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Update on SMPTE’s Rapid Industry Solutions (RIS) On-Set Virtual Production (OSVP) Initiative

September 19, 2022

SMPTE’s Rapid Industry Solutions (RIS) program was designed to give the Society an agile, responsive framework through which to address emerging industry needs. Working with partners across the industry, SMPTE identified on-set virtual production (OSVP) as a suitable subject for its first RIS initiative, the SMPTE RIS OSVP initiative, which launched one year ago.

One way to think of OSVP is that physical and digital worlds interact in realtime as they are composed and captured on set using traditional production tools plus virtual and augmented reality, computer-generated imagery, and game-engine technologies. Another is to recall scenes from shows such as “The Mandalorian,” “The Book of Boba Fett,” and many others that have begun to use this approach in production, particularly since the pandemic began.

OSVP challenges transcend all types of creation pipelines worldwide, from broadcast to scripted content creation. As a global organization, SMPTE is uniquely positioned to bring these stakeholders together to tackle the complexities of OSVP, with a particular focus on education and interoperability. In pursuing this goal, OSVP RIS participants have focused on identifying and curating knowledge resources, building partnerships and collaborations, connecting people and organizations with resources, and shaping educational programming and hands-on training opportunities designed to expand the pool of professionals working in on-set virtual production.

“In implementing the RIS model to meet industry needs with greater speed and agility, we made an immediate impact, drawing participants from across the industry—including sectors new to SMPTE—into the conversation, establishing new partnerships with associations and educational institutions, and building tremendous momentum as we set about delivering results,” said SMPTE President Hans Hoffmann, head of media fundamentals and production at the European Broadcasting Union (EBU). “The process is proving to be both a learning exercise and a transformation, which we are undertaking as an organization, now under the leadership of David Grindle, along with the executive committee, the board of governors, our membership, and the home office and with a dedicated project director, Kari Grubin. This experiment has presented a timely challenge for the Society, and we are now in a position to look back, examine areas that need improvement, and adapt as we move forward.”

The SMPTE RIS OSVP today comprises more than 60 participants including groups, companies, and individual contributors. For SMPTE, this has translated to nearly two dozen new corporate and individual members, as well as increased interest in the creation of new SMPTE Student Chapters. Three SMPTE RIS OSVP workstreams focused on interoperability, education, and outreach have been responsible for driving progress over the past year.

“I’ve been very pleasantly surprised that people who otherwise would be protective of their own knowledge and their own proprietary advantage have been giving of their time and talent to make sure that our industry can progress,” says David Long, associate professor at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) and director of the RIT MAGIC Center|MAGIC Spell Studios, as well as an education workstream leader along with Chaitanya Chinchlikar, vice president of Whistling Woods International.

“Any time you aggregate a bunch of independent folks, even for the best of reasons or intentions, you invite a slower, more intentional pathway toward your goal,” continues Long. “As an industry advocacy organization, SMPTE is dedicated to taking this approach and bringing all voices to the table. When you do that, you usually can’t do anything in a truly rapid manner. But, the work of the RIS OSVP group is absolutely the fastest SMPTE response to industry needs I’ve ever been a part of. And everyone is benefiting. Everyone will be advantaged by it. That makes working together a lot of fun.”

Education Workstream: The Four Charges

The first output of the education workstream was the on-set virtual production wallchart, released in 2021. The wallchart has become a guide for many of the activities since undertaken by both the education workstream and the interoperability workstream. In addition to imposing a logical flow and illustrating it in a visual form, the wallchart effectively serves as the table of contents or the first pages of a much deeper dive, a much deeper experience. The team at MovieLabs created the taxonomy and visual language for the wallchart.

The four charges guiding the work to the education workstream are largely guided by the wallchart and the continued work it suggests. All four charges are active and well underway.

Charge No. 1: Curation of Existing Educational Materials and Content Programming

New content is being authored and entering the ecosystem every day. This charge focuses on understanding and cultivating the large existing mass of literature, and audio and video material, whether surface-level case studies or highly technical instruction manuals, regarding different elements of on-set virtual production to build self-paced or asynchronous learning pathways through those topics. Part of this work involves creating pathways suited to different personas across creative, production, and engineering roles.

purri1-3190520-small

OSVP wallchart published in October 2021.

