind that the cost for it all was underwritten by AWS – a luxury that other productions do not share.
Also showcased will be the work of first-time production company NoneMore which used cloud workflows to create the Oscar winning animated short The Boy, the Mole, the Fox, and the Horse.
There’s even a presentation about the cloud workflows used by BBC Studios to deliver live feeds of the Queen’s funeral to international rights holders with limited or non-existent satellite links.
Vendors to watch include LucidLink network attached storage (used on The Boy, The Mole); Blackbird which is turning its attention to the millions of digital content creators and Avid which might well have a cloud evolution of its familiar edit interface.
NAB 2023 Preview: Virtual production matures at pace
LED screens for Virtual Production will be conspicuous on the showfloor but it is the dozens of tools designed to enhance the new filmmaking methodology which will of more interest. These range from image-based lighting systems which playback content in tune with skin tones (Quasar Science to set to post camera file management software from Adobe (Frame.io) and Sohonet which recently acquired Fifth Kind for this purpose.
GhostFrame will demonstrate its patented ability to derive four independent images from a single camera frame on the stands of partners Vizrt, ROE, Kinoflo and disguise. This means for example that a presenter can see their autocue or an AR object marker while viewers see only the intended environment.
Also look for MRMC to showcase interactive user experience Unreal Ride which combines virtual and physical using motion control to create a unique video for guests to take away.
Innovation in the area is happening so fast it is causing a headache for professionals trying to keep up. While more than three quarters of US filmmakers in a recent survey expect to do at least some work using VP technology this year (57% said they anticipated doing “a lot more”) feedback also suggests that the industry needs to do more to educate users about the technology.
“Training in Virtual Production is much needed from a technical perspective and how to apply it in filmmaking,” said Jonny Persey, director at Met Film School which works with VP stages at Garden Studios. “The technology and the methodology is changing so fast which is both incredibly exciting in terms of its potential for storytelling but almost means everyone is learning on the job.”
NAB 2023 Preview: Sustainability - M&E under scrutiny
After efforts to benchmark the carbon footprint of high-end TV productions, including Bafta albert; PEAR in the US, and Carbon’ Clap in France, attention is now turning to the entirety of the programme’s lifecycle.
With more defined start-end boundaries calculating Scope 1 greenhouse gas emissions is easier for production. Accounting for indirect waste that occurs in the upstream and downstream activities of an organisation (Scope 3 GHG) is harder to address.
Whether you agree with a recent Sustainability in Video Entertainment report that the video streaming industry’s annual carbon footprint now exceeds that of aviation, it underlines the findings of other studies that the bulk of Co2 in M&E stems from data centres upstream and streaming to devices downstream.
In addition, the pace of AI/ML development and use of applications like ChatGPT is burning more energy than other forms of computing. A report by Bloomberg blames a lack of transparency about the true carbon cost of AI on major data centre owners Google, Microsoft and Amazon and GPU developer Nvidia.
NAB is airing the topic in the panel sessions ‘M&E sustainability in the cloud’ and ‘Why sustainability in media matters’ during which it will also present a series of Sustainability Awards. It is to be hoped that tough questions will be asked since surely every company from camera battery maker to content delivery network needs to do more.
NAB 2023 Preview: AI - the latest disruptor
The Genii is not going back in the box. Attention in Hollywood has turned from whether to use Generative AI towards how to use it in earnest. Opportunities abound, from automating editing and VFX workflows to letting ML models loose on creating entire scenes from text or image prompts.
Sohonet said it trained an AI on 25 years of production data to help it forecast production volumes three months ahead. The results were useful – to an extent. What the AI didn’t factor – because it hasn’t been trained on the relevant data - is the looming writer’s strike. Generic AI models can’t yet adjust in real-time for the impact of news events.
A more pressing concern, highlighted by Josh Glick, associate professor of film and electronic arts at Bard College, is that studios using algorithm-driven predictive analytics may end up ironing out diversity of form, story, and talent.
“It damages the possibility of getting more films out there made by women and by people of colour when studios are just trying to make a film with the least amount of risk,” Glick warned.
AI is not new if viewed with the longer lens of disruptive technology.
“The startup that will solve AI-based rotoscoping won’t be the guys with a workforce of cheap labour in India,” said Sohonet chairman & CEO Chuck Parker. “It will be the startup in India with no labour which solves the problem. They can afford to innovate without destroying their own balance sheet, in contrast to the incumbent who continues to think that cheap labour is a competitive advantage.”
This pattern will repeat at an individual level. He said: “You could be an editor, colourist, audio mixer, production designer - everybody has to figure out how AI is going to co-opted into your job. The only inevitability is that right now someone else with an AI tool is figuring out how to take yours.”
At NAB, using AI/ML to automate workflows and jumpstart the creative process will be part of the conversation.
NAB 2023 Preview: XR all around you
A NAB session titled Immersive Storytelling ponders what’s next for virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and extended reality (XR). It’s a question that has perplexed some of the biggest tech giants which continue to pour millions of dollars into research.
As Matthew Ball, a tech investor and metaverse evangelist recently said, “In 2023, it’s difficult to say that a critical mass of consumers or businesses believe there’s a ‘killer’ AR/VR/MR experience in market today; just familiar promises of the killer use cases that might be a few years away.”
Ball admits that the technology has proved harder than many of the best-informed and most financially endowed companies expected.
He and others like Meta’s Mark Zuckerberg and Apple still believe that a smart glasses style device will provide the best gateway to the metaverse but no-one has been able to design one that packs sufficient battery and compute power, high resolution screen and the dozens of sensors required into package as comfortable as a smartphone.
Perhaps that’s because, as Epic Games’ CEO Tim Sweeney pointed out, we may need not just new technology but actual new science to build an AR platform that’s a substitute for the mobile.
Consumer electronics VR and XR devices might be some way off although that is unlikely to stop Paramount Futurist Ted Schilowitz and Sony Pictures’ SVP, Virtual Reality, Jake Zim from star gazing in the NAB session.
Until the killer AR wearable is invented, immersion will continue to amplify at scale around live events and physical venues. For an example, attendees need look no further than along the strip to the Venetian where the MSG Sphere, featuring two of the world’s largest spherical screens, are being readied to open later this year.
Read more MSG Sphere: Not only in Vegas