Bluescape: The Filmmakers’ Workflow Wave of the Future is Here


bluescape-nick-brown (1)Bluescape, a company with a new all-purpose Swiss Army knife visual collaboration workspace, offers an incredible, very scalable dream-come-true for content creators of all shapes, sizes, and types. Now within the fold of the Entertainment Technology Center [ETC] at the University of Southern California’s world-renowned School of Cinematic Arts, compounded with the influence of vast venture capital and enthusiastic support of USC’s film program, Bluescape seems like an inevitable film industry household name of the future, and an inevitable change in the way movies are produced — especially when you consider that George Lucas is surely keeping an eye on things. (From near or far? Who knows?)

Bluescape’s immense capabilities and potentially game-changing functionality are best explained by those most directly involved. So we connected with Ken Williams, the CEO and Executive Director of the ETC at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts, via Bluescape’s (very good) videoconferencing feature. Nick Brown, Bluescape’s VP of Product & Marketing, also joined the conversation.

S&P: Nick, starting with you, tell us more about Bluescape and your involvement with the company.

Nick Brown (NB): At Bluescape, I drive the go-to-market challenges and go-to-market opportunities into different sectors, and one of the sectors we focus on is film and television and entertainment. One of our key partners in this space is ETC. That’s the relationship that has really been driving this new technology. We’ve been working with some large studios, which are using our product for both pre-production and film and art design review. It’s part of the blending and accelerating of the whole production process. Bluescape’s being applied across a whole spectrum of projects, from pre-production, of course, to post production, to projects with marketing departments, and even with asset creation, such as figurines and different articles that companies want to create around characters in their movies, just for a few examples.

S&P: And Ken, tell us about your involvement.

Ken Williams (KW): The Entertainment Technology Center is a technology think tank that’s associated with the USC School of Cinematic Arts, which is, of course, one of the world’s premier film, television, and multimedia studies programs in the world. We were founded almost 25 years ago as an industry-supported organization that would foster greater collaboration across the industry, as well as facilitate relationships with faculty and researchers. The next generations of content creators are students, after all.

For the past 24 years, we have organized ourselves around examining industry pain points and opportunities across the entire spectrum of production, distribution, and consumption of content. That’s everything from traditional motion picture content, to interactive media, to the now-emerging virtual- and augmented-reality space. We have about twenty-five companies that subscribe to an annual membership. That includes all six of the major studios, as well as a number of technology companies, primarily in the computing space, that began to emerge as important players as digital technology started to influence content creation and distribution.

Bluescape, we’re delighted to say, has recently joined the ETC as a corporate member. We’re really excited for a number of reasons. For one, we feel that our membership needs to see an improving collaborative workspace environment in order to realize the promise of everything from distributed cloud-based workflows to the significant outsourcing of content creation. Increasingly, there are literally dozens and dozens of participants in the creative process, many of whom are not geographically adjacent or convenient to each other. To be able to bring these people together in a collaborative environment, such as the one that Bluescape is beginning to now customize for the media entertainment space, is a unique experience. It’s an area that we’re very confident will benefit from increased exposure, and we feel that Bluescape will benefit from the feedback that they can get from our companies. The whole process of providing access to Bluescape’s product, both directly and indirectly, has started to open some eyes as to this great new product’s possibilities.

Bluescape Screen Shot Storyboarding 1

S&P: Ken, what can you tell us about George Lucas’ connection to the ETC and the specific involvement has he had with your development?

KW: George is an extremely important benefactor of USC’s School of Cinematic Arts, and has been involved with it for a number of years. It was George’s original inspiration to form the ETC at the school, because he saw the industry emerging into the digital transition, and there has needed to be significantly greater coordination between companies, products, vendors, and the studios to fully exploit the digital transformation. So the Lucas connection is that the ETC is essentially a vision of his from over twenty years ago.

[We then completed a demo in an online workspace created for an ETC event. While Bluescape continues to expand and develop its capabilities, what they’ve managed to accomplish so far has “game changer” written all over it. It’s seemingly everything all creatives need in one online collaborative workspace.]