 

To keep its commitment to the “rapid” element of the RIS mission, the workstream has enlisted students to categorize and tag content according to a scheme taken from the wallchart. With this metadata, the team can more easily identify gaps and work to ensure the full spectrum of educational content is being covered. The ongoing curation of existing resources will provide the foundation for a series of formal educational content programs.

Charge No. 2: Collaboration in Sharing and Creating Educational Content

Having made progress in its curation and cataloging of content (charge 1), the education workstream has moved forward to fill gaps in the educational content spectrum. The team set about to determine where SMPTE, with its track record of standing up courses and instructional modalities for the industry, could help make missing resources available. What personas are not well-served? What element or experience is missing? What depth is not well-represented? The team also began to build relationships with other professional and educational groups to foster sharing of educational content and, when appropriate, enlist experts who created other useful educational materials to help produce new content.

The workstream is in the process of building a new deep-dive SMPTE+ event focused on OSVP. Designed for industry members who have not yet been involved in OSVP or preproduction for OSVP, it is intended to bring the largest possible population up to speed rapidly. Introductory information will be made available online by RIS participants in advance of the dedicated SMPTE+ virtual event, which in turn will provide foundational information that prepares participants to attend the RIS OSVP one-day in-person track at the SMPTE Media Technology Summit (MTS) on 24 October in Hollywood. The MTS will provide hands-on training with elements that reflect the technical and workflow elements outlined in the wallchart.

Charge No. 3: Preparation for the Wallchart Interactive Platform

The SMPTE RIS OSVP Advisory Group determined that a key to making it easy for industry members to find information around virtual production is to make trusted resources and tools readily accessible in a curated location. So, using the wallchart as a template, RIS is creating an interactive platform that will allow users to see the full ecosystem and navigate to specific areas to find educational resources, ecosystem partner information, worldwide subject matter expert organizations, and SMPTE resources. The build process for the minimum value product phase is underway, and RIS will use beta tester feedback to design the final user experience. Ultimately, the interactive platform will allow users to keep a “SMPTE RIS OSVP toolkit” in their pocket or on their tablet or laptop.

purri2-3190520-smallOSVP image captured at the HPA Tech Retreat Supersession in February 2022.

purri3-3190520-smallOSVP image captured at the HPA Tech Retreat Supersession in February 2022.

purri4-3190520-smallOSVP image captured at the HPA Tech Retreat Supersession in February 2022.

Charge No. 4: RIS Resource Grant Pilot and Launch

Through its fourth charge, the education workstream has launched a pilot round of the RIS Resource Grant. In simple terms, the program will connect original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and tech companies with educational institutions to accelerate education and training around OSVP so that more young people graduate ready to enter the industry. Due to a lack of financial resources and geographic limitations, training and volume stage time are scarce resources.

During the pilot phase, the workstream assessed the needs of educational institutions and the type of resources that can be made available to them most quickly and easily. The team identified several educational institutions within the U.S. and has been looking at OEMs and tech companies willing to give them training (on-location or online) and volume stage time. First-level matchmaking is underway as the team works toward a larger-scale resource grant proposal.

“The work we’re doing is a truly global effort,” says Chinchlikar. “I’m here in India. We have colleagues in Hong Kong, Australia, the U.S., and Europe. I don’t know that a global organization has ever done something like this—bringing members of the industry together in small groups, creating best practices and resources that benefit everybody, and putting them out there in the world so that everyone wins. I am confident that it will benefit educational institutions and their ability to train creative and technical talent. And, in time, it’s going to be really interesting to see what content looks like when on-set virtual production becomes a standard part of all curricula.”

Interoperability Workstream

The interoperability workstream is tasked with the more conventional SMPTE job of looking for opportunities for synergies and standardization. The team is also gathering information with the goal of improving communication and interoperability among workflow steps and device steps. Once again, the wallchart provides a useful road map for this work. The workstream is breaking each area into smaller subject areas that can be fully defined. When that work is done, the end result should capture everything that happens in the volume stage.

purri5-3190520-smallOSVP image captured at the HPA Tech Retreat Supersession in February 2022.

