Written by Jennifer Walden
New features come with every Pro Tools upgrade, but you always get that one feature that makes you say, “How did I work without this?!” Take Offline Bounce for example. Every Pro Tools user was thanking the audio gurus at AVID for bringing that timesaver into their workflow. I mean really, bouncing stems in real time? Insanity! Now, on the cusp of VR virtually becoming a daily reality, content creators are going to want to work with their favorite audio artists instead of having to choose from the small pool of talent wielding the prototype tools for VR production and post production.
Content creators are going to want to work with their favorite audio artists instead of having to choose from the small pool of talent wielding the prototype tools for VR production and post production.
While many third-party companies have been perfecting their VR workflow solutions, AVID has been busily preparing their Pro Tools platform to be the place where these third-party tools can work together, in an environment that’s comfortable for most audio post pros. We’re all waiting for that Pro Tools upgrade that will make us say, “How did I ever work with VR content without this?!” Tony Cariddi, AVID‘s Director of Product and Solutions Marketing, generously shares some insight into Pro Tools upcoming VR workflow solutions.
Audio post pros who are familiar with linear projects, like films or series, may not know what they’re up against in terms of handling post sound on virtual reality projects. Can you explain some of the differences in the Pro Tools workflow for a linear project vs. a VR project?
In the simplest, most fundamental way, in virtual reality you have the viewer interacting with the content rather than just passively watching it or listening to it. So that sets up the expectation that the content is going to respond to the interaction in a natural way. For example, when the viewer turns his/her head the expectation is that not only does the picture follow, but the sound is going to follow too. That creates a lot of new challenges.
You are dealing with a lot of new variables. Obviously with the surround and immersive mixes that our customers do today using Dolby Atmos or other multichannel surround formats, they have sounds respond to camera angles and things like that, but in virtual reality it has to be much more fluid. You also have new challenges when dealing with stereo field information, which doesn’t really respond so well with traditional panning in virtual reality. When someone turns his/her head, what do you do with a stereo source? So virtual reality opens up a lot of opportunity for new technology to create natural sounding results, and it also sets up a lot of questions aesthetically, just like surround did.
What’s been the biggest challenge so far in designing tools that specifically address VR workflows?
We are looking into support for Ambisonics. We have really strong tools for surround and automation, really advanced tools that give mixers a lot of control over that. Outside of that, as it pertains specifically to virtual reality, most of our efforts at this point are to make sure that our SDKs — our Alliance Partner tools, are strong and exactly what the development community needs in order to integrate their tools into Pro Tools. For almost 30 years we’ve had a very vibrant developer community that has made plug-ins for Pro Tools, and plug-ins for Media Composer.
One of the huge challenges in the industry is that there are so many different tools that it becomes very difficult for the users, whether it’s the facility manager or the actual engineer, to integrate all of these things together
And now more than ever, one of the huge challenges in the industry is that there are so many different tools that it becomes very difficult for the users, whether it’s the facility manager or the actual engineer, to integrate all of these things together. There’s no shortage of companies or individuals that are creating amazing tools to solve these problems. But what they don’t do is make it easy for the user to integrate all of these tools together and make them work together. So a lot of our focus over the past few years has been to develop a really strong platform upon which they can easily integrate these tools. So when a user needs to work on a virtual reality project, we make sure it is super easy to get the plug-in, or get the add-on, and simply start using the professional tools that they’re familiar with, and that it gives them compatibility with the rest of the industry.
Are there any specific solutions/tools that AVID is developing for Pro Tools to help audio post pros design and mix for VR?
We’ve been working on Dolby Atmos integration and that’s going to be a big boon for anyone working in virtual reality because you can have control over specific objects across a 64-channel speaker matrix. That gives you a lot of flexibility.
We’ve been working on Dolby Atmos integration and that’s going to be a big boon for anyone working in virtual reality
In addition, we’re looking at supporting Ambisonics natively in Pro Tools. We’re also working closely with gaming developers to ensure better workflow across Pro Tools, middleware, and gaming platforms. Otherwise, we are working to make sure that we have a solid platform to support the third-party developer tools, and making sure those can be integrated into Pro Tools.
