With VFX at the core of their business, CBS Digital has applied learnings from virtual production to create immersive experiences including the Emmy-nominated Stranger Things VR experience. Executive Creative Director Craig Weiss and Head of Virtual Production Jim Berndt tell us why they think VR ‘will change everything.’
CRAIG WEISS: My name is Craig Weiss, and I'm the executive creative director. We're CBS Digital. We're a digital boutique within CBS, and our core business is visual effects, and moving into VR and AR. We're coming to you from historic Television City, and some of the greatest TV shows have been filmed here. For us, it's really about ensuring that we're doing great work, and that we're using the latest and greatest software, and that all these pieces come together to deliver a really great product.
The way we migrated into VR is really with our core business in visual effects. It was really about taking all these wonderful tools that we have in 3D and taking this plate photography and dimensionalizing it. It's really a lot of the same principles, so we took a lot of that technology and work that we did in virtual sets and migrated that into VR.
Autodesk is part of our DNA, from Maya, primarily for our 3D work in visual effects and virtual sets, to Flame for final compositing in visual effects, and Arnold for a lot of the work we do in our pipeline ... We like the maturation of that software. Since it's been adopted by Autodesk, it seems like it's moving forward pretty quickly ... to Shotgun, which really manages our pipeline across not only visual effects but virtual sets. We use all these really wonderful tools that help us kind of build these worlds and tell these stories.
ANDREW BRITTON: My name is Andrew Britton. I'm the head of technology here for CBS Digital. We're using virtual sets as a way for directors, cinematographers, producers to let them see what a finished shot would look like. People are getting the buy-in immediately. The greatest usefulness of Shotgun is the ability to take data in and, using custom scripts, reformat it for data out. Being able to have quick access to the data and being able to transfer that data to other software is one of the most important things. That's, I know, where Autodesk is really making some great headway there. One of our big successes lately has been reverse engineering the Flame file formats and being able to integrate the Flame software into our modern-day pipeline.
VR is a very exciting medium, and we're really fortunate to have worked on some really great properties from Netflix. One of their great shows, Stranger Things, we were able to create an immersive VR experience that the fans could go into the house of Joyce Byers and experience what it was like to be there. It was a really rewarding thing to see people scream when they're supposed to, react a certain way, and that, I think, is one of the most challenging parts of VR, but one of the most rewarding things of VR. There's no question about it. I think VR is going to become one of the toolsets for every studio. Just the way TV just changed everything, I think VR is going to do that in a new medium, for sure.
JIM BERNDT: My name is Jim Berndt. I'm head of VR on virtual sets at CBS Digital. I think that as a whole, the industry is trying to figure out how best to use this tech. We are trying to make it so that you do this strange hybrid, where you are a passive person going through the experience, but at the same time, you play a role in developing the story. In other words, you are going to be the hero, you know? It's really exciting in that sense.
CRAIG WEISS: What we've really come accustomed to and really like now is the subscription model. We quickly realized, in a small boutique house, you can really expand and contract very effectively, and that's a huge deal for us. Quite honestly, it's software companies like Autodesk that give us the tools to make anything possible. It works both ways, you know? You have great artists and great software, and when you put those two together, you get magic. At the end of the day, people look at the work and go, "Wow, that's great."