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The three key things immersive content makers need to know

Posted 5 Sep 2018

Finding the right skills, meeting high expectations and finding a balance between being dynamic and achieving a level of standardisation across the industry are major challenges and opportunities facing immersive content makers.

The process that all companies go through to create a product has huge impact on the ability to do business profitably and to adapt to changing market demands. In the immersive industry, content is created in a number of ways; interactive computer generated and animated environments, use of 360 degree cameras, and importing CAD models from data driven software packages. Audio is increasingly playing a key role in content development and user experience, particularly in broadcast where binaural recording is an important element.

UK creative industries have lots to offer the nascent immersive sector, not least because many of the skills needed can be transferred from different parts of the creative world – from film and TV, to art, games and visual effects. We have a unique historic pedigree of leading by example in this field. But there are challenges, especially as this is still largely an early stage market with lots of different priorities, all sorts of creative people driving different methods of development, and largely lacking a common language.

Innovate UK estimate that around 4,500 people work in 1,000 different companies across the country in the immersive sector. This is a lot considering the relatively nascent stage of this sector; Innovate UK estimate that’s around 9% of the global market, cementing Britain’s place as one of the leading contributors to the emerging immersive industry.

Opposable Group was commissioned by Digital Catapult to uncover the particular challenges and opportunities associated with workflows, the development process and how content developers actually create content. We asked ten of the UK’s top immersive content makers, drawn from across industry sectors to explain.

Our Creative Tools and Workflows for Immersive Content Creation report highlights just how quickly technology and the opportunities to use it are moving, as well as identifying a number of trends that are having a direct impact on the way content is made.

Identifying the right skills, and when to use them

Teams tend to be quite small in immersive companies, especially in comparison to larger software developers, but this can make them more agile and open to experimentation, something that’s important given immersive is not mainstream technology so the commercial aspect isn’t proven. Bringing in expertise and skills as needed, rather than being kept in-house also helps to keep costs down, but there remains a premium on people with immersive development experience.

Although there is a reasonably limited skills base to draw from – for example, people with the ability to code Unreal applications are harder to find in comparison to Unity developers – in almost every one of the ten companies we spoke to, studios identified challenges to their workflow which they often solved using skills from outside their traditional base. Teams working in immersive at this stage also tend to be largely self taught, adapting experience from the games, TV, film, VFX and animation industries.

Consumer expectations of immersive content are high

Massive TV, gaming and film visual effects budgets mean users expect nothing less than a Hollywood blockbuster experience inside a VR world, which is difficult to recreate on a small budget. However, consumers are also enthusiastic for immersive content and the novel creative experience that it offers, even if it doesn’t quite match the blockbuster experience yet.

Finding a balance between dynamism and standardisation

Development tools already widely available in the industry, such as Unity, Unreal and Maya, enable a broad range of experiences to be created, as most of the software tools used in VR development were the same as in other immersive and interactive development applications.

On the other hand, where the techniques are new and the tools don’t yet exist – creatives are being very creative in the approaches. For example, Aardman Animations used LEGO figures and plasticine characters to help with view angles and placement as part of their storyboarding technique.

There is also scope for improvement and customisation to make tools easier to use. New tools such as Tiltbrush, Twine, Quill and Adventure Creator are being successfully explored to create immersive content in the gaming, VFX and animation industries, although in general these are still early versions that require a bit of experimentation. One company we spoke to had abandoned existing tools in favour of creating their own. Sony Studios tailored a bespoke development engine, based on their experience of creating game engines for consoles, that enabled far more control, integration with existing PSVR features and software optimisation than using an off the shelf engine.

What does all this mean for immersive in creative industries? It was clear from the report that there’s an overlap of techniques, workflows being driven by previous experience, specific workflows and techniques that only work for one project, and adaptations that are made on the fly to overcome creative challenges. Workflows are dynamic and based on the desired outcome of the project and the skills in the team. Bringing together people with so many different backgrounds and experience creates a dynamic environment but appears to result in a lack of standardisation.

The challenges that the industry will need to solve together in order to move towards commercialisation and mainstream adoption of immersive technology are varied. Whether this is in the development of new tools needed to standardise or automate crucial production processes, or advancing the way skills are taught and transferred across industries, there is still a significant need for R&D that will enable creative teams to make the make the next generation of immersive experiences and applications.

Over the next decade the tools and workflows for design and production will evolve, along with the network and cloud infrastructure that underpins the distribution of these new experiences. Ultimately the developments across the immersive industry will drive market growth for VR and AR increasing audience size and commercial models available to developers.

You can read the full report here.