In the future does AVID see themselves developing reverbs or compressors or EQs that are designed specifically for the virtual reality environment?
I think that’s possible but I can’t speculate on what will happen. But, historically we have developed a core set of tools for new formats as they have evolved and became more prevalent. At the same time, we’ve always ensured strong support for the third-party ecosystem, which is usually more agile to produce these tools because they are smaller companies and they can really focus-in on one single thing. So I can’t give a definitive statement about our future development but I think that it is possible that we may develop something like that in the future.
With Pro Tools, we have an extremely mature platform and strong development tools for third-parties. As the challenges of VR workflows become clearer, to us and to the market, we will need to keep our SDK and Alliance Partner tools updated to make sure that they can hook-in in the right way. So we are continuing to evolve that platform to make sure that the development community has everything that they need to create and integrate the best tools possible.
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Are there different workflow requirements for virtual reality projects vs. augmented reality projects?
With augmented reality, you typically think of imagery and graphics overlaying reality. With virtual reality, the entire environment is fabricated. With augmented reality, you have an overlay of interactive production material on top of the real world. It’s usually more of a graphic-based medium compared to virtual reality, which require more sound information. So we have augmented reality tools, such as Orad’s RealSet, which are used in the sports production world — producers can superimpose information on the screen, follow players, put three-dimensional objects in a three-dimensional space on existing footage that you can interact with. So we have a very strong set of tools on that side with RealSet and a handful of other products in that category.
When it comes designing, mixing, and print mastering for VR, what solutions will AVID/Pro Tools offer audio post pros that will allow them to make a final mix and then get that back into the VR project?
You can do that today. There was a company called Two Big Ears that was acquired by Facebook in the spring. Their product is called Facebook 360 Spatial Workstation, and it enables users to wear a headset and do the mix within Pro Tools.
It enables users to wear a headset and do the mix within Pro Tools
It handles all the final encoding for you and syncs it back to the final video for you when you are done. So you can do the mix while you’re in that immersive format without having to go back and forth. So that technology is here today and it is only going to get better and better. (For more info, you can check out Facebook 360 Spatial Workstation)
Travel to Yosemite National Park in VR, thanks to this National Geograhic presentation, created using the Facebook 360 Spatial Workstation suite
For many audio post pros, Pro Tools is their defacto DAW. They’re comfortable designing and mixing on that platform…
People doing this work are typically seasoned professionals and they’re going to want to work in a familiar environment they are comfortable with, so that’s what is great about Pro Tools. You have this immersive VR format and emerging technology, and instead of having to utilize completely new tools in a new workstation you aren’t familiar with and don’t have years of muscle memory to take advantage of, you can work in a way that’s familiar and with the same tools.
How does Dolby Atmos for VR differ from the Dolby Atmos tools for linear projects?
The tools they are going to manifest in Pro Tools will be pretty similar. Atmos gives you a lot of flexibility to place objects in very distinct places across a 64-speaker matrix.
If you’re in a small room, or living room, or a giant Dolby-spec theater, those mixes will translate better than they ever have before
That scales really nicely; if you’re in a small room, or living room, or a giant Dolby-spec theater, those mixes will translate better than they ever have before. The basis for this technology will impact VR production just the same.You have a lot of objects to work with and move, so the Dolby tools will translate to that format very nicely.
Where would AVID like to be with their sound for VR tools 5 years from now?
We try to stay very close to what our customers are up against, to their challenges as they evolve. That evolution is driven by economic factors, and the health of the industry. Sometimes there are technological breakthroughs that help to advance that. But what we want to do is make sure that we continue to stay close to the customers. We want to make sure that as these relatively new workflows are evolving, that we are seeing where the hang-ups are, where the pitfalls are, and find out where we can increase efficiency and enable creativity.
How can we deliver tools that make their jobs faster, especially for tasks that are redundant and menial? How can we speed that up so that our customers can focus on getting a great sounding mix, and getting very creative results? Beyond that, we want to make sure that we are able to support our really strong third-party Alliance Partners who are usually on the forefront of solving a lot of our customers’ challenges too. We want to stay close and partner with our customers, and also with the developers, so that we can create the best workflow experience possible.
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