Five tech trends set to change ad production
A view from James Digby Jones

Five tech trends set to change ad production

Drones, AR and 3D geometry are among the emerging technical approaches that agencies and studios are looking at.

Brands, agencies and studios alike are on the lookout to investigate new technologies and media. From concept to final edit, they hope to streamline campaign production wherever possible, delivering sensational advertisements under an ever-tightening turnaround. With CES 2019 kicking off this week, featuring more than 4,500 exhibiting companies, the technological revolution has never been more obvious.

We’ve seen a lot of investment in once-experimental technologies – such as drones, augmented reality and 2.5D animation – that are rapidly becoming refined, effective tools in campaign production. Not every advancement is new, but the ways in which they're being harnessed on set have changed and improved over time.

Here are five emerging approaches set to change the way adland thinks about production by 2020.

Drones offer fresh perspectives

Drones allow film-makers to reach otherwise inaccessible locations with relative ease and provide stunning new perspectives of the world. Add the ability to shoot in 4K HDR and uncompressed formats, and drones have become an incredible tool for shoot production.

The latest drones are packed with artificial intelligence as well, making them capable of following a preset flight path, tracking a subject and capturing wide environment shots without constant input.

To highlight technological advancements in a recent Honda campaign, our team at Saddington Baynes utilised drones to capture a bird's eye view of the car being driven – one of several camera movements that would be near impossible using traditional methods. For creatives with a background in computer graphics, the freedom and 360-degree angles offered by drones can be deeply compelling.

AR can augment shoots

Most people know that AR can overlay digital content onto a real-world image, often by using a smartphone. In shoot production, that capability is scaled up. Users can see live-action footage and CG elements side by side, right there on the set.

This form of AR-enhanced previsualisation will be key moving forward. Characters and environments are being positioned with the swipe of a finger and cameras on set are adjusted accordingly so that every element of the final image lines up. Being able to walk into an empty space, holding up a consumer-grade tablet to map out elements quickly and accurately, can eliminate creative roadblocks before they appear.

Blending live-action and CG

There's a huge amount of technology around blending CG and live-action footage. It's not just a matter of finding a green screen to shoot against. The hardware and software have become so advanced that it's possible to replace any set with a CG version. For instance, we took traditional photography of urban landmarks for Formula E’s "Future cities" project, then augmented those scenes with digital assets to create a familiar yet futuristic world.

Integrating CG elements into live action is perhaps the best way to maintain impact across any platform in the multimedia age. By experimenting with consumer-grade technology in this way, artists can produce branded content that would have otherwise required a Hollywood-sized budget.

Enhancing the real with 3D geometry

At the intersection of the above points is a promising technique in which real-world photography is projected onto 3D geometry, allowing for a new level of digital manipulation.

Adding movement to otherwise still photographic imagery – captured from multiple simultaneous positions and carefully modelled 3D forms – allows us to create dynamic animated sequences. Not only are characters brought to life with increased vibrancy, creatives can afford to experiment with an array of camera moves, both wide and close up.

Our greatest success on set? Capturing a dancer mid-leap, with a 1000fps camera move, while two colour streams of liquid collide with him at the apex of his jump. Then repeating it time and time again. Besides capturing a beautiful matrix of slow-motion moves, we were able to rapidly complete numerous takes and pick out the best possible version to refine digitally. Projects are no longer restricted by the need to capture everything, perfectly, on the day.

Real-time rendering brings huge savings

That ties into the next point, which is the immense savings provided by real-time technology such as Epic Games' Unreal Engine. Some know it as the engine behind AAA video games such as Fortnite, but it's also a powerful, versatile tool for production.

Rendering shots normally takes a lot of time, manpower and money, meaning valuable resources are wasted when up against a deadline. Game engines don't need all of that; they render footage in real time, providing immediate results and instant "point-and-click" interactions with assets. The ability to produce consecutive iterations of a shot, without constant re-rendering, can free up more time for creative experimentation to create perfect visuals.

Achieving high-quality content on a tight schedule and budget means working smart. It means applying knowledge of the latest technical possibilities. It also means not allowing unforeseen logistical issues to eat up your time. With R&D and careful planning, emerging trends can help streamline your processes and elevate campaigns in 2020 and beyond.

James Digby Jones is executive creative director at creative production studio Saddington Baynes