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Innovation

A demo of Tilt Brush, bright colours

We Went To The FilmVic VR Industry Day

By | Innovation, VR | No Comments

We got to participate in Film Victoria and ACMI’s free VR Lab as part of the VR Industry Day, November 2016. Producer Simon J Green was a successful VR Lab participant and, thanks to those kind organisers, had the opportunity to develop our VR concept with a range of experienced VR content creators from VRTOV, Sandpit, StartVR, Grumpy Sailor, Visual Playground and PLaTO Reality. Here he is, letting you know what it was like.

First I wandered around the playground of VR experiences and demos, trying some I’d done before like the excellent NYTs solitary confinement piece, and new fun like the carnival games in Vive that were just good old fashioned, Wii style fun.

Finally got to try Collisions, the first VR film with stories from Aboriginal Australians. The possibilities of such incredible spaces and people were under-utilised, but the highlights were the drone shots as Nyarri Morgan used his fire craft to light the scrub and the central element of the nuke going off as Nyarri told his story. His story was the best part, and I’d have loved to see more focus expanding his story into a visual, 360 medium. Awesome to see it all coming together and paired with ILM.

The session with the other creators was the best bit. Everyone, even the mentors, acknowledged we were all so new and fresh in this, so everyone was learning from everyone else. Still, we got great tips on the little things you can only discover through practical creation. And then I met three groups of people I’m now collaborating with.The workshop was an excellent leveller. There were older, more experienced traditional filmmakers in the room who, frankly, have not been the most open and willing in other settings, but who in this space could only be at the same level as the rest of us. It broke down some very tired, rather useless hierarchies, allowing us to all connect as creatives.

Something I took away was feeling that my team are making great progress in the business and distribution side of the industry, which is giving me so much confidence going forward as we turn The X Gene into a dedicated VR company. That came from, again, openness and a willingness to share both the ups and downs of our experience. As a result, those who saw my strengths, I could see strength in, and we came together to work on stuff after the lab.

I could feel our relative beginner nature, but in this context it was completely appropriate and appreciated, because we’re all starting out. What I loved was the openness. Our industry, I’ve found, keeps their doors closed, but with newer generations of makers and technology, those barriers are breaking down. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was delighted with the people I met, both the other participants and the mentors.

Enormous thanks to FilmVic and ACMI, and all the mentors and companies who gave their time, gear and expertise to the days. We’re creating a new medium with people around the world, and finally, Australia is participating on a relatively equal footing. For now, enjoy an egalitarian medium.

360 Video Test: Directing Viewers’ Attention

By | Innovation, Video, VR | No Comments

In a medium where the viewer chooses where to look, the 360 video director and cinematographer must use far subtler cues to ensure the important beats of a story are seen. In 2015, The X Gene and Virtual Reality Ventures worked together on a test shoot, attempting to bring the viewer into a high-action scene but still keep their attention on one point. If you’ve been inside a headset, you know you can look anywhere: up, down, to your left or right, or turn and look behind.

Here’s the result, and after the video, our observations:

The camera does not choose

In 2D filmmaking, action is planned, but the camera then moves around that action, filming different angles in short bursts. Often, the action is manipulated or cheated to get the best results when it’s all cut together. In 360 video, it’s all about the action first, with the camera almost (and in our case actually) a character to be considered as part of that action. It moves through in one long take, as everyone moves around it. A cinematographer doesn’t choose how to shoot, but rather how to move through action, choreographed like a performer.

360 video is way more like theatre

The best way to plan a 360 video shoot is to first nail the location or set, then block out how the actors move and interact over a set period of time. That is your scene. If someone fucks a take, you simply start again, but once you get it, done! So think like a theatre director whose audience is in the round, only the round keeps moving … or, to stretch the metaphor, the audience is reverse-in-the-round. Identify what is happening, where the stories are taking place and when the key moments of those stories happen, then block your camera to take your audience as close or far from those moments as is appropriate to convey meaning.

Think like a Renaissance painter

Two people run on either side of the camera. You only see one of them, so you follow her and discover she’s joined up with her comrade you never realised until now was on the other side of you. Now you watch those two run away into the distance. That’s how we made sure viewers, at the very start, were oriented the right way for the story. We picked an action sequence because that genre is the most raw, blunt way to convey story. There’s literally rising action, physically overcoming obstacles and the foe is actually vanquished to death. These codes and tropes let us use things like bullets to drag the eye, as viewers followed the stream of nerf pellets to see where they came from. This was most effective in our little twist, as we got the viewer to look up at a machine gunner, breaking away from the obvious and default eye-level as the bullets rained down. These are like live action, moving, temporal versions of how Renaissance painters directed the viewer’s eye around a canvas.

(Did you notice our director in plain sight behind the camera man during the headshot the end?)

