The Insiders Show podcast is a series of conversations with innovators within entertainment technology and a response to the ongoing need for information due to emerging technologies and changes in consumer behaviors during COVID-19

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New Tools for Immersive Experiences

New cutting edge tools for content owners are emerging for filmmakers to tell their stories in powerful new ways, allowing users to experience hyper-real environments for computing, gaming and entertainment. The next generation of premium consumer experiences includes a new innovation called PresenZ, a volumetric movie format that allows 6 degrees of freedom in a VR headset. This podcast episode explores how this technology differs from 360 degree movies and what creators and consumers can expect from this new software.

Guido Meardi

 Guido Meardi, CEO and Co-Founder, V-Nova

Co-founder and CEO of V-Nova, tech company with a portfolio of over 1,000 patents forging new directions in data processing to enhance digital experiences, maximize efficiency, reduce costs, and increase sustainability. In addition to its IP on international standards such as HEVC and VVC, V-Nova also developed international data compression standards such as MPEG-5 LCEVC which generates step-change efficiencies in traditional video workflows; and SMPTE VC-6, which drives multi-fold efficiencies in cloud production, AI media indexing, multimodal Generative AI, and Intelligent Edge applications. V-Nova created V-Nova PresenZ, a unique volumetric format that redefines VR/XR entertainment by delivering unprecedented 6 Degrees of Freedom (6DoF) volumetric experiences with offline-ray-tracing quality.

A prolific inventor, Guido has co-authored over 500 of the above patents and plays an essential role in the development of V-Nova’s core technologies. A former senior Partner at McKinsey, Guido was head of the Organization and Operations Practices of the Mediterranean Complex, where he led transformational projects across the globe and was instrumental in setting up some of McKinsey’s own innovation-related business-building activities. His extensive consulting work also included collaborations with governments around the world, focusing on transformational change and economic development. Guido holds an MBA from MIT Sloan, where he was awarded Siebel Scholar, and an M.Sc. in Computer Engineering from Politecnico di Milano, where he was an Intel scholar, and the University of Texas at Austin.

Jim 00:02

Welcome to the Inside. As Hollywood rolls out feature films for the big screen this year, the teams at Apple and Meta have been working with filmmakers to take their stories into a new generation of personal headsets. The Apple Vision Pro and the Meta Quest systems allow users to experience hyper real environments for computing, gaming, and entertainment. At the forefront of this emerging frontier are teams working to build the next generation of premium consumer experiences. And today we’re joined by one of the leaders in that field. V-Nova is a London based IP and technology company, specializing in cutting edge tools for content owners. It’s newest innovation is called PresenZ, a powerful new way for filmmakers to tell their stories in immersive environments like VR and AR. We sat down recently with their founder and CEO, Guido Merdi.

Jim 00:59

Guido, we’re probably in the most transformative period in Hollywood history. We’ve got new technologies and new capabilities coming along with new super powerful chips and all kinds of explosive new technologies that are both controversial. And it’s exciting. And so I’d like to ask you because you are primarily a technology leader in this field. Where do you think we are on the technology front in the creative arts?

Guido 01:25

Everything is coming up together, which has challenges, but opportunities as well. And I’m very privileged because as V-Nova, we are working with a lot of the companies that are making it happen. And our technology is sort of fundamental. We will talk about one aspect, which is immersion, today, but also the other aspect inevitably is AI and everything that is happening with that.

Jim 01:51

You’re always. Your mantra is it all comes back to story. So your technologies, your commitment every day is to help storytellers tell their stories better. You have a new technology that you’re quite excited about called PresenZ. Tell me about what you are bringing to market.

Guido 02:12

Yeah. And you’re totally right. The technology is, is a detail if you want, but story, immersion, emotion, is critical. And we know in the history of mankind, we try to make stories more and more immersive and more and more real because reality is three dimensional. And you perfectly know, because the Advanced Imaging Society in large part was created precisely to foster this ambitious pursuit. And actually, what we have done is just allowing a further step forward in that direction, which I believe can be incredibly powerful in its essence for storytellers, which is essentially enabling for the first time to make the next step, the next natural step from stereoscopic 3D video, to immersion, which is when when you put the audience in the story and they can look around and even just a slight movement like I’m doing must reveal objects and you, can I track what’s going around you, and our V-Nova PresenZ technology for the first time allows creators and creatives to tell stories and to put the audience inside the story.

