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A Look "Behind-the-Scenes" of Immersive VR

By Lou Wallace
With 2016 being its breakout year, 360° VR productions are popping up everywhere. And VR headsets - like Samsung GearVR (www.samsung.com/us/explore/gear-vr/?cid=ppc), Google Cardboard (www.google.com/get/cardboard), or Oculus Rift (https://www.oculus.com/en-us/) - are making it a quality, immersive experience for viewers. But what's going on "behind-the-scenes" to bring VR content that packs a punch for the viewing audiences?

ASSIMILATE(r), the SCRATCH(r) post-production tools company, is at the forefront of supporting VR with the development of its new SCRATCH VR Suite that includes all the post tools - conform, color grading, compositing, and finishing - to work in 360° media, and also includes SCRATCH Play for playback and the SCRATCH Web cloud-based collaboration and review tools that are automatically formatted for 360° viewing in VR headsets.

Getting out in the field with customers, Lucas Wilson, VR producer at ASSIMILATE, has been working behind-the-scenes to assist clients in producing several VR projects.

Lucas and Jeff Edson, CEO at ASSIMILATE, talked with Digital Media Net about how ASSIMILATE is responding to the VR market with its SCRATCH product line to offer content creators with the streamlined professional and powerful production and post-production tools that are needed to enhance and finalize the look-and-feel of VR content.

"As with our entire SCRATCH product line for 2D/3D productions, our goal is to provide powerful and cost-effective post-production tools that enable content creators to be as innovative, creative, and productive as possible," said Jeff. "And the same now applies to VR content. Most recently at NAB we announced the SCRATCH VR Suite, the only professional end-to-end tools and workflow that simplify the post process for working in 360 media°.

We've also expanded the capabilities of our standard SCRATCH Web with a VR mode to offer the first professional, cloud-based dailies/review tool for reviewing immersive VR content, anywhere in the world. And we've streamlined the content-review process as the first company to effectively stream VR content to a headset from a cloud-based website through a standard browser for review, collaboration, and approval." 

"We've had a lot of customer input about what tools are needed for creating an efficient VR workflow," said Lucas. "In the case of content, review, and collaboration, the SCRATCH VR Suite and Web VR greatly simplify the process such that working in VR is as easy as working in any other format."

Lucas added, "Wear your VR headset of choice, then once you've launched your SCRATCH Web review link for the VR content, you can playback VR imagery, pan around imagery or create a "magic window" so that you can just move your smart phone around, similar to looking through a window to the 360° content behind it. The VR content, including metadata, is automatically formatted for the 360° video headsets. The reviewer can then make notes and comments on their mobile device to send back to the sender. It's that simple."

You can try it out - just launch this link vr360.sweb.media on your Android phone (Samsung Galaxy S6 or other) via the Chrome mobile browser, click the goggles in the lower right corner, put it in your headset, and view immediate headset-based VR from a cloud-based website.

"SCRATCH VR and SCRATCH Web (http://www.assimilateinc.com/products/scratch-vr/) can be used for the post-production, reviewing and collaborating on content of any format, any resolution," said Jeff.  "The VR mode opens another door for content creators to be even more innovative and creative in developing stories and imagery with high impact."

How does the SCRATCH VR Suite work?

While the excitement is in the content, it's the behind-the-scenes software and hardware that give filmmakers and content creators the needed tools to make quality VR happen. Working in a new technology like VR can be complex, and the SCRATCH VR Suite simplifies the workflow so that creators can stay focused on the content while maintaining high levels of productivity and quality.

  • End-to-end 360 mono/stereo VR workflow and toolset: Dailies, conform, grading, versioning, compositing, finishing - all on an Oculus Rift.
  • Cloud-based review & collaboration throughout the post process. Available in Web360 and with any headset and Android smart phone.
  • Editorial: Stabilization for 360 media. Adjust or animate a shot's point of interest in 360 space with yaw, pitch, and roll correction.
  • Grading: Seamless shapes and windows in 360 space, while maintaining use of the full SCRATCH advanced color toolset.
  • Composite: integrate 2D elements, effects or text in a 360 scene with automatic geometry correction.
  • Output: publish directly to YouTube360 or Facebook360 with automatic Google 360 metadata insertion. Render for common VR distribution platforms like Jaunt or Littlstar.
  • 2D & 3D output: in any format, e.g. Avid MXF, DCDM, Jpeg 2000, H.264, OpenEXR, ProRes, etc.
  • Support: Regular updates of features & functions. 24/7 technical support. Runs on Windows and Mac operating systems.
Learn more about the basics of the SCRATCH VR Suite with two tutorials:

