The NAB Show is a humongous convention full of the latest and greatest filmmaking, video, cinema, and broadcast technologies that are out there (or soon to be out there). The week-long event takes place in Las Vegas and hosts more than 100,000 people and features gigantic booths of well-known brands, resellers, and industry-specific conferences with all sorts of speakers.
There’s a lot to wrap your mind around: gagets, gizmos, new tech, prices, connections, speakers, inspiration, floor maps, finding places to sit down, etc. Time management is key, especially since there are a million places you want to be at any given moment. How you choose to split your time between booths and speakers will determine what kind of show you have.
My Goals At NAB 2016
The days are long—I recorded 20,000+ steps on average, and memories tend to blur when you’re saturated with materials in such a short period of time. This year, I had several goals:
Make sense of the direction of the industry.
Weed out what I thought was all hype.
Analyze the impact on productions of all sizes.
Decide if what I saw will actually help audiences connect with what they’re seeing.
That last goal is the most important to me. At a convention like NAB, it’s easy to get carried away with the process—the tools, the craftsmanship, and pushing technology for the sake of pushing technology—instead of focusing on finding solutions that support the material. It’s hard not to get excited about technology that hasn’t been released to the public yet. I would try to follow my initial “This is cool!” reaction with “But what can I actually use this for?” and “Is there/will there be an audience demand that validates the technology?”
That’s not to say I didn’t see anything or anyone talking about their craft in relation to the bigger picture or end result. I saw that in a handful of sessions.
The director and DP of Keanu talking about how their style choices were guided by the story’s world and themes.
James Neihouse, ASC, and astronaut Marsha Ivins talked about why they needed to shoot the next IMAX film that takes place in space, A Beautiful Planet, on digital. They discussed the process of choosing the best gear (a very cool way to use the Canon 1D-C, which is my current go-to camera) and training astronauts to become cinematographers.
The Clemson University athletics' social media crew discussed the revitalization of its social video strategy—specifically how Adobe’s tools were the best answer to creating new and exciting ways to give the audience what they want.
A session dauntingly titled “The Future of Storytelling” featured panelists who are leaders in the online video industry. They refreshingly took a step off the VR bandwagon and spoke about hesitations and what needs to change with VR before the public will even accept its weirdness.
New, Noteworthy & Not Quite There Yet
NAB is chock-full of buzzwords. This year’s were VR (virtual reality), AR (augmented reality), HDR (high dynamic range), 360 video, and (insert random number here) K resolution. Every booth is trying to capitalize on these innovations in order to draw people in. No one wants to seem behind the times. But I actually appreciated companies that didn’t feel the need to be trendy just to do it. While there are always upgrades and changes to established filmmaking equipment that seem to get lost in the mix (lenses and lights come to mind), I like that I could stop by the Mole-Richardson booth 5 years in a row and little will change—at least, not enough to plaster billboards around a city advertising them.
Let’s say you came to NAB for the first time this year. If you walked onto the tradeshow floors, you would probably think VR is here to stay, and that if you don’t dive in you’ll be left in the dust. But when I looked at the technology, it felt impersonal, impractical, isolated, and very rough looking. I listened to the CTOs of companies like Lucasfilm, 20th Century Fox, Epic Games, and Skybound talk about their current VR projects and openly admit they couldn’t see VR reaching a mass market for another 3-5 years at the earliest. When asked for a show of hands of how many of the 200+ people in the crowd had seen any of their VR work, only a few hands went up. I’m not trying to knock those guys or those companies—if anything, the bigger companies are the ones who should be trying out all the new stuff, because not many people can afford to experiment with it to see what works. To me, the show of hands was telling: VR is still so new that in a room full of technology professionals, only a handful had seen the “latest and greatest” work being produced.
It’s hard for me to see VR taking off in the way so many of the companies at NAB hope it does. I think if you have to ask someone to wear something that’s a) expensive, b) big, and c) ugly, people will feel uncomfortable and vulnerable. But that’s where AR takes over... I heard plenty of chatter about how the potential for AR far exceeds anything VR could achieve. I think 360 video is here to stay but will most likely be used in very specific situations. Watching something in 360 can be fun in VR (like this) but the novelty of it soon wears off. I still think 360 video can be cool using your mobile phone and to a lesser extent, desktop, but I have yet to see anything narratively driven that was engaging, let alone worthy of replacing our established cinematic language. The best example I saw that ties in any sort of story was this feature on endangered rhinos.
Another innovation I got to see was the recently announced Lytro Cinema camera. If you haven’t had a chance to check it out, watch this. Lytro had a standing-room-only session where they did a fairly detailed tour of the camera and the post-process. It was fascinating for the simple fact that it felt like being on the ground floor of a technology that could be a real game-changer. There are a lot of things I don’t like about the Lytro camera. The premiere of the first project that shot with the Lytro, the short film Life, left a lot to be desired. Not only was the story stale and boring, but the footage felt cold and lifeless. It wasn’t a good way to introduce the camera; in my opinion, if the end result is underwhelming, it’s hard to care about the product. But I tried to give Lytro the benefit of the doubt… maybe they just didn’t think through their pitch the right way. The camera has unlimited potential—so much that it’s a little scary as a filmmaker. If they can make it smaller than the size of a car, and somewhat affordable, watch out.
Despite my hesitations about some of the new technologies I saw this year, I still think it’s important to see as much of it as possible. Learning about what’s out there, even if it does end up becoming obsolete, improves me as a creative professional. Even if I’m not the most well-versed person in everything there, I like to think I can help point someone in a general direction based on their need, and, hopefully, add more tools and options to my own skill set. So here’s to experimenting and trying new things. Who knows... I could be wrong, and everyone will soon be sitting in their living rooms watching TV shows via their VR headsets. Nothing at NAB this year made me think that will happen any time soon, but we’ll see.