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Today is a very special day for me and the rest of the team at Southpoint Films because it marks five years since the company was founded. Looking back, it’s crazy to think about how much the world of video production has changed. Five years ago we didn’t have drones, 360° cameras, or Vimsy – which is a very significant part of our business! Instagram TV didn’t exist and Vine was still a thing. The list goes on.
In the spirit of thinking about how much things have changed since our humble beginnings in November 2013, I thought I’d share a few thoughts on where I see the world of corporate video production going over the next five years. By no means is this a definitive list, but these are all things that I see gaining some momentum as humanity continues its march into the next decade of the 21st Century. Let’s brace ourselves for a moment as we step into the future.
I genuinely love my drone and I’ll take any opportunity I can to fly it – when the project allows! I’m also looking forward to the day when I can be walking down the street, order some food, drinks or products on my phone, and then have them descend on me from the undercarriage of an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle a few minutes later. (Not that I have any particular problem with the current ground-based delivery options, I must admit!)
The only trouble with this vision for the future of drones is that it will result in a lot more air traffic, which will introduce a need for much tighter regulations. Today it’s possible for anybody and everybody to walk into a high street shop, buy a drone, take it home and fly it. This is going to change. In fact, as of next year (2019), it’ll be a legal requirement for everybody who buys a drone to register it on a national database before they can fly it. Change is definitely coming and I think it’ll become increasingly harder for anybody without a professional use-case for a drone to get their hands on anything more than a toy.
From a video production perspective, Southpoint Films has the required permissions from the CAA and insurance to fly drones commercially, and the hoops we jump through for this process are pretty stringent – even as it stands today. (Which is why I get quite frustrated when I hear of people using drones commercially without the correct permissions or insurance.) I don’t see a huge amount changing for someone like myself in the short term other than the usual spec bumps for these devices – better cameras, longer battery life, more intelligent flight options, and so on – but I do think that there’ll be a significant shift regarding who will be able to use drones and what they’ll be using them for by the time 2023 comes around.
This photo was taken on the footbridge at Totton railway station. Traditionally this effect could only have been achieved in a studio.
While I don’t think Artificial Intelligence is going to put us all out of jobs within the next five years, I do think we’re going to see AI and Machine Learning utilised far more regularly within the world of video production.
Let’s look at Portrait Mode, which is a photography mode that’s available on recent iPhone models and high end Android phones. Portrait mode cleverly maps the depth of a scene in software and applies a faux “shallow depth of field” effect (a.k.a a blurry background) when you take a photo. This replicates an optical effect that was previously only available in professional stills cameras and would never be possible to achieve optically with the tiny lenses found in smartphones.
Portrait Mode is a feature that is assisted by Machine Learning, and on some phones it’s only possible because of Machine Learning – which is a form of Artificial Intelligence. Although it’s only available for still photos right now, it’s not a stretch to think that it’ll soon be available when shooting video on a smartphone too. (I would place bets on a year or two at most for a basic implementation.)
When this happens the quality gap between video shot on a smartphone and video shot on a professional video camera will get narrower . This could potentially pose some issues for professional videographers like myself as the barrier to entry for creating good looking video will be reduced, but equally I’m optimistic that it’ll improve my ability to make great looking video content when this technology is available in the sort of cameras I’d normally use. (And of course, there will still be many reasons why a professional camera is far more suitable for the job than a smartphone. Ergonomics, battery life, audio inputs, video outputs, the variety of lenses, data management, professional video codecs, accessories, and so on.)
In my experience with using Portrait Mode for still images, I find the feature incredibly empowering. Being able to capture professional looking photos from a camera I keep on me at all times is mind-blowing, and being able to change parameters like the depth of field or the focus point after the image has been captured is simply impossible with most professional cameras. Equally, the new Portrait Lighting feature found in recent iPhones allows me to apply lighting styles to images that would never have had that kind of lighting in real life, such as in the image above. I fully embrace the idea of similar tools coming into my professional workflow, and when it comes down to it the user still needs to know how to take a good photo (or video) to make these tools sing.
This is one specific example but there are plenty more. I see a lot of benefit with Machine Learning coming to video editing software, such as for automatically transcribing interviews to speed up the editing process (“can you find the bit where they were talking about XYZ?”) or for intelligently improving low light or poorly stabilised video footage.
As it stands today, companies like YouTube are already using Machine Learning to create automatic subtitles for every video uploaded to their platform, and most of the major content distribution services (Netflix, YouTube, et al) are using complex algorithms to surface content for individuals that it thinks could be relevant. AI and Machine Learning is definitely going to continue to impact the world of video production.
Virtual Reality has been an emerging technology for several decades now – from the Sega VR and Nintendo Virtual Boy in the 90s to current offerings like the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and Playstation VR. Yet despite all efforts, it still feels like VR hasn’t entered the mainstream in the same way that other technology, such as smartphones, tablets, sat-navs, smartwatches, fitness trackers and even “smart home” devices (like Amazon Echo or Philips Hue Lightbulbs) have. It seems like we’re still waiting for the “killer” device for VR content to emerge before it can really take off.
I think the biggest issue is the unavoidable fact that consuming VR content relies heavily on the viewer wearing a headset. As it stands, VR headsets are uncomfortable and they’re usually quite fiddly to set up; all of them have straps that need adjusting, some have lenses inside of them that you need to focus to suit your eyes, and some systems require installing equipment around the room so that it can track your movements. Proper VR headsets (not the ones that involve putting a smartphone inside the headset) also require a powerful computer with a high-end graphics card to power them.
