M+E Daily

Microsoft Production Summit Bridges Tech, Production Gap

BURBANK, Calif. — In 2018, Joel Sloss, senior program manager for media security at Microsoft Azure, saw the need for further discussion and cooperation between technologists and content creators, and before COVID-19 put a hold on everything, he expected 20-30 people to gather for the first one scheduled in early 2020.

On July 21, his idea came to fruition with the Microsoft Production Summit, presented by NVIDIA and Unreal Engine, a two-day event that drew a couple hundred people to hear about the latest in artificial intelligence, real-time technologies, and cloud-enabled workflows, and how they’re reinventing production pipelines.

“This is not what I had envisioned four years ago,” Sloss said to a standing room only crowd at XLM Media Studios. “It’s a little bit bigger. Cloud was a nice-to-have, not a necessity, and now working remotely is required. The pace of content is insane, with hundreds of productions happening at any one time.”

Studios are constantly looking for the latest innovations to accelerate content creation and delivery, to address the explosive demand for content, while also keeping to tight deadlines, all while using a globally distributed workforce.

That’s why the Microsoft Production Summit was needed, Sloss and others said, to bring together studio execs, producers, and tech evangelists to expand their knowledge and go over the latest trends and technologies in virtual production, virtual worlds, and real-world cloud production workflows.

Noting that the virtual set-up — a giant LED stage — attendees were looking at had been built just five days before, Rick Champagne, global media and entertainment industry strategy and marketing at NVIDIA, added: “We’re at an inflection point, impacting how stories are made, using everything from AI to the cloud,” he said. “Collaboration is what it’s all about. We’ve been building our technology with the goal of building virtual worlds, and we have more software engineers now than hardware developers.”

David Morin, industry manager for media and entertainment for Epic Games, and executive director of the Academy Software Foundation, said the pace of technological innovation for film and TV production is unprecedented, and 40 years after the first CGI was ever use in film, the true power of computing is finally in the hands of producers.

“We’re not done,” Morin said. “We want all filmmakers to have the power of these technologies.”

Unreal Engine and Epic showed off what their technologies are capable of, shooting live shot for a “Little Red Riding Hood” adaptation, with the actress in front of everyone, acting on a virtual set. The virtual camera tied to a real one from Sony, and virtual lighting connected to a real one, provided a seamless shooting scene that would fool even the most keen-sighted of videophiles.

Cinematographer and director of photography Erik “Wolfie” Wolford handled on set instructions for the crew, while a director using the Unreal Engine platform — along with others working around the world — worked in a collaborative digital environment. “You can hire a famous actor for the day to work in Burbank, but you’re not getting him to Croatia during COVID,” Wolford said.

Or as Sloss joked, earning some good-nature groans from the audience: “You’re going to see some unreal things. You could even say it’s epic.”