Cannes gets engrossed in the 2019 Immersive Summit
by Vassilis Economou
- CANNES 2019: The third Winston Baker Immersive Summit, in partnership with the Marché du Film’s Cannes XR, was dedicated to exploring how to make XR work from development to distribution
Organised for the third year in a row, the Winston Baker Immersive Summit, in partnership with the Marché du Film’s Cannes XR, was the main event of the VR Financing Summit, and as such, the entire fourth day was dedicated to it. This year’s Immersive Summit, devoted to examining how to make XR work from its development to final distribution, unspooled in three fascinating and important stages.
The first topic discussed was “Narrative AR & VR: Expanding the Medium of Storytelling”, with panel members Michael Conelly, president of Blackthorn Media; Kane Lee, chief content officer at Baobab Studios; Francesco Lonardi, VR producer and co-founder of Milan-based ReframeVR; and Thibault Mathieu, creative producer and founder of Wilkins Avenue. As more creators are trying to get into AR and VR narration, the question of how the technology can be implemented in traditional storylines is being raised. Mathieu mentioned that it’s pointless to create interactive content just for the sake of interaction, as many stories are better off without it. Lee agreed with this remark, as in his view, stories must be organic, and more importantly, the director of the experience should have the freedom to be able to expand his story after coming to understand the key advantages that this technology provides. Breaking the fourth wall and changing the PoV for the user are some of the tools that could come in handy for future content. According to Lonardi, who worked on Leonardo: Doubts of a Genius, the space created by sound is also becoming more and more important in addition to the visuals. The general consensus among the panel was that a challenging story should also be aimed at the right user – one who will be able to interact with it.
The second topic was “Virtual Visionaries: Finding the Right Partners”, the panel for which comprised François Fripiat, founder of Brussels-based sound studio Demute; Rick Hack, head of media and entertainment partnerships at Intel Corp; Sönke Kirchhof, chief executive officer at INVR.SPACE; and Alina Mikhaleva, co-founder and managing partner of Spherica. It is crucial to understand the difficulties inherent in producing AR and VR projects, and even at this early stage, the industry has managed to think outside the box, which, according to Fripiat, is the most important ingredient in being successful and delivering immersive content. Mikhaleva was more pessimistic, as she focused on the initial high expectations that the technology has generated in the end user, and the poor results that it has had so far, as due to cardboard and low-cost VR equipment, a whole generation of possible viewers have been exposed to experiences that were of low quality. Therefore, either they have never returned or they will not be easily persuaded to try VR again. If the basics of the technology are missing and there is a lack of tools to share with the user, it becomes extremely hard to innovate and tread pioneering new paths through this space. Nevertheless, Kirchhof seemed more positive, as he said that “traditional” filmmakers are willing to collaborate and broaden their knowledge with the help of game developers in order to create new media formats in the near future.
The Immersive Summit wrapped up with the final panel, “Monetising XR: Finance, Brands & Distribution”, where the more practical part of the XR platforms was discussed. The discussion amongst the panellists, Louis Cacciuttolo, chief executive officer at VRrOOm, Jimmy Cheng, director of content and business operations at Iconic Engine, Asha Easton, knowledge transfer manager at Immerse UK, and Joanna Popper, global head of VR for LBE (location-based entertainment) at HP, seemingly followed on from the previous conversation on how the initial implementation of VR drove away many potential users. Despite this, new platforms are being created and are on the lookout for experiences. Cheng focused on what mobile and telecom providers are looking for, and how diverse the markets are in Germany and France, for example, as each has a totally different type of leading content. Easton shared her experience of how different funding bodies in the UK are supporting immersive content, underlining that the money exists, but the investments should be organised in a more efficient way. At the same time, there is a lack of information available for possible producers. Cacciuttolo followed this up by detailing the new change in direction at VRrOOm, which will now be more active in content distribution, while Popper insisted that LBE experiences are probably the best possible implementation of what is currently available in the world of immersive media, and this was something that the majority of the panellists agreed with.
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