MovieLabs looks out to 2030

Brings their message to IBC 2022.

MovieLabs is a non-profit industry organization founded in 2006 by Disney, Paramount, Twentieth Century Fox, Sony Pictures, Universal, and Warner Bros. to do advanced research and development. The organization came together to prepare for the digital tidal wave coming their way as film-based moviemaking started to give way to digital workflows and distribution. At that time, the organization was concerned with distribution and security. Today, the group is still concerned with distribution and security, as well as digital production methods. It is also developing an efficient infrastructure for distribution and production, cultivating digital delivery systems that keep up with technical innovation, and improving media experiences for consumers.

At IBC2019, the organization introduced its 2030 vision paper, “The Evolution of Media Creation: A 10-Year Vision for the Future of Media Production, Post, and Creative Technologies.” It got some attention and positive responses from the industry, and then Covid happened. The MovieLabs paper helped inform content creators scrambling to redefine their production methods in the face of industry-wide lockdowns.

The IBC community did not regroup until 2022, and the paper became more relevant than ever. For IBC 2022, there were two panels on the MovieLabs vision for 2030—a studio panel with representatives from Universal, Marvel, Paramount, Warner Bros.; and a vendor panel with representatives from Adobe, Autodesk, Avid, Google, and Microsoft. The two panels served to provide a possible road map for movie production to 2030, but as the three years between the 2019 presentation and current 2022 panels dramatically demonstrate, a whole lot can happen in three years let alone the 10 or so years between when the paper was written and 2030.

The IBC 2022 MovieLabs studio panel, from left: Michael Wise, senior vice president and CTO, Universal Pictures; Eddie Drake, head of technology, Marvel Studios; Renard Jenkins, senior vice president of production integration and creative technology services, Warner Bros. Discovery; Anthony Guarino, EVP of global production and studio technology, Paramount; and Richard Berger, MovieLabs CEO.

That said, the MovieLabs paper does have built-in wiggle room and allows for different views of what and how people will interact with what are still called movies. The organization is convinced that people still want to be told stories via audio/video technologies, especially when it’s a good story—and, as the paper states, made with technology “that stimulates the senses and creates magic.”

MovieLabs’ current work has grown out of two trends. First, the hectic and, in some cases, traumatic transition from film and tape to digital workflows. After the smoke cleared, the studios found that they had managed the transition and that many companies survived (and some others did not). They also found that workflows were as chaotic as ever. The digital revolution simply highlighted the need for better collaboration among competitors—in this case, the studios. During the studio panel, several of the speakers noted that what they did was “lift and shift” to the cloud without ever addressing many of the underlying problems that were being exposed by the digitalization wave. Those same reservations and discontents were echoed by the representatives on the vendor panel.

The second impetus was also a side effect of digitalization. Even before the pandemic, contractors working for the studios were recognizing the advantages of accessing resources in the cloud for processing, such as rendering and for performance boosts with data-heavy processes. The disadvantage, of course, was that there was no common and effective approach to security. One got the feeling there was a lot of “don’t ask, don’t tell” around how the cloud was put to work by contractors.

With the organization’s white paper and published set of goals, the studio community hopes the improve processes, innovate on distribution, and, in the long run, provide creative professionals more time to do their work.

The MovieLabs paper provides 10 principles for its view of the future, and at IBC, we saw those principles already being worked into products:

  1. All assets are created or ingested straight into the cloud and do not need to be moved.
  2. Applications come to the media.
  3. Propagation and distribution of assets is a “publish” function.
  4. Archives are deep libraries with access policies matching speed, availability, and security to the economics of the cloud.
  5. Preservation of digital assets includes the future means to access and edit them.
  6. Every individual on a project is identified and verified, and their access permissions are effectively and consistently managed.
  7. All media creation happens in a highly secure environment that adapts rapidly to changing threats.
  8. Individual media elements are referenced, accessed, tracked, and interrelated using a universal linking system.
  9. Media workflows are non-destructive and dynamically created using common interfaces, underlying data formats, and metadata.
  10. Workflows are designed around real-time iteration and feedback.
The IBC 2022 MovieLabs vendor panel, Implementing the Vision, from left: Simon Crownshaw, worldwide strategy director, media & entertainment, Microsoft; Buzz Hays, global lead, entertainment industry, Google Cloud; Jeff Rosica, CEO, Avid; Diana Colella, senior vice president, media & entertainment, Autodesk; Bill Roberts, industry strategist, Adobe; and Leon Silverman, MovieLabs.