Tutorial - the movie

VR Tutorial - the sequel

Special Entry Pricing Until June 1

Assimilate is currently offering a special entry price to the SCRATCH VR Suite at $995 (US) until June 1. This offer includes all Finishing tools, SCRATCH Web, SCRATCH Web, all regular updates and technical support. See http://www.assimilateinc.com/products/scratch-vr/

How does SCRATCH Web work?

Read how SCRATCH Web can streamline your review and collaboration process within your workflow. When in the VR mode, you'll get the 360° experience.

Current users of SCRATCH(r) post-production software - such as colorists - and the SCRATCH Play(r) media player - such as DITs, directors, and DPs - are able to directly publish raw media, along with metadata, to SCRATCH Web for immediate team review.

SCRATCH(r) and SCRATCH Play(r) software function not only as creative hosts, but also as the encoding and upload client.

When registering for SCRATCH Web, the user can sign up for a certain quota (e.g. 20 GBs) per month, depending on the amount of media he/she is planning to store on SCRATCH Web. This quota can be extended at any time, if needed.

An account on SCRATCH Web can contain any number of channels, which then again can contain any number of publications. The publication is the online companion to a timeline within the local finishing system, containing the published clips. A channel basically is a group, containing multiple publications.

SCRATCH Web=>any number of channels=>any number of publications=>any number of clips

This makes it easy to assign a certain channel to a client or a project, and fill it up with publications only related to that particular project or client.

SCRATCH Web has easy-to-use permission management to determine which user has what kind of access to a particular channel or publication.

Three levels of user-permissions are available: Administrator, publisher and subscriber.
  • An administrator is a more technical-oriented person, who determines, which user is allowed to publish, and who manages channels and the visual appearance of a SCRATCH Web account. In general a basic technical understanding is enough to perform administration tasks.
  • A publisher is a person, most likely the DIT or colorist, who is able to upload and publish content out of SCRATCH or SCRATCH Play to SCRATCH Web, and invite subscribers to review the uploaded content.
  • A subscriber is simply a user with read-only permissions for a given set of publications. In this way, the publisher may add clients who are asked to just review content and add their comments on it.*

Since SCRATCH Web can be fully integrated into any company's webpage, SCRATCH Web actually appears as a service of the post house itself, and not as a third-party add-on. It allows users to upload a company logo, webpage-background, and offers the ability to embed links for integrating it into the post house's corporate design.

On-line administration-page to manage channels, publications, and appearance of SCRATCH Web.

All content is stored securely on Microsoft's Azure platform. When creating a channel, SCRATCH Web users have the ability to determine the geographical location of the server. For global use, the server hub can be located anywhere. However, for more local use, it is possible to choose the location of the server according to the client's location, hence enabling faster connections (e.g. choose a server in south east-Asia for a client in Hong Kong).

SCRATCH Web features a public and a private section. The private section is of course meant for work-in-progress with clients, while the public section is meant to be used for a company's showreels, or finished and released content. The public section of SCRATCH Web can be accessed by anyone without needing to register for a SCRATCH Web account.

Both public and private sections can have an unlimited number of channels and publications. The only limit for SCRATCH Web is the purchased quota of space for content, e.g. 80 GB, which can be monitored through the administrative panel and easily extended, if needed.

When in SCRATCH (publisher / colorist / on-set user):

Once a job is completed to any extent, either single shots or a complete timeline, it can be published to SCRATCH Web. When publishing content from SCRATCH or SCRATCH Play, the user is asked to provide his SCRATCH Web log-in credentials and enter the details of the publication - such as name, description and the channel for posting content.

Also, the publisher can choose the desired quality (bitrate, dimensions) of the uploaded content, add a custom burn-in, and determine who will have permission to access to the publication by entering separate email-addresses, or loading in a prepared text file with all the addresses that should gain access.

Once executing the publish, SCRATCH will first verify the log-in credentials, and then encode the content of the timeline with the built-in Vanguard H264 encoder. After encoding the timeline to separate clips (each shot in the timeline will end up as its own mp4-file), all content is then uploaded to the new publication on SCRATCH Web. When complete, an email will be sent out to all entitled subscribers that a new publication is available. If the publisher first wants to check the publication before notifying clients, he/she may do so by adding the respective email-addresses on-line at a later time, via the administration-page on SCRATCH Web.

