It was a memorable day for the guests attending medientreff 2018. The volumetric video studio that they got to see in Babelsberg is changing the way moving images will be produced and consumed in the future. It will make the walk-through film a reality – and the cloud is to play an essential role here. In a proof of concept, the UFA film production company has already implemented the first tests of a production workflow via the Open Telekom Cloud. Journalist Wolf Siegert spoke with two people who are experts in both the cloud and film: Sven Bliedung, managing director of Volucap GmbH, which operates the first commercial volumetric studio, and Ralf Hülsmann, responsible for building the cloud portfolio for media technology at T-Systems. Read the transcript of the conversation here:
Wolf Siegert: First question for you, Sven. With this development, which we have seen take off for the first time on the European mainland, have we brought back to Germany a development that once actually originated in Germany?
Sven Bliedung: Looking back on the development of film history, Germany has of course been one of the pioneers. Already, many years ago. And what has to be said is that here too, of course, we didn’t want to wait until history is written elsewhere or until a decision is made somewhere else as to how the whole thing is to be used and structured. And that's why we said that we want to be at the forefront, to help support this technology and thereby develop and build it.
Wolf Siegert: Ralf, it was once said that film can no longer be made without 35 millimeters. But today, movies don't work without the cloud. Is that an exaggeration?
Ralf Hülsmann: I think that's exactly the right statement, from a certain perspective. The customers, the consumers, they are looking at an IP-TV today, they watch OTT [editorial note: over-the-top content]. Even if I'm on an airplane today, the entertainment system is IP-based. It’s likely that we will have to move the entire workflow of production, post-production and play-out to the cloud if we want to reach customers and remain cost-effective and improve collaboration in today's systems, and then the cloud is certainly the platform of the future. And is that already the case today? Unfortunately, this is not yet apparent from our sales. If analysts are to be believed, there will be considerable movement in this direction over the next three to five years.
Wolf Siegert: Sven, I don't think I'd be too wide off the mark if I were to assume that the first year will be in the black. Where do you also see the interesting business prospects for this new development?
Sven Bliedung: You don't undertake such a big project with such a large dimension simply based on gut feeling. This is of course done with a very close examination of what the market looks like, what the development there is. And what we have noticed is that the demand for all media, all the devices for sale, for the walk-in movie, for virtual environments, for mixed reality, has increased enormously. This means that the figures have tripled in some cases in recent years, quadrupling in terms of sales figures.
What we see is that there is an enormous number of devices. At the end of this year, a completely new wave of devices will launch that will have twice the resolution of the devices on the market today. And that's an extremely fast development, there are lots of devices, but what's missing is the content. And that is the decisive point: meaningful content has to also be created now. And this must also be produced in a wide spectrum. And I'm not talking about one or two experiences you look at somewhere. I'm really talking about the great masses. And as I assess and see it right now, the current situation of only having a studio in Germany will be far too little for what is to come over the next few years.
Wolf Siegert: The project is based at Babelsberg for a reason. Because it really is the cradle for content, as it is called today, with German history and with everything we have experienced in Germany with UFA over the last 100 years. But UFA and the studio itself are now privileged partners in this new business. I think there are already the first test tracks that can be shown at that moment, right?
Sven Bliedung: Exactly. There have already been the first prototypes and test productions directly with UFA, where of course we have learned a lot from the production processes, which is important, it’s important for directors, for the production itself. All this has now gone into Volucap's new studio. For us it is important that as a producer you don't have to know much about the whole technology. You can go in there, into the recording zone, you don't have a green screen, no tracking mark, you don't need any of that. You stand in it, basically like in a white room, and everything is recorded. And then when the take is in the can, you get the 3-D data and can continue working directly. We tried to make it as simple as possible and also to make it as easy as possible for the actors with as little distraction and of course also to bring in a certain lightness. So that the actor feels comfortable and can really come up with the necessary performance in this studio. The environment naturally also plays a huge role for the actor. This was extremely important to us.
Wolf Siegert: And I believe this has also been one of your most important tasks in your cooperation with UFA to date, that you have tried to really get this new concept, defined not only on the net but also, so to speak, via the net, onto the rails, onto the line and onto the net of the future. Is that right?
Ralf Hülsmann: First of all, it’s important to point out that this location is very well suited to innovation. This can certainly also be said for UFA within the Bertelsmann Group when it comes to content production and methods. And – I like the sentence very much – that the production takes place quasi on the net, in the cloud. Indeed, a successful proof of concept with UFA has just expired, in which we already packed data from the production on storage systems that UFA has always used, automatically creating a comparison in the cloud, so they automatically end up in post production here in Babelsberg, so they are automatically available for all freelancers who may still access it individually with a laptop. And of course I have the option of adding processes in the future, such as cutting in the cloud. Or I can optimize versioning, back-up and so on.
Wolf Siegert: If we lived in a country where wishing helped, and we are in Babelsberg after all, what would you – perhaps not only secretly – wish to see happen over the next few years?
Sven Bliedung: So, my biggest wish is that at some point I really will have several virtual assistants who will take care of all these everyday things that I don't want to take care of and who will stand around me as digital, as virtual avatars if possible. That is, if I want to buy something that I can simply inform this virtual assistant, who then immediately runs off, takes care of it, and I can concentrate on the things in life that I enjoy, or that really drive me.
Wolf Siegert: Ralf has had an opportunity to think about it. And I think he already has an idea.
Ralf Hülsmann: Yes, I think the era that we are currently living in is incredible. Because in the end you sell everything to anyone, to a consumer, a private person. You do business with people. The visions are perfect. For this to work, you need a certain technology behind it. This technology is something like big data and artificial intelligence. Which is used in the media industry, for example, for facial recognition or something. But the digital assistants, that's something IT has just created. We are just at the point where the media industry and the IT industry are in the midst of something like a merger. The solutions are no longer one or the other; they are joint solutions. I find that totally exciting at the moment.
Sven Bliedung: Perhaps if I can briefly add to that: You have to realize that what’s being created right now are really fundamental technologies. So what we see today as a camera for filming. In the future, the cloud will be regarded as just as fundamental. No one will think about it anymore, and no one will talk about the cloud. Everyone will just use it. And we see the same with all the capture systems we have here now. No one will talk about anymore about “what kind of camera do you have” or something like that. Instead people want to go somewhere, they want to experience something, they want to have an experience, they want to be in the film, they want to make the film accessible.
And if all the data is then uploaded via a cloud, what the technology behind it looks like, where it is recorded, nobody will be interested in that later. Now at the beginning it is of course a very exciting topic, because it is so new and hardly anyone has any experience with it. But in the long term, this will be a basic technology that everyone will work with eventually. And which will permeate the whole of everyday life.