NB: Bluescape is designed to be representative of the many aspects of the production process, from early pre-production all the way down to where you solidify what you’re doing. What we’re looking at shows a nice overview of the steps along the way, and how you can accomplish this in Bluescape. As you know, there are a lot of moving parts in the production process, and within those moving parts, a lot of people are involved.

With regard to the production process, currently there isn’t a good sort of lighthouse for all of those different ships. There’s not something that centers and guides everything toward one cohesive, linear process. With our involvement in the ETC, we’re showing how you can do that with Bluescape, how it can be that centralized collaborative place to facilitate all the different parts of production. Bluescape can be the lighthouse.

[We’re then taken through a guided tour of Bluescape’s interface using a demo ETC exhibition workspace as an example. Before we get to more description, some disclosure: your humble author of this article participated in this demo using his office computer, which is not a bad computer, although it’s far from great. I’m not about to be running After Effects on it any time soon. The point is, everything still worked extremely well from my end. The interface was smooth. The videoconferencing windows were (with one small exception) not an issue, and they worked for the interface, not against it. This is a system designed for scalability, and that’s huge. You’re able to access something like this from your not-that-great office computer, your tablet, or even possibly your smartphone (or the powerful rig at your studio or home or your excellent laptop), and you’re able to collaborate with everyone else involved at this same time. Well, I digress. If you can’t see how cool this all is by now, you’ve probably stopped reading.]

Bluescape Screen Shot Storyboarding 2

NB: You can see here that I tried to cover a little bit of everything in this demo workspace. [He virtually gives us a tour of the interface from his remote workstation.] You can do things such as script reviews. This is an actual PDF script file, a real script from The Social Network, and you can just pop out pages right here and do markup on the interface in real time. Because it’s a collaborative system, I can be in Los Angeles and you can be my writer in New York or anywhere else, and whatever I’m doing on my screen, you’ll be able to see in real time. You get the advantage of being able to collaborate on script review or to just throw ideas up on the interface, add some media, and get specific feedback. Bluescape should honestly (budgets allowing) be involved in the entire script incubation process. And again, it’s all in real time and with full remote capabilities.

Bluescape benefits mood boarding, allowing users to reference images, color palettes, videos — anything, all fully there on the interface. It’s clichéd, but your team’s imagination is the limit. You can hand draw in the space, as well. And everyone can contribute to this brainstorming. It’s fantastic for storyboarding, and in many ways that haven’t really been possible like this before. It lets you take cues from so many places and people, even color. It’s a great tool for the developmental process and for creating environments. As with anything, a film’s art process is very important — getting the look and feel, especially on some big-budget projects (imagine on something like a Star Wars movie), where they’re creating entire new worlds. With Bluescape, you can take an environment and look at it with your team using this super-clean and powerful interface with a very powerful toolset. You can circle a mountain, for example, that needs retooling, or drop a note that a mesa doesn’t look right. You can draw what you think a building might look like. It opens so many creative doors. You can utilize a Wacom tablet, and there are so many other options for interacting with it, from our wall to special styluses. It’s insanely useful.

Bluescape goes beyond just brainstorming and media collation for artists. Bluescape assists greatly with location selects, along with a whole list of other big benefits. This streamlines the entire creative process. Developing films, TV shows, video games — this can involve dizzying amounts of professionals. There’s a lot of accountability, which makes sense because there’s a lot of time, energy, money, and people involved. So Bluescape is about increased transparency, as well. We think the transparency part of all of this is significant. It helps you cover your butt while getting rid of inefficiencies. With Bluescape, since everyone can see what everyone’s working on, what their individual progress is, and what additions they’ve made to the workspace, we can see how it would increase motivation and comradery. It gives those involved something tangible and intuitive and fully connected, so they don’t feel detached and compartmentalized, or worse, limited. It makes the crew feel even more a part of a creative team. And it keeps every team member more accountable, which should make everyone more comfortable at the end of the day.


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Images courtesy of Bluescape


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