Lighting is a thing OR Location & production design are huge

We picked our location deliberately, because the gantries on the second floor let us hide two giant 2k blondie lights that let us flood the place like we were sun gods. Lighting is totally doable, but you need to work harmoniously with location and production design more than any other medium.

Full trilateral 360° isn’t necessary

Nup. Especially not for anything you want the viewer to watch from a couch for a decent period of time. Looking behind you isn’t enough of a thing, we think, to justify using full, XYZ 360° vision, which is why we bought a 360 camera with 235° field of view: about the same amount of lateral movement you make turning your head from side to side.

This is just the start

We learnt way more during this test, and we’re gonna apply it and build on it in our next tests. Stay tuned, storytellers!

IMAGE: Astronaut embarking on journey

Audience-Centred Storytelling

By | Innovation, Narrative, Research | No Comments

Narrative concepts are often developed in a bubble. The writer comes up with an idea and away the team goes, often only asking at the very end, “Does anyone actually want to see this?”

IMAGE: a straight line with Idea, through production to "Will anyone want this?" Old Fashioned Linear Concept Dev
Industries like technology, software and product design approach what they do very differently.

IMAGE: a cycle showing an idea, tested against who might want it, what they like, leading to change and adapting. Iterative Concept Development

Audience-centred storytelling uses human-centred design principles (a mix of UX, Design Thinking and Lean methodologies) to bring the audience in from day one, before a single word is written, to test the idea of a creative team. The best creatives know that a brief, or some sort of constraint is needed. it’s against this constraint that creativity is used in order to overcome those limitations. Give someone a blank piece of paper and say, “Be creative” and everyone is in for a world of hurt.

Orson welles quote The Enemy of Art is the Absence of Limitations

The X Gene is pioneering what it calls Audience-Centred Storytelling, working with other pioneering geniuses like Kylie Eddy at Lean Filmmaking, meaningful strategic designers Huddle, and forward thinking distributors The Backlot Studios to prototype, test and reiterate the steps and processes that let us either take a concept and ensure it’s gonna connect with a valuable audience, or start with a valuable audience and get them to help us create a story they’ll love.

IMAGE: of virtual reality surgery. A VR drill inside a fragment of skull on a 3D screen

Virtual Reality Surgery in 3D

By | Innovation, Technology | No Comments

Virtual reality surgery is the way in which surgeons of tomorrow will be taught. We got to play with it.


I tried it: YOU CAN FEEL THE BONE.

The Department of Otolaryngology is home of Melbourne University’s Virtual Reality Surgical Simulation laboratory. This group, that brings together researchers from the Faculties of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences, Engineering and Education, seeks to define the role of simulation in surgical training.

VR surgery involves immersion into a 3D world where the “patient” can be touched and operated on. Their team has developed a virtual reality surgical environment for ear surgery that was the recipient of the University’s Knowledge Transfer Award for 2008. The group has also developed a prototype for dental simulation. They’re involved in exciting research that will determine how best to train surgeons in VR, and provide real-time feedback to trainees.

See the Professor and his team’s work
http://medicine.unimelb.edu.au/ehac/otolaryngology/research/virtual_reality_and_surgery

Shot in Oct 2015, edited May 2016 by Simon J Green.

Music by Avaren: Drift, Mudz, Oceania & Vertigo available here under Creative Commons
https://soundcloud.com/avaren/sets/for-others-use

IMAGE: showing the conversion to a paperless office in a chalky style, papers flying across teh screen, goign into a laptop. The background is a rough textured dark blue.

The Digital Office aka The Paperless Office

By | Education, Innovation | No Comments

It’s insane that I still get pieces of paper from people. A paperless office is more and more achievable. Here’s how you can stop losing stuff in the mail, down the sides of drawers, and make sure everything’s available with one of these:

IMAGE: a paperless office means you can use this: a search bar showing search default text

Get Paperless Files

Cloud storage, you might have heard, is everywhere. This is essential, and there are so many plugins for your email services that let you just pop attachments or even the emails themselves into your online storage. If you’re unsure, these cloud storage services are just hard drives online, accessible anywhere, wherever you like, on all your devices, and best of all, you can search easily and quickly. No more thumbing through piles of paper looking for that one document. No more out of date versions. It’s all in one place, shareable among your team, clients, suppliers, whatever. Essential! Here’s our nerdy guide to organising a cloud drive.

Google Drive | Dropbox | Microsoft OneDrive

Get Paperless Signatures

No more sending of paperwork in the mail, to get it signed and sent back; or even more annoying, scanned and emailed back; or triple annoying, printed, signed, scanned and emailed. These services let you upload a document, populate the text, date and signature boxes, or leave them blank but marked for filling in by one or multiple parties – then the finished document is sent securely to the signing parties, who can draw their own signatures into the software or browser, finish up and bam, you’ve got everything signed and filed away. Some plug in to your cloud drive, too, meaning signed documents go straight to where you want them. Most services are free, then only require payment when you have to send lots of agreements out in a month.