Jim 03:23

So let’s bring this back to technology that will drive these experiences. Is already out there. There’s the quest, obviously everybody’s been excited about the Apple Vision Pro, which is its very earliest days as a platform. How many devices worldwide are there out there for this kind of immersive storytelling?

Guido 03:45

It’s interesting. And that’s what’s so exciting about it because thanks to Meta, thanks to Apple, thanks to also other newcomers that are creating devices like Lenovo or Samsung, we are seeing tens of millions of families that are already equipped with these devices. There are about 35, 40 millions of active devices in the U. S. and Europe. And that’s a pretty large number to the point that VR gaming is already a 20 plus billion dollar market. So there is an audience already for this that is currently mostly a gaming audience. And my hypothesis, it’s a gaming audience just because entertainment hasn’t been able to be up to par. Because so far, immersive entertainment has been not not, you know, it didn’t cut it.

Jim 04:31

And impossible just a few years ago. So the name of the product is PresenZ.

Guido 04:35


Jim 04:36

And what does PresenZ — it’s a, it’s a software?

Guido 04:41

Yeah, it’s a software. You know, it’s essentially a solution that allows to plug into the traditional production pipeline so that the production is pretty much the same as normal to the point that, as you mentioned before, it can be just an additional add on that is created during a very normal production, or it can be an activity when one can go and get back archive content and bring new life to archive content. So, for instance, the same DreamWorks has, you know, they’ve been showing some examples, some tests that they’ve done with existing content, like How To Train Your Dragon and Abominable, you know, and showing how you can remaster them to PresenZ, or it can be new productions, which are very normal CG productions. And then you do the normal process of rendering, compositing, coloring, etc. So it’s the same old, same old.

Jim 05:35

Your technology is used by creative teams? It’s a platform for creative teams to do what?

Guido 05:45

Do paradoxically the most normal thing which is telling stories with the existing production pipelines, so everything that we know and love from cg special effects the same tools the same methods the same pipelines and also the same editing but this time you can put the audience inside what you’re doing. The beautiful thing is that this doesn’t require to create content just for this medium, but you can reuse content that you are creating for standard 2d video, or, you know, so cinema, 3D cinema, home video, and you can remaster it for PresenZ or you can even take archive content and remaster it for PresenZ.

Jim 06:28

So I’m a creative team at an animation studio in Hollywood, and i’ve got a new feature film coming out for the holidays, and I want to create an experience that is something that people can enjoy that’s associated with this film. What kind of, and I bring you in and I say, okay Guido, help us create an immersive experience of this motion picture. What kind of assets do you ask them for? What do they have to create for this? It’s even better.

Guido 06:54

They don’t even need to ask us if they want, they can do it themselves. So currently we would assist them to do it, of course, because at the beginning it’s about also training, coaching and upscaling, but it’s actually pretty simple because if they are doing a feature film, for instance, that has CG animations or special effects, they can just instead of rendering a video, they can render a volumetric asset, which is essentially pretty much the same process, but you obtain a pre rendered volumetric six degrees of freedom asset that then the users, the viewers can navigate in six degrees of freedom in real time. And this example that we are seeing now from DreamWorks that they posted on a YouTube channel shows essentially what it means. It means that you can in real time at very high resolution, high frame rate, navigate the same graphics quality that you get from a Hollywood movie.

Jim 07:50

You mentioned the value in many cases of a video game is that I as the user am the protagonist and your, your vision for this and what PresenZ allows is the user to actually become the protagonist in the movie, in the content.

