Outlook: VFX trends impacting the content boom
Ben Fischler
Issue: November/December 2020

Outlook: VFX trends impacting the content boom

The current content boom is unparalleled in modern history, widely driven by the cloud and a range of VFX trends impacting accelerated media creation. For consumers, media distribution via the cloud has made content more accessible than ever before, as evident by the rise in streaming services and OTT distribution across platforms. To meet increasing audience demand for content, advancements in the cloud, machine learning, realtime workflows and open standards are fueling the VFX industry to keep up with this pace. 

Cloud-based workflows facilitate collaboration among studios for more efficient production and delivery. When VFX-heavy film and episodic projects require multiple vendors on a single production, the cloud provides a streamlined conduit for securely sharing assets. COVID-19 has accelerated the move to production in the cloud, enabling remote workflows for teams to effectively collaborate on creative projects from anywhere in the world. As studios adapt to remote work environments, virtualized workstations allow teams to run DCC applications on the cloud and scale down on-premises compute resources. Facilities looking to further reduce on-premises resources are also moving rendering pipelines to the cloud, which offers increased speed and scalability for demanding VFX workloads.

Advances in AI and machine learning are addressing time-consuming tasks that challenge artists and drain creative resources. Companies like Autodesk are looking for innovative ways to incorporate machine learning into existing post workflows and automate repetitive and tedious tasks, freeing artist cycles to focus on the more rewarding and creative aspects of production. For example, in this year’s Flame 2021 dot releases, machine learning was further integrated with features like salient key and depth generation to further accelerate artist workflows. 

Realtime workflows and engines are also accelerating production and impacting the content boom. In the context of artist workflows, upgraded DCC apps are now able to work as fast as artists can think and iterate, including live viewports in Maya and 3ds Max, and high speed GPU viewport rendering with Arnold. As adoption of virtual production techniques continue to gain momentum, game engines are driving realtime graphics to incorporate VFX and animation into live shoots. The prevalence of virtual production will become more widespread in the future, as the cost of setup and hardware becomes more affordable and accessible.  

An industry-wide push away from propriety formats and towards open standards is further connecting pipelines across studios and simplifying the transfer of data among VFX vendors during production. Use of open standards ensures that data can be shared and accessed by any facility, without requiring reformatting or conversion at the risk of error or incompatibility. Autodesk has been at the helm of developing open standards, including USD in Maya for film and television, OTIO open timeline support in Shotgun for editorial workflows, MaterialX to standardize on look development across DCC tools, and OpenColorIO for color management.

Despite many of the initial challenges presented by 2020 and the global pandemic, advances in technology and workflow developments have helped the VFX industry adapt and become stronger than before. These advancements are critical in meeting insatiable consumer demand for top VFX and animated content.

Ben Fischler handles Industry Strategy at the Autodesk Media & Entertainment Division (www.autodesk.com) in San Francisco.