HelloSign | DocuSign | Adobe eSign

Paperless Notetaking

This is the final frontier. The one thing that kept a paperless office slightly out of reach: the need for handwritten notes. Drawing, doodling and scrawling is the fastest, and for creatives, often most tactile and solid way to jot ideas or details or anything. Styluses, pens used to write on tablets, have been around for ages, but fell short of pens and pencils unless you had a full blown Wacom set up. That time is drawing to a close. Fine point styluses and tablets custom built for such digital pens have finally closed the gap, and smart tech means your wrist or hand won’t get in the way. Sync your notetaking up with Evernote, Google Keep or SimpleNote, and your handwriting can even be searchable (to a point).

Samsung Note | Apple Pencil/Pro | Fine Point Stylus

 

IMAGE: A white box with its lid off, on a grey background. Communication and information

Open & Structured: How We Use the Information in Google Drive to Facilitate Communication in Production

By | Education, Innovation | One Comment

This post is about how we use Google Drive as a conduit for information and communication, and how in really understanding why we do it the way we do it, we’re actually developing the culture of our productions. Now I warn you, this is a super nerdy post. If you’re into management, information, communication or organisation, you’ll love this.

Due to much ongoing experimentation, we’ve landed on an approach that works for now, for our film crews of about 20-30 people, on projects that aren’t secret or sensitive. If you’re bigger or you wanna keep stuff secret, this may not be for you, and when we get there, we’ll see for ourselves! Regardless of size, getting a process for sorting your digital information, and nailing a cloud storage service can be tricky. Really, before you even choose from Dropbox, Google Drive, Box or one of the other services out there, you want to work out what your principles and values are in how you work with your crew. For us, it’s about

Open Access to Information, Structured Flow of Communication

The way we see it, Google’s Drive and their apps, including Docs and Sheets, combined with desktop, laptop, tablet and smart phone technology gives our crew the ability to access a film, TV or digital project’s data anywhere, anyhow. That stops a huge amount of problems – no more files kept at the office, out of reach; no more out of date pages getting mixed up with current drafts; everyone can know they’re looking at the most updated version of anything; stuff can’t get lost (as easily). With our crews, broken up around the city, rarely in one place at the same time, and often working in multiple roles, we want them to be able to access any information about our project immediately, as easily as possible.

So we treat our Drive folders as repositories of information, as consolidated as possible, with ease of access the priority. That means:

  • You shouldn’t have to click too deep in to sub-folders to find what you need.
  • Spreadsheets should make use of tabs to combine as much information in as fewer locations as possible.
  • All folders should default to Link Sharing ON – Anyone With The Link (No Sign-in Required).

Any sensitive or security-conscious files are placed in a special ‘locked’ folder that is set to Link Sharing OFF – Shared with Specific People. Then, only higher-level crew have access to that folder by invite only. But, If there’s no actual need to restrict something, then we prefer it be unbound by restriction! When a new crew member joins, we share the master folder with them, giving them access to every department’s information. It’s then incumbent on the Producer or someone from that office to walk the individual through the data that’s relevant to them.

All of this is predicated on the notion that we want people to use the digital world to find information as quickly as possible, unfettered by unnecessary bureaucratic measures. A soundie who needs to see what camera we’re using can find that information as soon as she needs it. A cast member who wants to know where we’re going next week can get location data in the middle of the night. The information is open, and we encourage each individual crew member to use the search bar, keywords, favourites, bookmarks, stars, whatever they prefer to create priority access to the information most important to them. All of this cuts out wasted time chasing information.

Structured Flow of Communication

The amount of data we amass for any one project can grow to mammoth size. Video files alone can be gigs big. With all that information, updated, added to and moved by each crew member as required, we need to keep everyone across the flow of information. That’s where structured communication comes in. There are a few different methods we employ, but the best fail-safe is the weekly conference call. If we could, we’d prefer to have a weekly heads of department meeting, around a nice big round table, with food, drink and good times – but we’re in Australia, my friend, where money for creativity is as rare as the Tasmanian Tiger. Instead, we use Skype, Hangouts or the simple phonecall (again, Australia, so shitty internet), depending on everyone’s majority preference. I’ve had people tell me they’ve taken hours and hours to get through such a call, which tells me they aren’t structuring their communication right. We have an agenda that rarely changes:

  1. The Producer first connects with the Director 15 minutes early, then brings in each Head of Dept (HoD), so by start time, everyone is on. (The Director, usually loquacious, chats with the crew as the Producer dials)
  2. After formally starting, the Producer calls on a HoD to quickly sum up what they’ve done this week gone, and what they need to do next week. No elaboration, just task lists crossed off or still open.
  3. The rest of those listening are reminded to take notes of what they need from the other departments.
  4. The HoD says they’ve finished, and the Producer throws it to the Director, who follows up with any corrections, adjustments, clarifications or additions.
  5. One by one, the Producer works through each HoD in the same way, with the Director following up. The second last is the Producer, who states their own this week/next week list.
  6. The Director is the last to state their this/next week list.
  7. Finally, the Producer goes back around the HoDs, asking each to name another department or the Director, and ask for what they need. Again, this should be quick, with any detailed discussion prompted to be followed up one-on-one outside of this call.
  8. Once everyone has had their say, the Director gives a wee pep talk, the Producer confirms the time of the call for next week, then all say I love you and hang up.