While a lot of this can be overcome with technological improvements, the main issue is that VR headsets involve putting something on your face. Wearing one is a form of sensory deprivation – I certainly wouldn’t feel happy sitting in my office all day with a VR headset on my head, unable to see or hear what’s going on around me, and I think the majority of people would feel the same way.
However, although I think the current form factor is not ideal, there are definitely some interesting use-cases for Virtual Reality. Gaming has always been one of VR’s main attractions but I also see applications in training, where a scenario would be played out in Virtual Reality and a trainee could respond to it as if they were there — but this sort of interactive experience is very expensive to create.
360° VR video is very affordable, but it’s limited by the fact that viewers can’t interact with a scene – they can only move around the video and observe what’s going on. Full VR requires the expertise of 3D graphics designers and software developers, and I don’t see the cost for these skills decreasing dramatically in the next five years if you’re looking for a bespoke solution.
Despite my negative outlook on VR, I don’t think there’s any risk of it going away, and I’m very much behind 360° video as a format – even if it does require using a headset in order to get the best experience from it. (Although I think using 360° video with a smartphone or tablet is equally as good since you can explore the scene by physically moving your device around.)
With the right application both VR and 360° video can be very powerful tools. I just think that when this format finally hits the mainstream the way we consume it is going to look a little bit different to how it does now. Speaking of which…
Augmented Reality (AR) is a “mixed reality” format where you see the digital world overlaid on top of the physical world. You can experience this for yourself right now using your smartphone and an AR app.
Snapchat is a popular social networking app that uses AR to superimpose filters over your face or add digital characters to your environment (ask your kids about it!), the new Measure app that comes with iOS 12 for iPhone and iPad lets you measure the size of real life objects using your device’s camera, and apps like IKEA Place let you add digital furniture to your home or office to give you an idea of how it will look after you purchase it. It’s all rather cool!
Like with VR, I don’t think the current method for viewing AR content is the best – which at the moment is using AR via your smartphone or tablet – and I think that over the next few years we’ll see the introduction of a consumer device specifically for viewing AR content, such as AR glasses or some other kind of headwear.
I’m aware that my main gripe with VR headsets is that they’re headsets, but I think the nature of AR will force these devices to be much lighter and easier to wear; the current expectation is that these devices will be classed as “wearable”, so in theory they should be comfortable enough that you’ll be able to wear them all the time. And because they’re designed for mixed reality, they won’t interfere with the user’s ability to see or hear the real world around them in the same way as a closed VR headset does.
Bringing this back to video production, I think AR will provide video creators with new opportunities for deciding how their content is displayed.
Firstly, AR will allow video content to appear anywhere at any size, which means that video content will no longer be restricted to the size of the screen it’s being watched on. I think this will be useful for 360° video and VR content as AR will make it possible to jump in and out of an immersive virtual experience without fiddling around with putting on a special headset first; you’ll already be wearing your AR device.
I also think that AR will make it possible to embed video in physical locations. When combined with a system like QR codes, video content could pop up automatically in the digital reality whenever it’s needed – like an instructional video appearing in AR when you need help with a product, or a promotional video appearing automatically when you look at an advert in the physical world.
Obviously five years isn’t that much time – we don’t even have a consumer-ready wearable device that’s capable of displaying AR content in this way yet – but I would expect to see some kind of wearable AR device on shelves by 2023. The vision probably won’t be as complete as I’ve described it, but I think this AR device will probably be sitting in the same position that a device like the Apple Watch or Fitbit is today; these wearable devices are not the final vision of a “quantified self” device, but it’s a promising start and the trajectory is clear.
My final prediction, which isn’t quite as exciting or sexy as the others – yet is possibly the most important for the future of video production and consumption, is the introduction of 5G networking and better internet infrastructure across the board.
There’s an extraordinary amount of data in video files and that’s only going to increase as 4K and 360° video becomes more commonplace. 360° video in particular needs as much data as possible as the image has to stretch into a sphere around the viewer, and the proximity of this content to the viewer’s eyes when they’re watching it in a headsets means that they can see every pixel if the image quality isn’t high enough. Having a better infrastructure that allows people to watch content online in higher resolutions is going to become increasingly necessary as this format finds its wings.
Additionally, as infrastructure increases globally, the opportunity to use video to reach distant markets increases. As more of the world comes online (think large rural areas or the third world), watching online video will finally become a viable option for consumers in these places. Imagine being able to sell an online video course to a customer in rural Africa who would never have been able to access this sort of content before – and think of the good those skills could do for that person and their community. As mobile networks increase in speed and coverage, new markets can be tapped into and video makes this scalable.
The goal of bringing everyone online might not be complete within five years, but there will definitely be more places that are connected than there are today, and this is a huge opportunity for everybody.
So those are my thoughts on where I see video production technology, and the technologies that influence it by association, going in the next five years. Obviously I can’t predict the future, so please don’t come back to this post in five years to tell me how wrong I was – that would make me sad – but these are my thoughts on where I see the wind blowing.
When I look at how I was making videos five years ago compared to how that process looks today, not that much has changed. The resolution of our cameras have increased and there are some neat new features like face detection auto-focus that are enabled by the faster computer-y bits that they have inside of them. And of course we now have drones and 360° cameras, which weren’t available back in 2013. But the way we tell stories hasn’t changed at all, and I can say for certain that we’ll still be doing it the same way five years time; Each story has a beginning, middle and an end… and speaking of ends, I’m going back to the party!