Mobile technology is profoundly changing the way we tell stories and the way we consume them, according to the experts at a Dolby panel discussion at Mobile World Congress. But that same technology is struggling to keep up with the creative ways people find to use it, they said.
One of the most compelling new ways of telling a story is through virtual reality, a mobile technology with incredible potential to immerse people in a creative world and truly see through a character’s eyes, the panelists agreed. Exactly how to use that new art form is something people are only starting to understand.
More than 200 people attended the Dolby panel discussions at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. Filmmakers, technologists, and VR experts participated in the panels, which were moderated by Scott Stein, Senior Editor at CNET, and Brent Weinstein, Head of Digital Media, United Talent Agency.
Billions of cameras
The fact that 2 to 3 billion people around the world are carrying in their pockets devices capable of capturing video and sound has truly democratized the creation of stories, according to documentary filmmaker Connie Field.
Field cited the example of Burma VJ: Reporting from a Closed Country, an Oscar® nominated film put together from footage shot on cell phones and small cameras by amateur video journalists, then smuggled out of Burma. The film, directed by Norwegian filmmaker Anders Østergaard, showed the Saffron Revolution against that country’s ruling military regime.
“What these little mobile devices allow people to do all over the world is document very severe human rights cases and get those situations out into the world,” Field said. “And that’s really very important.”
The accessibility of cheap, powerful tools like smartphones has made filmmaking “almost like writing,” Field said. “I mean, anybody can write, and then it all just really depends on your own talent. That used to certainly not be true about filmmaking.”
Watching on the go
Mobile devices are fast becoming one of the most important means of experiencing stories, too, said Stephen Nuttall, Senior Director of YouTube in Europe, Middle East, and Africa. Half of all YouTube viewing each month is done on mobile phones, Nuttall said, and that percentage is only going to grow. And people aren’t just watching cat videos: 50 percent of the YouTube videos that people watch are more than 20 minutes long.
Mobile technology has enabled these changes in content creation and consumption, but people still want more. In content creation, nonprofessionals want simple equipment that will allow them to produce content that’s nearly professional in quality, agreed Jeffrey Meredith, Vice President and General Manager, Tablet, in Lenovo’s Mobile Business Group, and John Couling, Senior Vice President of Dolby’s E-Media Business Group.
“Our ambition is certainly to ensure that the mass audience has the ability to use their mobile devices to actually tell a story,” Meredith said. For most amateurs, that means capturing a birthday dinner, a baby’s first steps, or a high school graduation. For them, “the moment is the story,” Meredith said. “How do we ensure that moment is captured in the highest quality possible?”
Bringing pro techniques to the masses
Couling said part of the answer is to look at how professionals create their stories, then translate those techniques into more accessible technology. “It’s saying, ‘OK, how can I put that technique in a form that’s two buttons for the consumer to use, as opposed to 35 dials and a slider that you have to be trained to use,” Couling said.
Mobile device makers also have to accept the reality that their products are like theatres for many customers, especially younger ones.
“There isn’t as much emphasis on delivering hardware that actually supports this kind of entertainment-focused content as there needs to be,” Meredith said.
“Delivering a great experience on that smaller screen, particularly for people who are 30 and under, I think is very critical.”
Meredith showed one of Lenovo’s solutions to that problem, a Yoga tablet with a high-definition QHD screen, a built-in subwoofer, and a built-in projector. Lenovo also announced at MWC three new products with Dolby Atmos® technology, the A7000, the world’s first smartphone with Dolby Atmos sound, and the Lenovo® Tab 2 A8 and Tab 2 A10-70 tablets.
Hollywood filmmakers focus their attention on the experience that viewers will get in the movie theatre, but they want to feel confident that the experience will still be great when someone watches their movie on a mobile device, said award-winning sound rerecording mixer and sound editor Gilbert Lake. “We rely on technology and companies like Dolby to come in and have a decent pipeline to deliver to smaller screens and smaller platforms,” Lake said.
The rise of virtual reality
Many of the panelists pointed to virtual reality as a potential revolution in storytelling.
Documentarian Field cited a VR piece about a college rape that allows viewers to see the incident from the point of view of the rapist and of his victim. “I think this can be extraordinary because that’s just sort of an encapsulated experience that could teach people so many things,” Field said. “It’s going to change the nature of storytelling, period.”
Accurate, lifelike sound is key to pulling you into a VR experience, said Scott Broock, Vice President of Content for Jaunt, a leading maker of virtual reality content and hardware. “That sense of presence from the audio and the visual is what gives you deep immersion,” Broock said.
The sound of virtual reality
Sound is also critical to guiding you through a VR story, said Joel Susal, Director of Augmented and Virtual Reality at Dolby. Conventional filmmakers can depend on the fact that you’re seeing their whole image all the time and can direct your attention by making a part of the image brighter or changing the focus. But in virtual reality, viewers can be looking anywhere, so filmmakers use sound to direct viewers’ attention where it needs to go.
For even very experienced sound mixers, virtual reality projects create brand-new challenges, said Tim Gedemer, Founder and Sound Supervisor of Source Sound Inc., one of the leading mixing houses for Hollywood trailers. Gedemer’s team has recently been working with Jaunt on virtual reality content.
It’s actually a mistake to think that people want realistic sound in entertainment, Gedemer said. “They don’t really want to hear reality, they want to hear what they expect,” he said. “When you deliver something that’s not expected, it seems wrong to people.”
Dolby’s Susal mentioned the example of an explosion. In reality, if something explodes in the distance, you see the explosion well before you hear it, because sound travels more slowly than light. But if you faithfully recreate that sound delay on film or in a game, it seems wrong to people. They expect to hear the explosion at the same time they see it.
So in virtual reality, Gedemer has to be guided not by what’s realistic, but by what’s expected. The problem is, “No one really knows what’s expected yet” in VR, he said.
“We have to invent this and figure out: What is it about this particular mix that sounds correct?”