Many success stories so far in VR adapt legacy competencies into this emerging area where the playbook is still being written. Digital Domain has taken a similar path by combining years of visual effects (VFX) chops with acquisitions such as Immersive Media.
The result has been to cover a greater portion of the creative stack, and a range of formats. That includes live-action 360 event coverage like UFC, the Rio Olympics, ESPN X Games; as well as Cinematic VR. The latter most recently includes DreamWorks’ Voltron VR Chronicles.
“It’s about bursting into all realms of content around VR,” Digital Domain VP of VR/AR Production Andrew McGovern told ARtillry. “A lot of the VR content we’re producing is premium pieces that blend live action capture with high-end visual effects.”
The positioning that Digital Domain has carved out — combining VFX competency and immersive tech acquisitions — also characterizes VR’s overall opportunity. As industry OG Tony Parisi recently said, the current wave of VR will enjoy a strong crop of adaptable VFX talent.
“In addition to VFX and animation talent, there’s video game developer talent,” added Digital Domain PR Director Allison Citino. “Voltron VR Chronicles was built in Unity, so it’s following those same professions.”
The Business Case
When casting a wide net and building capabilities across several VR opportunities, it still requires focus. And Digital Domain is zeroing in on a few areas where it sees the biggest potential. Those include live sports, given its appeal and premium value.
“We’ve seen a lot of success in the live streaming business, and live video in general,” said McGovern. “Whether it’s VR or traditional, it tends to drive more engagement. No one watches the Superbowl the day after.”
Live sports will indeed be opportune for VR, as we discussed with the Golden State Warriors. Not only are viewers engaged, but live sports are a saving grace for broadcasters in the fight against cord cutting. VR boosts that advantage further, so they’re receptive to it.
There’s also a strong business case for live events in VR. Broadcasters, event promoters, teams and venues can all provide a more in person-like experience but remotely. That eliminates some of their inventory constraints, such as the number of people they can fit in a given venue.
“All the constraints of space and geography that a lot of these leagues, venues and teams face right now, VR can fix a lot of that,” said McGovern. “End users don’t have to pay $10K for a court side ticket, they can pay $5 for a VR experience and watch it anywhere in the world.”
As for the types of events that are most conducive to “front row” VR experiences, they tend to be those with high-energy and a relatively small field of play. This is why the NBA has been an early VR adopter. Digital Domain has also broadcast a handful of NHL games in VR.
“We found that Hockey is a great experience in VR because the field of play is very tight, and it does move fast,” said McGovern. “If you can position cameras like we did, around the arena and area of play, you can cut between cameras and provide a pretty well-produced experience.”
Conversely, larger playing fields pose challenges to capturing 360 video with the desired up-close experience. That means football, soccer and golf can present obstacles. But that just compels the experimentation that defines early stages of emerging technologies.
“One of the things we began to experiment with this year when streaming the Summer X Games with ESPN was unique camera positions, such as putting them on jibs, or spider cams,” said McGovern. “That opens up the opportunity to get much closer to the action.”
Beyond sports, Digital Domain is interested in a range of live events. That includes concerts as well as things like the Miss Teen USA Pageant, which it recently produced in live 360. That includes content capture, as well as distribution for live 360 and video on demand.
Open for Business
Looking forward, Digital Domain’s business objectives include continuing to develop capabilities to tackle a range of content formats and subjects. That goes back to VR’s early-day success formula in building on diverse sets of competencies for immersive content creation.
“Our main focus is content, and how do we push the boundaries of creating great content,” said McGovern. “Part of that objective is working with partners who can bring stories and IP to the table, and blend it with our expertise on the VR side.”
Meanwhile, McGovern and Citino are encouraged by the macro-environment, where there’s a hunger for digital content and new distribution paradigms. Invoking Parisi once again, the other factor that empowers the current VR wave is a generation of highly-receptive digital consumers.
“There’s a shift in how content is being consumed and distributed,” said McGovern. “It opens up a lot of opportunity for immersive entertainment and could even allow companies like Amazon and Netflix to get into VR, because their pipeline is all digital so they can support it.”
Disclosure: ARtillry has no financial stake in the companies mentioned in this post, nor received payment for its production. Disclosure and ethics policy can be seen here.