The Producer or a Production Coordinator is usually taking notes as each HoD talks through. We mark what issues there are, what actions will be taken, and who’s taking them, just to make sure after we hang up, nothing’s missed. This is kept in a single sheet, on a single tab, with each prior week pushed off to the right – all we ever use is last week’s and this week’s notes.

The point of this call is make sure everyone knows what everyone else is doing – problems get solved or are discovered to not even be problems, niggling misunderstandings are shattered to make way for crystal clarity, and everyone feels appreciated, listened to and understands how important their roles are, and how their work fits in to the other departments’ work in this big beautiful creative commercial beast. Often, during these calls, one HoD’s list answers two other HoD’s questions immediately, so we’ll hear, “I was gong to ask about blah, but that’s already answered!” Regarding our information storage, the most common expressions heard are, “I’ll put that in the drive for you” or “That’s in Folder X on the drive”. Again, we’re catching each other up on the flows of information, all coalescing in our Google Drive. It takes a bit of practice, and at first the rapid, business-like pace takes some people by surprise, but that in itself helps folks fully realise the focus and professionalism of our crew. For an hour a week, everyone is serious, determined and is openly seeking help in being great.

I’ve barely touched on the actual detail of how we use Google Drive, but soon we’ll show you how to fine tune the sharing settings in Drive to match our standard setup. The above is to emphasize that no matter what aspect of the creative process you’re fiddling with, starting with a candid appraisal of how you communicate, and what role you want information to play is crucial. Once you really know that, then the tools you need become obvious. It’s less about features and price and platform – those things come into it, but they all must respond to the answer to this question:

How Do You Use and Communicate Information?

The answer to that question will set the tone for your productions every time. We want openness and clarity in what we do, which means there’s a lot of stuff, and that that stuff needs to be made clear for everyone. Siloing information, like it’s some sort of treasured prize, doesn’t really do it for us, because each crew member is so specialised in their craft – that is their value. In order for them to do what they’re good at, they need to use their specialised brains to grab exactly what they need, and maybe a little bit more, at any time, to create their part of the project. Why slow someone down by having them request access to a document? Why delay their lightbulb moment because they’ve got no signal? We use information as a tool for our artists, and we communicate information to ensure visions are aligned. In doing so, we communicate how important that vision is and where it’s coming from, and give free and open license to our artists to use all the information they can gather to do their exceptional work. It seems to go all right for us so far.

The X Gene Use Google Drive For Video Delivery

Using Google’s Cloud Drive for Drafts and Delivery

By | Education, Innovation | No Comments

The X Gene uses Google Drive to send digital versions of drafts, documents and final deliverables of your video. It’s an easy way to keep everything centralized and accessible 24/7. Drive is Google’s version of of cloud drive, like Dropbox or iCloud, which are all cloud storage services that essentially create hard drives on the internet. The beauty of these services is we can create folders that are shared only with you and synchronize back and forth.

If you place the images or briefs we need into your shared folder, we receive them on our side immediately. When we place your video drafts or final videos in on our side, you have access to them straight away, too.

To get the most out of this system, we’ve got a few pro tips for you. Once you do these, we’ll be better connected, and the whole process becomes easier and quicker. You’ll take full advantage of the power of the web.

Install Google Drive

Drive exists in the cloud, which means you can access it anywhere, anyhow. The quickest way is to install a Google Drive app onto your computer. Follow this link and you’ll be shown the appropriate download (Mac and PC). Once you install the app, a special Google Drive folder will appear on your computer. You can use this like any normal folder, except it syncs to the internet whenever connected.

If you tell us the email address you use to log in to Google Drive, we’ll make sure our shared folder is accessible by you, and that folder (usually called ‘TXG-YourBizName’) will appear on your computer. Now we can share files back and forth, and all you have to do is drag those files into your shared folder.

Mobile Access

iPhone, iPad and Android devices also have a Google Drive app. If you download the app from the relevant store, you can access your files on the move, out the office, and even upload files to us. Show your friends and associates those awesome videos wherever you are!

