Podcast: Nick Mitchell of Technicolor on Immersive Technologies

Lane Cooper sits down with Nick Mitchell of Technicolor to discuss immersive technologies such as VR, AR, and MR and the applications and impact of these emerging technologies.



Lane Cooper:                00:13               Hello and welcome to NAB Live, and to our series of conversations with people that are making a difference with it how it is that we live our digital lives. Extremely fortunate today to catch up with Nick Mitchell, he's the Vice President of Immersive Technologies with Technicolor. Nick, thank you so much for joining us today.

Nick Mitchell:               00:29               Thank you, Lane.

Lane Cooper:                00:30               Nick, wanted to talk to you about the immersive technologies, seems apropos, and really we've seen a lot of momentum over the last year. From one NAB to the next. Really, we've seen a lot of new content get formed, new technologies be introduced. Why do you think we're seeing so much strategic attention being applied to this category of technology in the entertainment media sector?

Nick Mitchell:               00:53               I think it's probably got to do with the fact that we can make dreams come true in ways that nobody ever has. We're able to grab people by the brain, and do just about anything we want with them in VR. It provides people that dream machine that they've always wanted.

Lane Cooper:                01:14               One of the things that we've seen is that, it's not longer just VR anymore, right? We're talking about augmented reality and so called mixed reality. Are you seeing some subtleties in these different manifestations of this immersive category?

Nick Mitchell:               01:29               Absolutely, there are three or four different types of augmented reality displays. Mixed reality is becoming a bigger and bigger activity online. People like to watch each other playing games, and being in these experiences. The extrapolation layers, I don't think we've even uncovered all of them just yet. There's a lot of different intricacies in the VR and AR space that are starting to subclassify the devices. For the real entertainment devices, those are gonna be the VR pieces. For the productivity devices, those are largely gonna be AR, augmented, and mixed reality devices. It really just depends on where you plan to use it that determines the form factor that's best. Because, there are so many different uses and applications, we're starting to see devices that the spectrum is just getting broader and broader every day.

Lane Cooper:                02:37               Interesting. What impact do those intricacies have in terms of fungibility, the ability of a technologist and/or an artist to move from one medium to the other?

Nick Mitchell:               02:49               Well, they present a number of complexities today. That's what my role is, is to try and take these really complicated devices and systems, and build a workflow out of it that is approachable and achievable by our customers.

Lane Cooper:                03:05               Maybe you can walk us through what that might look like. What does that look like in practice?

Nick Mitchell:               03:11               We work with a lot of traditional entertainment partners. They come in with a lot of preexisting notions, and that's dangerous right now. Because, you have to be able to ... You can't be precious about your content when you walk in the door, and your vision, because you just have to roll with the punches that occur in the immersive space, and really work with what you've got available to you to make the best content you can. Sometimes that's not always what you thought it was when you walked in the door. It's the same thing for traditional media. But, I think the level of complexity ratchets everything up a couple notches.

Lane Cooper:                03:54               What are some of the biggest misconceptions that you find, that you're like, "You're really not getting what your limitations truly are, or what the opportunities truly are?"

Nick Mitchell:               04:02               Well, some of the things are obvious to those of us in VR and AR. Like, you can't move the camera really fast, you can't spin around really fast. You have to give people time to uncover things, and driving that narrative without any control, and with the user having so much agency and free will, it's a complicated problem to tackle. We're really just figuring the language of how to tell the story, how to queue people into what they need to see or hear to follow the storyline through, and get the message that you were trying to send them. There's just a lot we still don't know, and we're figuring it out as we go along, and uncovering those bits and pieces with every project we work on.

Lane Cooper:                04:58               Nick, I'm familiar with a lot of your work in this arena, and one of the things that strikes me is that, you're being brought in way earlier into the story conception process, right?

Nick Mitchell:               05:07               Yeah.

Lane Cooper:                05:07               What story can we tell? Talk a little bit about how a technologist and creative community, with the creatives and the technologists are working together differently, perhaps, in this immersive category, than in more traditional mediums.

Nick Mitchell:               05:20               Well, one of the things that stands out about VR is, that it's this amazing empathy machine. You can put people into a point of view in a way that is not achievable otherwise, and that allows you to do things that you just couldn't really achieve previously. I've been watching a lot of VR lately, and I'm just struck by how emotionally attached to it I am, without putting effort in. I think that is that POV component. You're staring at an experience through the eyes of the creative, and in the environment that they want you to be in, and that affords you so much control and opportunity, that it can just get hairy really quick.

Lane Cooper:                06:18               That agency that you talk about, is really useful in a lot of different, I'll call them use cases. All right? We're telling stories that are derived from the theatrical. I know you've been involved in some major pictures that have been turned into VR experiences. But, there are other story telling opportunities, whether it's in advertising, or other forms of, ways to connect with audiences. Are you finding that this is opening opportunities, this immersive technology, this immersive experience is opening opportunities for technologists and immersive artists?

Nick Mitchell:               06:48               It's allowing us to play in areas that we wouldn't normally play. Technicolor is traditionally a big media and entertainment organization. But, this technology is allowing us to look into areas of industry like architecture and design, medical, all kinds of training and simulation potentials. The service industry is going to explode when they start to take advantage of it. We figure out a new use for it. I would say, on an almost weekly basis at this point, and it's almost, it feels like that's increasing at the moment. We're still on this upward climb of activity and interest, just because it is so fundamentally powerful, and so immersive, you don't have a choice but to watch.