Guido 08:06

In reality, not. Thank you for the question because it’s very important to distinguish gaming and interaction from narrative media and, of course, VR so far has been so dominated by gaming, you know, gaming has been the killer art so far for VR that everybody thinks, okay, I do something immersive, it must be interactive, it must be branching narrative, at least, or a game, and you are the protagonist, you choose the point of view. Paradoxically, my point is, I believe that the best thing that PresenZ allows is to be normal. Narrative media, which means a director that tells me a story where I’m not the protagonist, I’m an observer, and there are cuts, there are close ups, there are point of views, where the direction, the main direction is chosen for each cut by the director. And I may decide to move around a bit, but that’s where the magic is. So what I like about this is that it’s so normal that it’s totally revolutionary because it allows to do the normal things with the normal pipelines with the skills and the tools that people already know and already have and sometimes the assets that they already have. And the magic is that this time you’re inside.

Jim 09:27

When you speak with creative teams, what is their response once they start playing with this?

Guido 09:32

Response is great. Of course, you know, they are learning, so we have a number of proaction teams that are playing, experimenting, trying to understand what makes sense. And that’s why it’s very important. The first pieces of content that will be released because they are also a way to test the audience. So as V-Nova, we had to have stake in, in the game. And so we created a studios business unit to work with studios, big and small, and actually produce showcase content, because also for us, it was important to experiment, to figure out what can be done. We are experimenting with certain styles that are TikTok types. Styles that have never been attempted in VR because they would have made people vomit after a minute, basically. And now they become possible. And so, you know, it’s really opening up new possibilities or also experimenting with mixing narrative media with interactive media, because what I said about gaming earlier is totally true, but you can mix and match certain things. So there can be a story. But then there can be moments when you may have interaction because in any case you are within a medium that is real time interactive. So you can mix and match pre rendered stories with something that is interactive and that’s an interesting creative challenge.

Jim 10:54

When you speak with the creative teams, what has frustrated them about immersive content before PresenZ? What was it that they were frustrated about that they couldn’t get that they can get with PresenZ?

Guido 11:07

Yeah, you know, so far with immersive content essentially you had two ways to do it. If you wanted fidelity in terms of visuals, you were forced to create what are called 360 videos. And with 360 videos, you get the fidelity, but you don’t get the depth. And so as soon as the users move their head, their brain is telling that something is wrong and ultimately this generates motion sickness. And that’s a big no-no, that ultimately prevented certain types of cuts, certain types of closeups that would make people sick very quickly. And so the alternative is you can use gaming engines or real time engines. At that point, you have the six degrees of freedom, so you can actually look around, see behind objects in, in real time, but the problem is the visuals are very low quality because you get the visuals of a relatively low quality video game. That’s kind of the thing that PresenZ enables. It enables to have that quality of Avatar 2 and Kung Fu Panda 4 because you do it, in advance, then you create all the points of views, you compress them, and then in real time, you just need to calculate the point of view. So all the heavy lifting is done once and for all.

Jim 12:18

Is there a frame rate that’s associated with feeling unwell, or is it? What are the, what’s the sweet spot for getting the picture quality where you and the creative teams want it to be.

Guido 12:30

Yeah, the feeling unwell, which is very important, is caused by multiple factors in when you are immersed. First of all, of course, if you don’t have parallax, or if you cannot realistically see the world behaving as it does in real life, you immediately notice and you spot it. Also, if you’re eye tracking objects and the object is not moving at the same frame rate as the display frame rate, which nowadays is around 90 frames per second, you’re immediately notice a juddering that becomes very, very unsettling. So it’s very important to have the visuals, but have the frame rate as well. And that’s what becomes very difficult to do in real time. If you need to do all the physics simulation, the lighting, the rendering; instead PresenZ allows you essentially to throw all the power in, you know, offline, essentially you do it beforehand, then you compress the results. And then in real time, you just need to calculate the point of view.

Jim 13:26

Guido, I’m a post production or I’m a VFX artist or supervisor. Is there a way to use this technology and this capability that helps me do my job better?

Guido 13:36

You’re our guy, because if you are a VFX specialist, post production specialist, first of all, it means that you know all the tools that this technology plugs into, because the beautiful thing about PresenZ is that it’s a plug in to the typical pipelines that are used for authoring, for rendering, for compositing, for post prod, etc. And aside from giving you the opportunity to create something that can be experienced in a new way, it’s also a new way for you to experience your own content, even if you ultimately just want to produce a normal video. It’s actually a great way to see things in a different way during the production process. We actually heard that from some of the production companies that are working with us. I quote them by saying, we had never seen our stuff in this way, and it gave us a new perspective. This is true, not just in the entertainment industry, but we heard it also in the industry, where certain designers. They said that it gave them the possibility to see, for instance, how light reflects on surfaces in a way that when you do it in 2D, you, you don’t see it in the same way as if you are there inside. It’s kind of like the effect when, when, when you’re watching a beautiful scenery and you try to take a picture and it’s never like what you’re actually seeing because it’s too small and constraining, you know, you can be inside.