During the vendor panel on the MovieLabs vision, Bill Roberts of Adobe said every camera will have a radio to enable captured data to be sent immediately to the cloud to fulfill MovieLabs’ first principle. Not coincidentally, Adobe had acquired Frame.IO in 2021, seemingly as a direct response to MovieLabs’ 10 principles.

Over the past three or four years, there has been tremendous investment in connected camera workflows. Blackmagic Design has multiple products for camera-to-storage workflows, and this year they announced Resolve to the Cloud and the Blackmagic Cloud Store. A whole ecosystem of production utilities is coming to the market to fill in the blanks between camera-to-cloud, storage-to-cloud, edit-in-cloud, etc. What was a growing market of tools for accelerated data flows from capture, to storage, to edit has become a tidal wave in the wake of the pandemic and the new virtual production tools that have grown almost spontaneously out of the forced shutdowns of 2020. During the MovieLabs vendor panel, Bill Roberts called the pandemic “a forcing function.”

In addition, the focus is moving to managing data, no matter where it is. Production hardware company Aja has introduced a software product Diskover Media in conjunction with Lucid Link. Avid has introduced products enabling media management across on-premise, remote, and cloud-based resources. As members of the MovieLabs coalition, Microsoft, AWS, and Google are concentrating on ways of handling identification in production workflows.

People may work on several productions at the same time; they have different permissions, employment dates, locations (they may live all over the world), etc. A key tenet of the MovieLabs vision is to establish a common and dynamic method of identifying the people working on a project. The idea is to enable simple log-ins that carry roles and permissions for each production they are working on. Eddie Drake, head of technology at Marvel Studios, told the audience at the IBC 2022 MovieLabs update panel by the studios, “What we’re trying to build is security by design. We have a small window of time to make this work.”

Speaking the same language

It would seem that the language of cinema has been long understood, but what people actually have been working with is more of a shallow layer of definitions that are not consistent across disciplines. For some purposes, a process such as a shot, a scene, or a prop might be described simply, but for the specialists working with specific components, there might be many more terms and relationships involved to describe the various steps in the  process. For example, the VFX team might be working with a completely different vernacular than the cinematographer. The MovieLabs group has an ongoing and complex project to create an ontology describing the roles and work that goes into creating content. The organization says, “There is a growing need for a standard, organizing framework to capture and surface the inherent relationships between works and other entities as part of that core infrastructure.” The Creative Works Ontology for the Film & TV Industry was released in 2018, and there is an uncompleted version on the way for 2022. Naturally, since they are defined by communications, MovieLabs published a white paper, “The Evolution of Production Workflows,” to explain their work so far.

Jim Helman, CTO of MovieLabs, says in a video that the ontology will not only ensure that everyone working on a project is speaking the same language, but ultimately and more importantly, it allows the MovieLabs group to accurately define workflows for humans and machines. Production processes can be mapped out, tagged, and even automated.

What makes MovieLabs’ work on creating and connecting ontologies so promising is that they are not developing an overarching structure, but actually breaking processes down and addressing them industry by industry. To see the work that has been done so far, MovieLabs is posting ontologies as they go. It will never be a finished project because creativity and technology, and even our ideas about what forms content will take, is constantly changing.

Taking the long view

MovieLabs’ goal is 2030, and those on the vendor panel reminded the audience that things will change as the teams do their work. However, the vendors expressed their excitement at having the studios provide a direction and road map for the vendors to direct their development. Diana Colella, SVP of media and entertainment at Autodesk, says the MovieLabs paper articulated what the industry wanted to say, and she has made it required reading at her company. Simon Crownshaw, worldwide strategy director of media & entertainment at Microsoft, said it’s important to remember that the paper is not a 2022 vision. It is evolving.

From our standpoint, one of the great virtues of MovieLabs’ work is that it is considering media and entertainment as a whole and showing immense respect for the different jobs people are doing, and it is looking for ways to make their work lives better.

As always, the vendors are pledging to work together, but there is considerably more sincerity in their promises because MovieLabs represents vendors’ primary customers, the studios and the effects houses. And they’re providing a road map.

Richard Berger, CEO of MovieLabs, said the goal of their 2030 vision paper was to reinvent the content supply chain and ultimately create more time for creators to do their work. “It’s not a predication,” he said, “it’s where we want to go.”