Lane Cooper:                07:48               We are seeing that trajectory rise, and there is a tremendous amount of activity. But, there's also, it's a new technology, or it's a new set of technologies, new set of experiences, new workflows, new everything. What role does standards in the development of conventions, so that new artists can work with new technologists and not reinvent the wheel every time they get together, what are you seeing on that front?

Nick Mitchell:               08:13               Well, I think it's starting on a low level, like in the programing side of things, with APIs. How you convey things like position, and axis, and rotation. I think that those are fundamental. Up should always be up, and down should always be down, right? That's not the case today. There's a little bit of inconsistency in that regard.

Lane Cooper:                08:37               Right, so application program interfaces can help you bring that standardization to the market?

Nick Mitchell:               08:42               Absolutely, and then there's some work being done in that area, which is really promising. But, things like color are completely out of whack, in my opinion, in the area. Technicolor takes color pretty seriously, so it's close to our heart, and currently pretty messed up. These devices all have different display types inside of them. Some of the have multiple displays. The characterization and calibration of these devices isn't always obvious, allowed, or achievable. As we go further and further down the line, and we start to see this being used for retail, and brands, things like logos, the color of those logos. It's more important than I think we're really aware of right now. But, if I were to go and buy a couch in my AR headset, and that couch is a blue couch that looks perfect up against my yellow walls in my house, in my AR headset. When that couch shows up, it better look like the couch I saw in my glasses, and if it doesn't, something's wrong. I think that color compression are some of the areas that we need to look at pretty quickly.

Lane Cooper:                10:10               Is that something that you and your colleagues, are something you're taking a hard look at today?

Nick Mitchell:               10:15               Yeah, absolutely. The industry is taking a very hard look at all of this, and trying to find ways where we can collaborate and come together to find a way to solve a problem.

Lane Cooper:                10:26               What about things like users experience? How it is that as you go from one company to another, whether it's a device, or it's an author, a publisher of titles, or an advertising house that's delivering immersive commercial messaging, or persuasive messaging? Do we have, is there standards in terms of how consumers interact with those? Is that getting nailed down, or is that still pretty different for them?

Nick Mitchell:               10:50               It's the wild, wild west at the moment still. The consumer interaction with these devices, these are very foreign devices. They're very seclusional, so I think that one of the things that we're trying to do is, expose people to them and make them less unfamiliar, less weird. They're very clunky. It's definitely an enthusiast's world today. But, as the form factors start to shrink, and the devices get more powerful, I think that we'll start to see a lot more adoption. Especially, as the devices begin to get used in workspace and commercial.

Lane Cooper:                11:26               Right, and that's gonna require things to be more intuitive than they probably are today.

Nick Mitchell:               11:31               Yeah.

Lane Cooper:                11:32               Which, I would imagine is a big opportunity for the user experience community that is designing those kinds of experiences. Are they coming into your world a little bit? Do you have that kind of discussion happening?

Nick Mitchell:               11:43               UI and UX are a big deal for us right now. We have these great immersive worlds that we can put you in, and then if we need to have you make a selection, we draw some square boxes in front of you, and you either point at them with the laser pointer, or you touch them with your controller. It's less than amazing at the moment, and there are ways that we can fix that. That's one of the areas we're working hard on.

Lane Cooper:                12:13               Excellent. As we think about the next steps and what we can do to bring this exciting new technology to really, truly fulfill it's potential, what should the industry be doing? How should the members of this broad community of, this eclectic community of technologists, and artists, and these left brain and right brain people, how should they be coming together to harness and bring this technology to the market, to the audiences all around the world?

Nick Mitchell:               12:40               I think that the focus is gonna shift to location-based entertainment for a large majority of the public consumption model. Then, on the commercial side, some work needs to be done. We don't have the depth of applications we have on the normal desktop in VR. Maybe Quill is about the most fully flushed out application that I've seen. We don't have a Photoshop, we don't have an AutoCAD yet. We need to get these applications to be able to leverage this immersive interactivity and make it less weird to people who are doing their jobs during the day, so that when they go home at night, it's not that much of a stretch to think that I might bring one of these into my home.

Lane Cooper:                13:34               I've heard you talk about the location-based entertainment is really a low hanging fruit of opportunity. Have you seen a location-based entertainment that you found particularly impressive?

Nick Mitchell:               13:45               Yeah, The Void is knocking it out of the park, down at Disneyland at the moment. They've really got something special there, and I think that's a model to watch. Disney, in their traditional Disneyland style, have done an amazing job of managing people and the experience, and it's a very Disney moment.

Lane Cooper:                14:07               The Imagineers?

Nick Mitchell:               14:09               Yep.

Lane Cooper:                14:10               Nick, thank you so much. What a great opportunity to catch up with you on this topic. I think it's great, and really appreciate your taking the time to share your thoughts with us.

Nick Mitchell:               14:18               Thank you Lane, and thank you SMPTE, I appreciate being a part of it.

Lane Cooper:                14:20               Thank you.