The interoperability workstream has been filling in the details, starting with camera and lens metadata. The Camera Metadata Subgroup started work in December 2021 and is nearly done gathering information from other professional organizations, industry professionals, and manufacturers.

Furthermore, due to the swift pace of change in virtual production, which relies on software-based tools, SMPTE recognizes that not all solutions depend on traditional standards. Through the RIS model, SMPTE looks to rapidly provide the industry with other valuable resources, such as best practices, recommended workflows, and open-source tools.

Because the RIS OSVP is not about creating rigid standards, but rather about identifying best practices, information-gathering is more concerned with looking at all different aspects of workflow, coming up with a generalized form of the necessary information, how it is being captured by the different manufacturers, and what is expected by the operators. Once the SMPTE RIS OSVP captures that information, it is up to the industry to use it or not.

Recognizing that manufacturers are not interested in revealing intellectual property, the interoperability workstream has focused on enabling data transforms and other mechanisms for bringing data into a homogenized space. The team is using the same approach as it moves on to other subject areas.

Each subgroup feeds its finding back into the bigger interoperability group, and once all layers have been stratified, the workstream moves on to another element of OSVP. In addition to various aspects of the camera, top priorities on the interop subject list include color science—and particularly the relationship between the LED wall, the sensor on the camera, and the lens; the OSVP ecosystem; file formats; and the entire workflow process and interoperability challenges.

“When I first heard about this RIS program, I wasn’t sure that ‘rapid’ and ‘SMPTE’ went together, but I was looking for a way for us to get involved, to understand virtual production as a thought leader, and to find out what people are doing,” says J. David Hoffman, business development manager for the Americas at Blackmagic Design and co-chair of the SMPTE RIS OSVP Interoperability Workstream. “In the past six months that we’ve been involved, there’s been a remarkable level of cooperation and commitment. Then, about three months ago, everybody kind of hit a stride, and we’re seeing the output. That speed is trailblazing for what we’re trying to do to move everybody forward. We’re doing the interop work in small measurable chunks and putting it back out to the community on a regular basis, and I think that’s been the big difference.”

Outreach Workstream

“One of SMPTE’s roles is to articulate to the workforce of tomorrow what the possibilities are, to help them focus on the industry” and say, “Ah, that’s where I want to use my skillset,” says David Grindle, SMPTE executive director. “It’s our job to show people that there’s a whole world—the technology and creative communities—clamoring for them to come work with them. The RIS OSVP initiative is an important way SMPTE and its membership can engage in this vital outreach and education.”

Each workstream has an embedded representative looking at outreach opportunities to share information and provide an on-ramp for individuals, professional groups, educational institutions, and ecosystem companies to join the initiative. In addition to sharing news and updates at traditional events such as NAB, IBC, and SMPTE Section meetings, SMPTE RIS OSVP participants have reached out to new partners such as the HPA Technology Retreat, SIGGRAPH, and the EBU Production Technology Seminar.

Conclusion

“We now know that we might have picked a smaller RIS project to kickoff with—a fish rather than the whale that on-set virtual production has become,” says Hoffmann. “It has grown so fast! While it’s a lesson in right-sizing for future initiatives, it’s also validation that SMPTE does need an adaptive system by which we can rapidly develop and update best practices for specific practices and workflows as the industry changes.”

The SMPTE RIS OSVP initiative so far is proving to be an adaptive system, with space for dialogue around industry needs, room at the table for all comers, and the flexibility to evolve as this first iteration of the RIS model tests its possibilities and limitations. For society as a whole, ongoing challenges and opportunities include embracing new workflows and a faster pace of work, as well as outreach to new technology areas and content creators worldwide that have not traditionally been a part of SMPTE. Despite these challenges, the RIS OSVP is already delivering outputs that offer a real benefit to the industry, and participants agree that is a win for everyone.

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