Bookmark Your Shared Folder

The default way for most people to view their shared folder and the video drafts inside is via their web browser (Firefox, Chrome, Safari, Explorer). If you don’t want to install the applications above, we highly recommend you take the link we first send you and save it to your browser’s bookmarks or favourites. That link takes you to the browser version of our folder (as opposed to the Desktop or Mobile App version). You can add files from there, but most importantly any files we add for you will show up there, too. Every draft we send goes into that same folder each time, so if it’s bookmarked, you can always check without diving into your emails or waiting for a download to complete.

Image: Gathering of listeners in Inspire9 for This Digital Life

This #DigitalLife

By | Events, Innovation, Inspiration, Purpose, Technology | No Comments

Here’s some of the highlights on Twitter from our successful inaugural This Digital Life event. Four incredible women from digital work places shared their cutting edge stories from business, then explained parts of how they got their personal lives balanced. Thanks a billion to Girl Geek and Toya Ricci.

Yes, Innovation & Startups & Tech, Dammit!

By | Innovation, Inspiration | No Comments

Oh man! Suddenly everyone’s realising what we’ve been blabbing on about at The X Gene for years! There’s been a dog pile of articles saying, “Hey, these startup folks are innovating, building interesting things and different business models and…oh snap! They’re getting investment and funding! Maybe screen and the arts should be doing that?”

YES WE SHOULD!

I, Simon, the owner of The X Gene, have been going to Lean Startup, Startup Victoria, Disruptive Startups and all the other juicy meetups that happen at the likes of Inspire9 and York Butter Factory for years. Going to events to network and meet is the gig, but these particular events grabbed me by the mindgrapes because they think differently. They think the way we need to think to embrace the new favourite word, innovation.

GIF: gotham deserves screen, Commissioner Gordon as the king of innovation saying, "Because he's the hero Gotham deserves."

Imagine Batman is our future screen industry…

I’ve written a great deal on this blog and my own personal blog about how difficult it is to speak with or get through gatekeepers of the screen industry. I’ve called producers who’ve had only a modicum of success and asked for very specific information that should be easy and harmless to divulge, and been told no. Many times. Doors? They be closed.

So when you go to Lean Startup, Startup Victoria, Disruptive Startups and their ilk, you can’t help but wet your pants at how open, sharing, caring and excited everyone is. They want to create, they want to build, they want to innovate, they want to sell to lots of people – and in order to do it, they know they need each other as much as themselves. You’ll learn about business models that failed, structures that bend and change to suit the growth stage. You’ll openly discuss money and budgets and how to make them work. You’ll hear time and again how founders needed to remember their customers were the key to their chances of survival. You’ll be welcomed by strangers and there’ll be enthusiasm for you, and you for them. All of it will be tested and re-tested by successful mentors who insist that something must be set alight before it can go to market – where it’ll be burnt again in an even greater flame. It’s different, man. The egos in the room are all about the project, mostly. Rarely is the attitude dominantly, “How cute that you’re trying, I’m better than you, fuck off, despite my own lack of success.”

I’m not bitter, just frustrated. I love my screen industry, but honestly, I also hate it. Love/hate is a tension that provides energy. The startup and tech scene gives me the tools and understanding I need to apply to our industry, to change it for the better. Somewhere to direct that energy. Disruption is happening all around us, but too few are grasping that and running headlong into it. Here’s what I’ve taken from these magnificent bastards. Here’s what I adapt from the tech startup scene and try to ply in the screen trade:

Innovate, Disrupt, Dummy:

  • You run a business. Freelancers, production company, whatever: you run a business. You gotta work out where you fit, accept your weakness and play to your strengths. Part of that is for creative satisfaction, but an equal and sometimes greater part of that is to generate revenue. So how are you going to get comfy with that? And if you’re not comfy with that, how can you get out of the way ?
  • Share. Share as much as you can. Closed doors stop any of us building industrial memory, joint knowledge. Instead, it’s hundreds of little people clutching anything of value while making tiny dents. Only as a group, working together and building one another, can we make an impact on a huge global stage.
  • If someone doesn’t want to play with you, fuck them. Move on and find those who will. We need to stick together. There’s enough people telling us NO as it is. Build a team.
  • Specialise. Entrepreneurs know how to build a team around them, with each member doing something exceptionally better than the entrepreneur. Fuck the auteur model. Be an exceptional producer, and work with an exceptional writer, interpreted by an exceptional director who brings in an exceptional cinematographer. Pick your place and be exceptional.
  • Learn the traditional, common wisdom…then find ways to smash it to pieces and build something from the shards. Our screen industry has rarely been strong, yet ‘the way things are done’ culture permeates. At the same time, the way the audience views and uses content is changing at astronomical pace. Nothing that was done ten years ago, let alone thirty, stands up today. Look for ways to do it differently and go for it.
  • Our product is story. We need to test our product. No self-respecting business sends a shitty product, untested, to market. Beat the shit out of your script, get audience feedback and listen to it. Learn how to take and how to give feedback. Learn how to apply it. If you aren’t a writer, stop writing and find someone who is. If you aren’t a writer, stop writing. Or fuck off and learn, then come back when you are. We’ll help you learn, of course! Because if you are a writer, teach others!
  • Do it for THE AUDIENCE, not for you. They pay us, they decide what’s good, and they are now global. Don’t worry so much about the domestic. You get the world.
  • Nichefy. With a global audience comes larger numbers in smaller percentages. Google cracked that nut years ago – a specific need fulfilled commands a higher price per unit than a broad need lightly caressed.
GIF: Batman runs into the darkness of innovation as Gordon says, "But not the one it needs right now."