Jim 15:14

So this gives a post production person or a VFX artist a way to really get insight into the production that they’ve just done for a 2D version. It just allows them greater insight into what they’ve just created from a different perspective.

Guido 15:29

From a different perspective, literally. Yeah.

Jim 15:32

So it’s a powerful new tool.

Guido 15:33

Yeah, it’s a powerful new tool and it’s so normal that it’s revolutionary because you don’t need to change the way of working. You, it’s just an add on to everything that the community is already doing.

Jim 15:49

This is a time where everyone is looking for efficiency. They’re looking for more streamlined ways to get things done. What does PresenZ do to make people more productive?

Guido 15:59

First of all, you know, in reality, it’s a way to get more money out of the investments that you already make. Because admittedly, when you need to render with PresenZ, you will have one more rendering. And rendering PresenZ since you’re rendering a photorealistic volumetric immersive scene. It takes about twice as much as a higher resolution rendering. So, you know, it’s more rendering power than you need to throw at it. But that’s not a huge expense and investment. It’s a little add on to a big investment in producing the content, the storyline, the art that goes into it. And so it’s an opportunity to monetize much better what you already have, including archivals.

Jim 16:44

So our industry has been through periods of theatrical motion pictures, television came along, then home entertainment, then cable television. And we’ve had all these incarnations and reinventions of our industry. There’s always been a desire to find that next frontier where a business can be built that will compensate creative efforts. Do you see, if you look out over the next 10 years, you say 35 million sets out there, do you see this as a new business?

Guido 17:13

Absolutely. And not just in the next ten years, but in the next three, you know, it’s actually interesting that very often people think about substitution, but we know that video didn’t kill the radio star and are, they all stack on top of each other. So the theater is there to stay because people like going to the cinema. So I’m not saying in any way. That this is going to be a substitute for anything else that exists. It’s a new medium that gets on top of them, you know, at the beginning more as a niche, but as a profitable niche. And for studios, it’s actually a great way to monetize better what they are already investing money on, because when they do a new production, they can leverage what they’re doing. To also serve tens of millions of families that are high spenders with something. Very, very unique and they can also revive archives with a modest expense so they can, they can deploy to this new audience. The interesting thing is 35 million people is today, but it’s growing very quickly. The Apple Vision Pro is a fantastic device at the beginning. It’s costing very, it’s pricey, admittedly, and we all know that Apple will eventually come up pretty soon with something at a lower price and Samsung is coming out with their device and meta is selling a lot of their devices. And of course, we’ll come up with new. And even more competitive devices. So in the next one, two, three years I believe we will go and actually all the statistics say it’ll go to 50, 70, a hundred million families.

Jim 18:51

What kind of content is coming? What do you see coming?

Guido 18:54

We see mostly at the beginning, two types of entertainment. Of course there’s also industrial use cases. that are relevant in pre visualization, commerce, et cetera. But in terms of entertainment, there are two main use cases. The relatively easy use case, paradoxically, it’s music and shows. That’s why, for instance, one of the first pieces of content that will come up is a wonderful music experience with a new song from Diane Warren sung by the beautiful voice of Ari Lenara, a very popular pop star in Europe that that essentially will showcase what it’s possible with humans in six degrees of freedom and the type of cuts that resemble a sort of music video, but you are there to experience the artist in their world. And then of course our dear love movies, films short form and potentially longer and longer form, where it can be a spinoffs of existing content, it can be dedicated pieces of content, or it can be remastered classics.

Jim 20:01

The target audience right now that are using these experiences, the consumers. Tell me about that audience and then the target audience for what you see coming.

