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Fast and easy previsualisation for creative industries

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - first.stage (Fast and easy previsualisation for creative industries)

Reporting period: 2017-12-01 to 2019-09-30

Previsualisation is an essential phase in the design process of narrative art forms and media such as film, animated series, and stage plays. The possibilities that digital tools bring to this phase of production are immense, allowing early visualisations that support making creative decisions with much lower cost of changes than at later stages of production. Yet these tools require trained skills that are not available in typical small- to medium-size productions. The goal of the first.stage project is to provide a toolset that brings the power of digital previs to productions in key application areas by being easier and thus cheaper to use: professionals can use these tools in practice immediately without large investment. This will make previs easier and faster, with significant benefits for production quality. The first.stage toolset will employ natural user interfaces that utilise innate abilities and existing skills of artists for key tasks in previsualisation. Visual elements can be selected from asset libraries via expressive commands, while physical media such as figurines or stage models can be integrated by 3D digitisation. Elements can be arranged and views defined by gestures. Characters, cameras, and scenes can be animated by demonstrating the desired behaviour in the style of performance animation. This functionality will be based on state-of-the-art asset libraries, engines and motion capture hardware.
The novel approach to previs that first.stage takes will have a direct impact on Europe’s storytelling industries – from the film industry over tv /commercials to theatre and other stage productions. It will give key creative personnel – (art) directors, choreographers, and concept artists – more artistic hold over productions. Accessible previs tools will further have impact on related fields such as architecture or product design, down to effects in education programmes and off-market and laymen creative endeavours.
"This report covers the progress of work package 1 (WP1). The timespan from start of the project to this report covers six month. In this time the main task was to define the requirements for the first.stage software in the different application areas of previs: Film, animation, special effects and stage production. In order to define these requirements each application partner conducted interviews with staff working in their application area. The focus of these interviews was to define the state of the art production process in this area as well as the current use of previsualisation. Repetitive procedures and task that can be improved or optimized were identified. Furthermore, the interviews were used to find key problems present in current previs. The interviews were used as a base for developing scenarios in which future use of previous with the first.stage software is described. Use-cases and specific functional requirements were defined based on these scenarios.
In order to develop the user interface based on natural interaction techniques, Uni HB visited the application partners and observed staff in their daily production process. Interviews on the use of current software and the possibilities of new interaction techniques were conducted.
For WP7 and WP8 the “project handbook” and ""Dissemination and communication strategy and plan"" was completed. The project website and social media were set up and are available to the public.
The first.stage project will furnish the creative industries developing and producing visual narrative media with several advantages. And not only will the professionals benefit: due to the ease of operation and the decreasing prices, equipment and software for production chains in film and performing arts are now becoming affordable for the consumer markets.
For the creative industries the use of previsualisation as a design tool is both an established and a brand new trend. Previs has long been established for high-end productions, which unfortunately are the ones in which a lot of money and the know-how of technical staff that come with it, are involved. For smaller productions, lower budget animation and theatre and performing arts shows in general, professional digital previs tools have not been an option. That does not mean that previsualisation has not been used, just that the tools employed have been far away, both in affordability and ease of use, from an ideal solution.
The first.stage project will change that in a substantial way, by providing not only tools that are affordable to smaller studios, filmmakers, theatres and other companies working in the medium of visual narrative art, but also by making these tools easy and intuitive to use. This will allow the users to experience previsualisation anew, and lets them create with the skills they already possess, in a medium that is close to the one the actual production will occur in. In addition to the
creative benefits this so obviously creates, it will also have a tremendous impact on the cost structure of a production. One of the focuses of the first.stage project is to integrate the previs as seamless as possible into the overall production, thus creating synergies and allowing co-located teams to work together to a degree that has previously not been attainable without considerable fiscal backlash. This, in turn, allows smaller production companies to be more cost-efficient and competitive, thus enriching the creative scene with more diverse productions possessing a high degree of sophistication.
It also bears mentioning that there are numerous types of performing visual arts that could profit from the developed tools. For example, using the tools of previs for actual art, it is possible to utilize the crude but malleable nature of the animation for a new kind of puppet theatre in which actors in motion suits act out the scenes. Then, their actions are converted in real time to the movements of virtual characters, allowing a much deeper interaction than previously achievable. This shows that the creative possibilities generated will expand what is possible in creating visual creative media by a huge margin.
In addition, the aforementioned entry into the consumer market itself, with motion capturing equipment, e.g. suits, gloves, etc., that is below the 1.000 € threshold and supported by intuitive software solutions with natural user interfaces, spells untold possibilities for future market potential. The community of creative people will be greatly enriched by new and enthusiastic laymen who will also have a new understanding of the creative process, and thus new respect and interest in the professional offerings provided by smaller and medium sized production companies.