MovieLabs shares a vision for the Future of Production with IBC365

In August MovieLabs – made up of five of the biggest Hollywood studios launched its 10-year vision for the industry. James Pearce spoke with the organisation’s leaders at SMPTE2019 in Los Angeles.

In 10 years, an entire industry can undergo transformation. Look at the impact the iPhone had when it launched just over a decade ago – it upended the technology and telecoms markets, and the media market too, driving the world to a more data-driven, mobile-centric view. For filmmakers, the challenges of the coming decade will include adopting new and emergent technologies into production workflows that have largely stayed the same, even in the switch from analogue to digital.

At MovieLabs, an organisation backed by five major Hollywood studios, that prosepct led to the development of its vision of how the industry will look over the coming decade, and what it must do to capitalise on the opportunities emergent technologies offer.

Rich Berger, CEO at MovieLabs, tells IBC365: “We were looking to see if the studios were all aligned in the direction we wanted to head towards. And it turns out the studios are aligned.”

MovieLabs, an independent non-profit organisation that has been around since 2007, then began to put this to paper. The group developed 10 principles aimed at setting out a direction for the industry – “a North Star” as Berger puts it – that shows where the major studios would like the industry to go from a technology standpoint.

In August, just ahead of IBC2019, MovieLabs published a whitepaper outlining these principles. So why now? The timing, says Berger, “is really important” due to the developing nature of technology within the media and entertainment sector. “There’s the move to the cloud, the real time engines, and what the studios are doing independently. We’re looking at how we can accelerate that by working together with a common technology agenda.”

MovieLabs CTO Jim Helman says getting the studios to agree on a direction was “the easy part”. “It came together quite quickly,” he adds. “There was a lot of alignment without the studios talking beforehand. We’d discuss the principles with them and they’d be mostly in line.

“We now have a steering group made up of studio production technology leads. So now we’re focussing on how we can go and implement it. Sometimes finding that alignment can be challenging, but in this case, everyone was marching in the same direction.”

The steering group includes technology leads from each of MovieLabs’ studio members: Paramount Pictures Corporation, Sony Pictures Entertainment Inc., Universal Pictures, Walt Disney Pictures and Television and Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

Securing the future
“We’ve been meeting with the studios and putting together our plans for going forward,” he says. “We’re already working on a number of topics.”These topics, notably, include security – a key focus for the organisation. MediaLabs plan to publish a new white paper in the coming weeks looking at this topic, Helman and Berger explain.“We’re now working on a companion security paper which will give a vision of the future and how we’re securing that,” says Berger. “So that will give a number of principles on security and how that impacts the implementation.”

Security (and access) is one of three groups that the ten principles outlined in the white paper sit across, alongside cloud foundations and software defined workflows, which sits on top of all of them.

MovieLabs has outlined 10 principles that are key to its 2030 vision.

These are;

1. All assets are created or ingested straight to the cloud and do not need to move

2. Applications come to the media

3. Propagation and distribution of assets is a ‘publish’ function

4. Archives are deep libraries with access policies matching speed, availability and security to the economics of the cloud

5. Preservation of digital assets includes the future means to access and edit them

6. Every individual on a project can be identified, verified and their access permissions efficiently managed

7. All media creation happens in a highly secure environment that adapts rapidly to changing threats

8. Individual media elements are referenced, accessed, tracked and inter-related using a universal linking system

9. Media workflows are non-destructive and dynamically created using common interfaces, underlying data formats and metadata

10. Workflows are designed around real-time iteration and feedback

Cloud was one of the most talked about issues at IBC2019 and was the most searched for term on IBC365 during the show.

Berger acknowledges that the industry “has been talking about moving to the cloud for some time” with some examples already in play. For example, hybrid cloud or rendering in the cloud.

“There are pieces of the workflow in the cloud,” he adds. “But what we’re projecting out is entire workflows in the cloud. That changes a lot. It opens up a lot of opportunities and brings down a lot of barriers.”

Security ties into this, he adds, because “there are always going to be people who are concerned about security or the changes involved” and that, to some degree, is where MovieLabs comes in.

“That discussion about how it will work is always going to be part of it – talking about how it will it work. That’s where change management comes in. But we’re focussed on enabling technology – the evangelism around that has to talk about it.”

Helman is keen to stress that MovieLabs’ pitch is not just for the sole benefit of the studio. It is also about using technology to enable creatives working in the sector. Working in the cloud not only boosts efficiency, it also allows the creation of more iterations before principal photography begins.

“It’s not necessarily about improving efficiencies for the studios so much as enabling creatives to explore more options before they run out of budget or time,” says Helman.

“We have an opportunity as we move to the cloud to reinvent and optimise the workflows,” adds Berger. “So you wouldn’t have to send files all over the place, we can have them stay in one location and have the applications come to the medium. That in and of itself should create a lot of change and opportunity.

“It’s only natural that creatives want to have more visibility about things you couldn’t see before.”

Take visual effects, for example, where the cloud could enable creatives to interact more fully in order to set shots. “[You can] do things that you couldn’t do before such as not waiting for something to render, or having more real time feedback, it feeds into the creative process,” says Berger. “These tools are just going to spur more creativity and give the commodity of time back to the creatives so they can do more.”

Collaborate and listen
Another key element is engaging with other members of the media and entertainment community, which, according to MovieLabs, will come in several forms.

Helman on studio strategy: “Sometimes finding that alignment can be challenging, but in this case, everyone was marching in the same direction.”

Firstly, there are industry bodies and standards organisations that have a good view over certain sections of the industry. It is no surprise, then, that MovieLabs were speaking at a conference organised by SMPTE.

“We will need to work with other industry groups and other companies – this isn’t something we can do by ourselves,” says Berger. “But we want a good view of how we can approach it.”

MovieLabs, he adds, is “not interested in reinventing the wheel”.

“We don’t need to become a SMPTE-like organisation as that’s already a great place to come together, and we have worked to drive a common studio technology agenda in SMPTE before and will do that again as needed – but we definitely need to look at what the best shape for us is going forward and who needs to sit at the table.”

MovieLabs also wants input from other studios outside of the big five that make up its members. On top of that, the team is hoping to have discussions with vendors who can provide solutions that meet the vision outlined in the white paper.

“We’ve been meeting with the studios and putting together our plans for going forward,” says Helman. “We’re already working on a number of topics. We will need to work with other industry groups and other companies – this isn’t something we can do by ourselves. But we want a good view of how we can approach it.

“We’re very open to seeing what the future holds,” concludes Berger. “Now that we have this new area focus where we’re aligned with so many new kinds of studios and smaller studios, plus lots of other kinds of companies that make up part of the ecosystem,, we’re open to not only working with everyone but also looking at how we work together.”