…and tech startup spirit is what we need right now.

Check these out:

goo.gl/vBQMmW – Tania nails it and inspired this post! ‘Silicon Valley may hold the key to innovation in the ‘ – by Tania de Jong
 – might be broken, but Tech start-ups needed to future proof Australian media – by Chantal Abouchar

goo.gl/zMqubr – research on how to make content audiences want, from Simon’s personal blog

goo.gl/XTgGS2 – Lean Filmmaking, where screen and lean smash together, by Kylie and David Eddy

 

Kelsey Schwenk from Studio Thick agency talking virtual reality

Virtual Reality: how we’ll use it, Kelsey from Studio Thick

By | Advertising, Innovation, Marketing, Technology | No Comments

Kelsey Schwenk is Engagement Director at Studio Thick. Thick partner with progressive businesses and organisations to reimagine their strategies, products and services for a brighter future. Kelsey leads client partnerships, guides innovation, and ensures we’re having a diverse impact on the world. We got excited with Kelsey recently talking about our experiments in virtual reality, so we spoke over Hangouts about how the world will use VR, why agencies like Thick will utilise it, and how creatives like The X Gene will execute it.

Simon J Green: Thanks for joining me Kels! So first, tell me about the exposure you and Thick have had to VR so far, even if it’s only a little. It is an emerging comms channel, after all!
Kelsey Schwenk: In our office we have an Oculus that we’ve been playing around with, but we keep up to date on what’s going on in the world with it, mostly. At the V21 Conference this year, it’s all anyone was talking about. It’s interesting – most people were looking for ways to use the tech to do something cool, not the other way around. I’m thinking it should be, “Here, I have this problem, I wish I had a way to solve it” and have VR be the solution.
S: So at the moment VR is an answer to a question no one’s yet asking? That’s why I think relationships with agencies like Thick are important. You are finding the problems businesses have. Being aware of VR’s limitations and opportunities means you can see if those problems might be solved by VR.
K: One group wanted to simulate off-roading in a truck, so they created this elaborate experience… when it probably would have cost less to just drive the truck off road in real life. It is like creating a really elaborate kids ride, and gaming was the big push, obviously.
S: Seems like the easiest way to get people aware and inside the experience. I’ve seen a VR rally driving experience. You sit next to the driver as he goes nuts in the dirt. Virtual Reality Ventures, our VR partner, always use the rollercoaster demo to quickly give people an idea of the tech.
K: One of the best examples I’ve heard of is actually not “customer” facing though. It was an agency using VR to show their clients what their designs would look like in a concept store that didn’t exist yet, so they could ‘feel’ what the space looked like before committing to the design.

Meeting Robert Redford

S: Ivy League universities have been moving those globe-style live-action cameras through their campuses, to give newly admitted students the chance to walk through before they actually get there. Tours of places and sites seems like the most obvious application – do you think it’s crucial for increasing the public’s awareness of the tech?
K: Awareness isn’t the issue… it’s access. And finding the right application that is going to make everyone out there download the app or get Google Cardboard. Tourism is an easy application for the tech, particularly for experiences where photos and videos don’t sell the experience enough. I think it has a ways to go before it becomes mainstream though – it’s almost a novelty at the moment. I could actually see it being more beneficial to having remote meetings where interpersonal exchanges are key. It’s just not the same on a web-cam.
S: What does the virtual reality space give: or more, what do you want from remote meetings, that you don’t get with today’s experience?
K: It allows you to be/move naturally, as you would in real space – you don’t have to alter your natural behaviours (other than wearing a headset). So conversations would flow more naturally, I think. And seeing reactions and emotions. When you’re giving a presentation to a blank screen, it’s impossible to know if you’re doing a good job.
S: So you could turn to someone and speak, and that would be a cue to everyone else, a cue that’s missing from today’s remote meetings?
K: Exactly! But I see entertainment as the driver – that’s where the innovation will come from.
S: True! In movies, meetings are always held with VR figures, but really it’s for the exact same reason we’re discussing: so the viewer (and the fake people in the SHIELD Security Council) can see who’s talking to whom, and convey meaning beyond a face and words.

