Øystein Larsen of The Future Group & Pixotope: “Make sure the virtual aspects of the event are seamlessly integrated”

Make sure the virtual aspects of the event are seamlessly integrated. By using virtual production tools, you can streamline and integrate these features into the final process. It shouldn’t feel different from the rest of the production. As a part of our series about “5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Run a Live […]

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Make sure the virtual aspects of the event are seamlessly integrated. By using virtual production tools, you can streamline and integrate these features into the final process. It shouldn’t feel different from the rest of the production.

As a part of our series about “5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Run a Live Virtual Event”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Øystein Larsen.

Øystein Larsen is Chief Creative Officer at The Future Group, creators of Pixotope®, the world’s leading mixed reality solution for media production. Øystein is a multi-award-winning VFX Supervisor and Creative Director across feature films, commercials and broadcast. Øystein now applies his expert creative and technical knowledge to Pixotope®. In his leading position as CCO, Øystein has played an integral role in a host of media and virtual production events taking place across the world — from the US to Europe and Asia.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?

I am born and raised Norwegian. My family has quite a few artists in previous and current generations, painters, and architects. Fun fact, my third cousin is the founder of Snøhetta Architects. I always loved drawing and being creative.

I was definitely not a morning person, my nights were mostly spent doing something creative in my room.

Once computers had any kind of graphics possibility, I got very geared on digital art as well. I early on found that I loved the technical challenges mixing with the artistic on that medium. Later on, came the love of photography and filmed images.

Can you tell us the story of what led you to this particular career path?

I spent many years in the VFX industry working on projects such as The Matrix Trilogy. It was an incredible experience and it provided insight into the way large-scale media and entertainment productions function. The Future Group was set up to tap into this sort of computer-generated content for live media events, something that has now started to become commonplace. I think the amalgamation of live event production with virtual production was an inevitable development and I was naturally drawn towards this in my own career. Real-time is here to stay, and it really is the new space of innovation going forward. A lot of the same techniques can be applied, but as a plus, you get the final output instantaneously.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I believe we got a bit overzealous with creating worlds at first. Coming from VFX, not being too familiar with the game engines at the time. Draw calls, geometry limitations, the cost of lighting, etc. I guess we were hitting about 1 fps in those days. We quickly realized we needed a bit of a different approach.

Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

I am a big fan of books, both fiction and non-fiction alike. I would probably say that Jurassic Park was really the spark that gave me a sense of direction of what I wanted to do in life. A bit later, after being in the middle of creating the Matrix movies, It would be strange to leave them out. It was early in my career, and I learned so much during those years. I still pull out some tricks today that I learned way back then. I also believe that the Matrix has a bit of truth to it in the way we will enjoy entertainment in the future. Especially during pandemics.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Always pass it forward. It resonates a lot with me. I would never have had the opportunities and experience if it wasn’t for my peers being happy to share their knowledge. I have always enjoyed being “in the trenches” with my fellow artists and collaborators. Always looking to help out or teach them tricks of the trade. I get a lot in return as well.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. For the benefit of our readers, can you tell us a bit about your experience organizing events in general?

Of course. Working for The Future Group now for several years, I’ve had the opportunity to be a part of many live events. In fact, it’s our experiences with events that we’ve had as a company that have shaped our approach to the business going forward. Initially, our focus was to build a completely new type of game show that combined virtual studios, gaming, and e-commerce. In 2017, we premiered the world’s first Interactive Mixed Reality game show, Lost In Time, on Discovery Networks’ TV Norway — this was a great experience for us. For Lost In Time, we invented a unique studio graphics software, mobile front, and back-end technology, as well as a world-class service department for mixed reality production, as none of this was readily available to purchase.

We realized that the expertise and technology we had developed for Lost in Time was a game-changer, and could enhance the ingenuity of video and film creators the world over. In the summer of 2018, we expanded into real-time visual effects, before creating and releasing the first iteration of our flagship Pixotope® solution in February 2019, which is built for live, virtual production, and events. The solution is fully integrated with Unreal Engine and leverages all the great technologies that it provides. Virtual production and mixed reality for live and virtual events are a huge part of what we do. Further examples include creating augmented versions of characters from League of Legends, as they joined real K-Pop stars virtually on-stage at the Worlds 2018 opening ceremony. We also worked on the LPL Pro League finals in Shanghai with Riot Games, recreating League of Legends game characters in augmented reality. Pixotope® has now also been the tool of choice for the Superbowl in 2019, 2020, and 2021.

Can you tell us a bit about your experience organizing live virtual events? Can you share any interesting stories about them?

