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Protocol Next Up
Defining the future of tech and entertainment with Janko Roettgers.

When your red carpet is virtual

When your red carpet is virtual

Good morning, and welcome to Protocol Next Up. This week, we're taking a look at film premieres in VR and sharing some news about a significant new hire at Adobe.

Looking for some CES news instead? Then join us this morning for a live roundup of the best of CES starting at 10 a.m. PT, and make sure to check out our special CES afternoon edition of Source Code.

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The Big Story

Attending a VR film premiere, in VR

Legendary animator Glen Keane was in the middle of welcoming Jennifer Hudson and Daisy Ridley to the premiere of Baobab Studios' new VR film "Baba Yaga" on Tuesday morning when he suddenly lost his hand.

Not to worry: Keane didn't suffer any serious injuries. The director of Netflix's recent hit movie "Over the Moon" had just momentarily displaced his Oculus Quest controller, leading to the hand awkwardly floating in thin air while everyone was busy finding their space on stage. The premiere for "Baba Yaga" was hosted in Microsoft's social VR world AltSpace, with Keane, Hudson and Ridley as well as key Baobab executives represented as VR avatars.

Baobab chose AltSpace as a virtual venue for its film premiere because of COVID, "Baba Yaga" director and Baobab Chief Creative Officer Eric Darnell explained on the sidelines of the film premiere. The VR animation studio usually schedules its premieres around film festivals like Tribeca or Sundance to attract industry attention, but with the pandemic still raging and festivals shifting to digital formats, Baobab decided to premiere the VR film in VR instead, Darnell told me.

The pandemic has forced entertainment companies to come up with all kinds of workarounds to make virtual events feel like more than just stale livestreams. For the premiere of "Baba Yaga," Baobab pulled no punches:

  • The studio hired some of the people who were responsible for last year's virtual Burning Man festival to create their premiere event in AltSpace — a process that took around three months.
  • The event featured a movie theater foyer, complete with a red carpet, leading to a wondrous forest landscape that looked like it was part of the world of "Baba Yaga," including a mysterious hollow tree, a massive magical cauldron and mushrooms as chairs propped up in front of a giant theater screen.
  • The space also included statues of some of the film's main characters that attendees could take selfies with, and a gallery of "Baba Yaga" artwork.
  • Following ample time to mingle and gawk at the scenery, attending journalists got to see Keane interview Ridley, who voices one of the film's main characters, and Hudson, who joined the project as executive director and voice actor, as well as Darnell and Baobab Studios CEO Maureen Fan.

A few minor mishaps aside, the premiere felt like a real Hollywood event, with some VR magic added as a bonus. "I was really pleased with how it turned out," said Tribeca Immersive Programming VP Loren Hammonds, whose organization co-hosted the event.

This was the first time Tribeca ever hosted a premiere in VR, but Hammonds suggested that we may see more of these types of VR events in the future, even after the pandemic subsides.

One reason: Tribeca usually sees 4,000 people flock to its interactive showcase. When the festival had to be canceled last April, it showed off a number of VR films on Oculus TV instead, where they attracted 43,000 views. "You grow the audience exponentially," Hammonds said. "It's truly global."

Speaking of which: "Baba Yaga" went live to VR audiences around the world on the Oculus Store on Thursday.

Overheard

"CES 2021 demonstrated that the smart home industry is at a pause." —IoT expert Kevin Tofel, sounding less than excited about a new crop of smart home devices.

"Bonkers that the #3 content on Netflix in the United States today is a French original series … the globalization of content driven by Netflix is unprecedented — playing different game than everyone else." —LightShed analyst Rich Greenfield, tweeting about the success of "Lupin."

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What will a Biden administration mean for the business of tech? Protocol's Issie Lapowsky and Emily Birnbaum will lead a conversation about how — and if — U.S. lawmakers will funnel political energy into tech policy change in 2021. Hear from Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers, FTC's Commissioner Becca Kelly Slaughter, Colorado AG Phil Weiser, Brookings' Nicol Turner Lee and Former U.S. CTO Jen Pahlka. RSVP today.