Easy-to-use dialog-box within SCRATCH to publish media to SCRATCH Web.

When in SCRATCH Web (subscriber):

Now any email-address filled in previously in the publication dialog-box in SCRATCH will receive an email with a link to the just-published publication. If that person does not already have a SCRATCH Web account, it will be created automatically and the person will receive another email with the log-in credentials to log-in and view the publication. So even for new users, no manual registration is needed and the process can move forward quickly.

After logging into SCRATCH Web, a user will see all publications for which the publisher has given access. The UI of SCRATCH Web is similar to the one within the SCRATCH software. On the left there is a click-away navigation-menu to select the channel and publication one wants to view. To the right is the selected timeline with all clips and their versions (stacked on top of each clip), if available.

Now by clicking the play-icon on an individual thumbnail, the client can watch that individual clip. If he /she presses the general play-button below the thumbnails, he/she can watch all the clips in context within a timeline. The metadata (such as file name, Debayering settings, TC, shot-notes, etc.) of each clip is available via a sidebar menu to the right side of the screen.

An important feature of SCRATCH Web is that each user can drop-in colored notes at any position on any clip. So for example, if one clip ("ClipABC123") is too dark at a certain timecode, the user can pause the video, add a note, color the note in red (or any other color) and fill it with content (e.g. "shot is too dark here"). The note will then be saved as metadata for that particular clip and can be seen instantly by any other user who reviews this publication.

SCRATCH Web: Selectable channels and publications to the left, clip-metadata to the right. Notes are already applied to the reviewed shots.

When back in SCRATCH (publisher / colorist):

Once the client confirms that he/she has reviewed the publication, the publisher can again go to the publish-menu, select "load publication metadata" and execute.

Now SCRATCH will load all the notes that have been dropped in to SCRATCH Web, into the local project and onto all appropriate individual clips. So in our example, "ClipABC123" would now receive the red note saying, "shot is too dark here." Since each note comes with the corresponding timecode information, it will be displayed at the respective point on the timeline - just like a locator - and enable the artist to proceed directly to that position and change the grading accordingly. After doing so, he/she may add a yellow note, such as asking, "brightened up - okay this way?"

Once all the requested changes are completed, the publisher will choose "update existing publication" from the publish-menu and SCRATCH will encode, upload and replace all modified shots  -- or add them as the new version, depending on the publisher's decision -- on SCRATCH Web. This includes the notes added by the publisher/artist.

Now again, the subscribers (clients) can review all changes made and drop a note into any clip, such as a green note that states "this shot is now approved."  These notes can again be synced back into the local SCRATCH project.

SCRATCH Web: Artist Collaboration

What are the benefits of SCRATCH Web?

Prior to SCRATCH Web, finishing, approval, giving and implementing feedback were separate tasks and the entire process was cumbersome. Most often, an approval file was rendered and either sent/shipped to the client, or made available via a third-party online-host. The client would then review and either give feedback in cluttered heaps of emails, with less than accurate descriptions of what issue he/she was seeing at which point in the file; or, get back to the post house with lists of timecodes that would then need to be matched within the actual finishing system.

With SCRATCH and SCRATCH Web, the finished project can be made available to the client at any stage with one click, and he/she can give instant feedback without downloading anything first, or even registering. Feedback, which is provided by the notes, is applied easily while viewing the content online and stored with the corresponding timecode. Syncing back the notes into the SCRATCH project makes it easy for the artist to spot them inside the timeline, move directly to them, and then apply the changes accordingly.

Ultimately, SCRATCH Web not only speeds up the entire collaboration and review processes, but also makes it tremendously easy and effective for the client, and anyone on the creative team, to more accurately give and apply feedback. Today, filmmaking is about more than quality content; the creative equation must also include powerful and cost-effective tools, faster time-to-market, and lower-cost of production and post-production, which translates into both time and significant cost savings to achieve a more profitable bottom line.

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Lou Wallace is the founder and CEO of Digital Media Online. During his career he has been publisher and Editor-in-Chief of numerious publications in the digital media market.
Related Keywords:VR, Scratch VR, Assimilate, VR Production, VR Post Production


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