Stories That Explode in Virtual Reality

S: Facebook is bringing in the live action, globe camera video style. What do you think that will do?
K: So is YouTube. I think it’s going to change the types of videos we see… just like GoPro did a few years ago. Hopefully, by democratising the technology, we can allow the innovative creators in the world a new vehicle/medium to show their stuff.
S: When we’ve been playing with VR, we’ve been pushing the live action(moving cameras through a space, and letting the user move through that, instead of 3D models, environments and animations). Experimenting with how the  viewer will experience the content, how we get them to look where we need them to look to tell story. But when we think as producers or for business development, we’re acutely aware that the browser-based, flattened version of interaction is most likely.
K: It’s a whole new level of cinematography. I think that’s the difference between a GIF and a movie. Both are valid forms of entertainment, but for entirely different purposes… (and budgets).
S: Almost like arthouse cinema and blockbusters – a smaller selection of dedicated audience will take up the full virtual reality experience. But when we want lots of people to see it, Facebook and YouTube will be our besties.
K: Yup. As long as they can make it easy to access and understand and create.
S: Telling stories through this VR medium: we’ve been pointed to some excellent white papers by the video game industry on how to direct stories in a sandbox world.
K: They’ve been playing with it the longest, I think. I remember seeing demos of it at PAX years ago

The Creative Struggle

S: So for those creators you’re talking about – agencies like Thick will be the ones making use of us to find solutions to client problems. What do the creators need to know, and what do the clients need to know, to make that work best?
K: The biggest thing is to find the problem to solve. Not invent a problem just because you want to use the tech. Finding an experience or a story that you want to tell that you just can’t do any other way. Otherwise it’s just playing to a fad. In the work we do at Thick, it’s finding the right channel to communicate your insights, or testing something out that would be too expensive to build otherwise! That’s probably how I see us using it in the future: using it as a tool, not the end experience.
S: Testing in a Virtual Reality sandbox. With VR audiences.
K: …and then translating that into ‘real life’, yes. Like a prototype.
S: You’d get the global audiences of the internet in a more ‘real’ appearance.
K: Well, you can test context. So you know what it’s like to be searching on a mobile phone on a busy tram. Or how you walk through a concept store, or at a construction site. It all depends on the context of your solution.
S: We could test movies in a virtual cinema, and build into the program the ability of the audience that logs in to still play with their phone – and see how bored people get of the movie. How much time is spent actually watching the screen.
K: The context in which we use our screens is very important (and often overlooked) in design and testing.

Wrap It Up Kids

S: Well thank you very much Kelsey. This is all excellent, juicy stuff. Anything you want to add in summary?
K: Just that I’m excited to see what the masses do with this tech – I have a feeling we won’t know the real potential until we make it super accessible to everyone.
S: We need the VR version of what the iPhone did for smart phones.
K: Or GoPro for video, yes.
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Does Australia Lack Innovation Backbone?

By | Innovation | No Comments

We talk a lot about innovation here at The X Gene blog, and most of it is about how to be innovative and think differently. But I won’t lie when I say we often get frustrated with the lack of desire to innovate. One of my biggest personal hobbies is researching how and why Australia isn’t as forward thinking as other countries. I came across a story that really summed up a component of this problem.

At a tech startup meeting we were about to film, I was speaking to one of the presenters. This man had done what a lot of those the room dream of: he’d built a successful business in Silicon Valley, grew it over the years, and then sold for a lot of money. He had come back to his home country of Australia to try something new, because he wanted to bring what he had learnt and apply it here. This man had form, and he had a strong idea, but what he was struggling to find was people who would work with him. He needed developers, people to do the coding work that is fundamental to these sorts of projects. They needed a few key skills that he didn’t have, typical of an entrepreneur. Building teams is crucial. Because he was operating at a higher level he couldn’t use the freshly graduated and needed a more mid-level group. Unfortunately, anyone who fit the criteria was so used to an 80,000 dollar plus full time wage in a conventional corporation that when he approached them they loved the idea but demanded similar payment. He tried explaining, as he did to me, that this simply wasn’t how it worked in startup land, and that he would be giving these people something that, in his eyes, was more valuable: a percentage in the company. While a lot of these developers understood the value, they had all been so used to the wage they were on and now had mortgages up to their eyeballs and expenses through their families, that even if they wanted to take the pay cut and take the stake in an idea they thought would be worth more later, they couldn’t. They had hemmed themselves in.

What I took from this conversation was a deep concern. If a proven track record in an even bigger market isn’t enough to dislodge talented people in a field, and have them take a little bit of a risk, then what hope is there? It’s true that this business owner might need to take some risks on younger staff himself, but constantly relying on the newest batch of talent is difficult because that talent doesn’t get to learn from more experienced minds. We have this problem at the moment, a disconnection between a small group of visionaries and a large group of Australians very much stuck in old patterns that seem unsustainable in this dynamic climate. We are not talking about changing wages or any of that nonsense, instead we are talking about a mentality to try. Where is that in the Australian culture? Is the lack of risk-taking backbone an ingrained characteristic that is holding us back? If we don’t start breaking out of old habits we will lose big opportunities. The presenter I was speaking to lamented that if he couldn’t find people soon he would have to go back to California where he knew there were plenty of skilled practitioners ready to take a calculated risk. Australia constantly loses talent overseas. If things don’t change it will simply continue, and our nation will miss out in the future.