Watch Out

Adobe is hiring a Pixar veteran, hinting at a big upcoming 3D release

Adobe is doubling down on 3D: The company just hired Pixar veteran Guido Quaroni, who is joining Adobe's 3D and Immersive team as senior director of engineering. Executives told me that we can expect some major 3D announcements.

Before joining Adobe, Quaroni worked more than two decades for Pixar, most recently as VP of Software R&D. In that role, he already worked with some of Adobe's 3D software as part of Pixar's internal design process, he told me during an interview this week. Now, he's looking forward to broadening his horizons and working on software that's being used on a variety of screens, including mobile and ultimately AR and VR. "3D is still in a space where there is a lot of innovation and research," Quaroni said.

Adobe's 3D journey began in earnest when it acquired 3D authoring software startup Allegorithmic in early 2019, followed by the acquisition of Medium from Oculus later that year. Since then, the company's core 3D team has grown to almost 200 people, said Allegorithmic founder Sébastien Deguy, who now heads the group as Adobe's VP of 3D and Immersive.

"3D is part of the design journey" for a growing number of companies, Deguy explained. 3D has long been a key part of Hollywood's workflow; carmakers and others have also long embraced 3D for prototyping; and a growing number of companies are relying on 3D-generated images to replace traditional product photography. "COVID only accelerated this," he said.

AR and VR are still a relatively small part of that portfolio, with Deguy pointing out that VR is primarily being used as part of the design process. However, he also said that Adobe is seeing the signs on the wall, and betting on AR and VR devices ultimately becoming mainstream. "We need to be ready," he said. "Adobe cannot let such an opportunity pass."

"The devices of the future will consume 3D data," Quaroni added.

In the meantime, Adobe is now looking to release an ecosystem of creative tools that incorporate 3D. Deguy didn't want to spell out too many details, but it sounds like we can expect a big announcement over the next few months. The company's ultimate goal is to bring 3D to all designers, not just those who think of themselves as 3D designers.

"Adobe is embracing 3D like never before," Deguy said. "The message is: We're serious about it."

Fast Forward

The attack on the Capitol was livestreamed on DLive. The BitTorrent-owned livestreaming service has reportedly been paying far-right agitators tens of thousands of dollars since the election.

On Protocol: Roku is becoming the most powerful company in streaming. Smart TVs running Roku's OS outsold all other brands in 2020.

Vevo has teamed up with Comcast. Comcast subscribers can now access Vevo videos directly from their set-top boxes.

Panasonic's Steampunk VR glasses get a spec update. Still no word on when you'll actually be able to buy these.

AT&T, Amazon HBO Max deal included AWS concessions. Warner Media is said to have committed to extend an existing AWS deal to get Amazon to carry HBO Max.

Also on Protocol: Roku acquires Quibi's content library. Now we just have to figure out how to turn our TVs into portrait mode.

AT&T TV Now is dead. Long live AT&T TV. AT&T is finally pulling the plug on the streaming service formerly known as DirecTV Now.

Amazon starts selling mobile-only Prime Video in India. To fend off Netflix, Amazon is selling access to its video library for Rs 89 ($1.22) per month.

One more Protocol story: What remote controls tell us about the streaming wars. The story behind those branded buttons we all accidentally press at least once a week.

Auf Wiedersehen

If this were any other year, you would find me in Las Vegas right now, scouring the show floor for any last-minute finds, eating stale sandwiches in the CES press center and starting to feel the exhaustion of a couple of very, very long days. Instead, I'm sitting at home, fielding email pitches, browsing the exhibitor directory and generally feeling pretty underwhelmed by this year's virtual CES.

I am among the few journalists who actually enjoy going to CES every year, and I do miss casually bumping into folks, checking out products firsthand and pretending not to lose any money at the casino at night. In fact, after going eight years in a row, it has become such an integral part of January for me that last year, when CES announced it would go virtual for 2021, I tweeted that "CES 2022 is gonna be lit." To which the official CES Twitter account replied: "Agreed, but you know it's only July 28, 2020 right." It's never too early!

Thanks for reading — see you next week!

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