Guido 20:11

Yeah, that’s the biggest bet because right now these devices are mostly used for gaming. So there’s a lot of people that say, come on, you know, who’s got these devices. They don’t care about entertainment. They don’t care about storytelling. They just want to shoot people or zombies or vampires, et cetera. And that’s one of those things that up until you do it, it’s just what you want to believe and who says what, you know, my experience showcasing demos to people is that people of all ages are very interested in that, including Gen Z. Young people that like games and so we need to see how much gamers will like to experience this content and how much this content will attract new audiences because we will start having people that would have never thought about purchasing these devices that will say, Oh, come on, I can watch my favorite artist. Of course, I will buy, I’ll spend a mobile phone price to buy this device.

Jim 21:11

Would you say that we’re really at VR 2. 0? Yeah. That we’re really at the end of the beginning when all the initial experimentation came out and people said, I can do this or let’s try this and everybody got feedback. Where are we now? Because a lot of people say, Oh, I tried that two or three years ago and I wasn’t very impressed.

Guido 21:32

Yeah, I know. And it’s very typical with technology. It’s always like that. I think we just we’ve just lived a very important moment like that in AI because we’ve been talking about chatbots and AI for, for decades. And there were multiple attempts that were like, meh, you know, it doesn’t really work. And then ChatGPT came along and people were suddenly saying, this just works. I believe with VR and Immer Immersive Entertainment, we are getting exactly at the chat GPT moment of immersive entertainment. And actually quoting a famous journalist that I cannot mention because I don’t have his authorization, but when I showed him the demo of PresenZ, actually what he told me was precisely this. He told me this is the charge GPT moment of immersive entertainment because this is really working in a way that allows storytelling without making people feeling sick. So I believe that with immersive entertainment, we are getting to that level, thanks in large part to the fact that now we have devices that are beyond the threshold of satisfaction and at decent prices.

Jim 22:42

From a PresenZ standpoint, V-Nova, who do you want to be talking to now over the next few months as this rolls out?

Guido 22:48

Well, you know, creatives, studios, you know, we are already in touch with many of them and we are doing a lot of very, very promising tests. We are deploying the first content starting in June, so I invite everybody that can to try it because it’s actually one of those things that —

Jim 23:06

Where can they go to get it?

Guido 23:07

Well, you know, in June we’ll deploy starting from SteamVR and then after the summer it’ll be the Quest Store and the Apple Vision Pro Store. So, but at the very beginning, it’ll be the SteamVR store, which are the hardcore gamers of VR. And it’s actually interesting because it’s the most hardcore gaming community. So it’s a very interesting test of the audience to see, an audience that theoretically doesn’t care about storytelling, let’s see how much they truly don’t care about storytelling when the storytelling is done right.

Jim 23:41

You’re very passionate about this. What drives your passion? What, what makes you so excited about this?

Guido 23:47

Well, you know, I’m always excited about pushing the envelope of what’s possible, especially when I believe and many people around me believe that it’s the right direction and here I’m very passionate because I saw a fantastic reaction from everybody we showed this to and not just the techno geeks not just early-adopter people but we actually went to a lot of film shows and events with normal people, young childs, 80 year old people, low income people, high income people, tech savvy, non tech savvy, and we got the same response, the same primal response from everybody, a lot of people that didn’t want to try it because they were like, Oh no, no, VR is not for me. I tried it once and didn’t like it. Then they tried it and they’re like, Oh my God, this works. And again, you know, I’m a strong believer in all these different ways to, to experience stories because ultimately stories are one of the most important thing for humans. You know, it’s how we communicate. It’s how we pass experiences. It’s how we we teach the most important concepts that there are. So, you know, I think there’s a lot of value in what creatives do to tell stories in a more immersive way.

Jim 25:04

Guido, we appreciate you and V-Nova for being on the forefront of this astounding new technology. And that tees up our quote of the day. It comes from science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke, who wrote in 1962, any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. Thank you, Guido, and thank you all for listening.

Jim 25:27

The Insiders is presented by Barco and produced by the Advanced Imaging Society in Hollywood. Brett Harrison produced today’s show, and our technical director is Matthew Bach Lombardo.

Jim 25:40

This is AIS.


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