Live production is always a rush. All the work obviously has to be completed before going into the show. There are a lot of things to prepare. On-site, making sure that the equipment integrates well with the production pipeline, is ready for testing at a moment’s notice. It’s really great to see some of the big shows utilizing AR graphics for fan engagement. It really gives production the icing on the cake. Any person controlling a live show will feel the heart rate going up as the time code starts running. After that point, preparation is what will get you amazing results. Having great backup solutions in place is also a great source of safety. One time, on a live show, one of the camera assistants actually got mildly shocked by a wire, and we completely lost track. It happened so quickly that the main camera following the action never got cut away. That leads to some interesting visuals to say the least.

In your opinion, what is an example of a company that has done a fantastic job creating live virtual events? What specifically impresses you? What can one do to replicate that?

I believe a lot of the work we did with The Weather Channel a few years ago had had a great impact on the industry when it comes to virtualizing more parts of productions and also driving storytelling in new ways. When it comes to live events, large companies like Riot Games and Epic Games are great at utilizing live, and with their large fan bases know how to put on great events.

A lot of work and planning goes into these massive events. That is what we have been trying to do with Pixotope® for a while now, it’s basically a great place to start out if you want to integrate with production, multi-camera or not. Pixotope® has been seriously battle-tested, but to really make it a valuable addition as a tool, the creative team driving the content needs to be stellar.

What are the common mistakes you have seen people make when they try to run a live virtual event? What can be done to avoid those errors?

The most common issue I have seen is not running optimized. A lot of companies will try to push the creative engines to the breaking point. It may not be very easy to spot at first. Most productions we have been involved with are usually either at 50 or 60 fps. It’s not too challenging at first, but testing is vital. As soon as you get to an event, you don’t control what the camera is looking at, or how zoomed in it may be. Moving the camera close to several highly detailed models with complex lighting and shadows can quickly give you a performance hitch. Even at 60fps, a one-frame hitch is very noticeable. Making sure to rigorously test performance, and how to build smart is very important early on. Video input and tracking will add delays, and with a budget of 16–20 ms, that quickly becomes tight. We have had a lot of support calls on these types of problems. So plan the production early, build assets in a smart and optimized way, and test with a full pipeline.

Which virtual platform have you found to be most effective to be able to bring everyone together virtually?

I believe this is happening in a big way. The pandemic has fueled the need for close collaboration at distance. Pixotope®, being fully integrated with the Unreal Engine, offers multi-user toolsets that can be very handy. They are also well integrated with version control systems that help with organizing content. As much as I think the tools are getting better at handling these types of workflows, I must admit that I am very much looking forward to working at close range with great teams of people again. In the meantime, I guess we will have to do with Zoom or Hangouts.

Are there any essential tools or software that you think an event organizer needs to know about?

Currently, if you are organizing events that need virtual content, you can’t really shy away from what the Unreal Engine offers. It is an amazing toolbox for driving new ways to tell stories. Pixotope® streamlines the access to this platform by offering a great toolset that will make integration to live events easier and more manageable, with support for most large tracking systems, cameras, green screens, LED walls and motion capture to name a few.

Ok. Thank you for all that. Here is the main question of our discussion. An in-person event can have a certain electric energy. How do you create an engaging and memorable event when everyone is separated and in their own homes? What are the “Five Things You Need To Know To Successfully Run a Live Virtual Event” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Think about the aspects of an in-person event and how you can recreate them virtually. For instance, Pixotope® assisted Silver Spoon Animation in creating a live crowd tool for live MLB season on Fox.
  2. Make sure the virtual aspects of the event are seamlessly integrated. By using virtual production tools, you can streamline and integrate these features into the final process. It shouldn’t feel different from the rest of the production.
  3. Don’t forget about the content, virtual elements shouldn’t be a gimmick.
  4. The event needs to have a purpose, so don’t go overboard with different virtual elements to fill a void. Think about the virtual elements that support the storytelling and viewer engagement.
  5. Try to wow your audience with never-before-seen visuals!

Let’s imagine that someone reading this interview has an idea for a live virtual event that they would like to develop. What are the first few steps that you would recommend that they take?

Research and find examples of other companies that have successfully produced live events and model your idea process on them. Also, try reaching out to them for assistance. For example, motion capture company Xsens wanted to create a virtual studio for their remote webinars, and they reached out to us for assistance on finding the right creative companies for the job. It always helps to utilize tools and expertise that’s already there.

Super. We are nearly done. Here are our final questions. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

That is definitely a tricky question. There are so many ways of bringing good to people. In the current state of the world, I believe entertainment is doing good for people, perhaps not on a humanitarian level. I feel that is my place and has been for my entire career. I really enjoy being in a space of innovation, and fast pace growth of new technologies. I guess you could call that a movement.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

I think I would have to say Jon Favreau. That would definitely be a fun time. He has been a great influence in the field of virtual production and adaptation of new technologies in our field. He’s a very creative guy and a great actor and director.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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