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Fear and Bravery in Agency Land

By | Advertising, Innovation, Inspiration, Marketing | No Comments

I’ve been thinking about creative bravery. I’m on my way to an event to launch a fun fashion initiative by Porter Novelli. Hosting the night is Mandy Griffiths (who, incidentally, is one of the speakers at This Digital Life). At the event, a collection of communications and agency folk will be there. These are the people that create and execute the marketing, advertising and general communications strategies big brands need to make you know them and choose them.

These people are the key to groundbreaking, clever, brave, innovative, creatively thrilling content. We need those strategies and influencers to tell their clients to be BRAVE, try new things. Another fantastic woman, Richenda Vermeulen, said a very similar thing in her company’s birthday blog post.

Richenda is right: brands in Australia need to take risks, try different things, seek to be different. Digital is excellent for that because it can shift and change. Best of all, you can measure the success of a brave digital campaign with real numbers and clear pathways from the creative to the BUY NOW button.

I implore our strategy aunts and uncles – please keep pushing your clients to embrace the exciting world of digital. Work with specialists in their fields, find channel suppliers who can give you bold new ideas, then sell them with vigour up the chain. That’s what I’ll be asking the people I meet tonight – how are you guys pushing your clients to be BETTER. Different. Brave.

Lancers charging

How a FREELANCER Can Get Work with The X Gene

By | Freelancer, Innovation, Video | One Comment

If you’re a freelancer in the film, TV and video industry, you may have come here via this blog post, FREELANCER TIPS: Advice To Camera Operators. We get a lot of emails enquiring about whether we have room for full time or part time employees. We also gets lots of enquiries from freelancers. Very glad to help where we can, and we add your details to our files because we’re always looking for new talent. We love talking to you and sending you in the right direction, and are delighted with the popularity of our blog posts in your direction. The X Gene hates closed, locked doors.

We all have a lot of hassles finding work in the business. Going full time freelance is daunting enough, but once you take that leap, you’re now committed to finding enough work every week to keep you eating. All the folks at The X Gene have gone through this stage. Simon was a soundie and editor, Britta worked her way through film studios as an editor and Adam’s been camera opping for years. So we feel your pain.

One way we help out freelancers as well as get jobs is by being happy to help out in the parts you don’t like. Being a producer really means doing the boring and painful stuff; client liaison, sales, budgeting, invoicing, chasing and organising. Luckily, we love that stuff. There’s nothing more satisfying than being told our brief to a camera operator or editor was impeccable, or our shoot schedule meant “shit just got done.” So that’s what we can offer to the freelancer who has work but as part of a much bigger job.

Here’s how it unfolds: you get an edit job or a camera job or a graphics job, but it’s part of a much larger project, and you don’t want all that nonsense. You just wanna do your thing. Bring the job to us, and tell us what you want to do and how much you want to get paid for it. We prepare the quote, pitch or proposal and get your approval. We take it to the client, with your role securely in place within the project. They say yes, we make it happen, you fill in your end and get paid through us.

We’ve got this set up with a few of the operators in Kindred Studio with us, and the friends and associates of other freelancers. If it’s something you’re interested in, to expand what you can offer potential clients, or if you already have a job you want to fill out, let us know.

iiNet and AAPT

iiNet & AAPT want money instead of innovation on NBN

By | Innovation, Technology | No Comments

Working with video means we transport GBs of data a day over our internet. The future of the NBN is damned important to us – especially those fast upload speeds. Sending a client a video draft can take ages…sending them 6 drafts can be excruciating. iiNet and AAPT have come out in support of the Coalition’s NBN plan, one that takes away our beautiful speed and our precious upload/download equalisation. Well, those two businesses sort of support it: their finance teams, that is. From iiNet’s CFO David Buckingham, “the technology lovers love the Labor version but the accountants like myself … like the idea of the faster rollout and hopefully a lower cost because that’s how we can differentiate. So as a CFO I’m looking forward to the lower cost base and the faster rollout.”

Key difference here is the tech vs the cost. The argument is that that speed is worth waiting for, because the Coalition plan will rapidly be out of date and leave us as frustrated as we are now. The article shows the contrast between the needs of society and business. It’s particularly ironic given the performance factors these telcos advertise. The debate also demonstrates the hurdles we have to jump to be innovative (spoiler: it’s money).

via http://www.businessspectator.com.au/news/2013/7/25/nbn-buzz/aapt-iinet-back-coalition-nbn