My background is firmly entrenched in media, entertainment and technology. From puppet shows and magic tricks as a kid to managing movie theaters during college to a career in marketing and management in movies, television, digital entertainment and media technology, I’ve worked in the company of brilliant, creative individuals. I’ve also been fascinated by technology, especially computing power, and the possibilities created when place in creative hands. I developed a deep appreciation for visual effects beginning with my first visual effects film, Poltergeist — the 1981 original with Richard Edlund and ILM on visual effects and Steve Spielberg on the set when he wasn’t finishing Raiders of the Lost Ark.
After a 17 year run at Sony Pictures where I was deeply involved in the the digital transformation of Hollywood, I’ve applied that experience as an advisor, consultant and educator. I’m associated with the Entertainment Technology Center@USC (ETC@USC), a research center and think tank that is part of the School of Cinematic Arts and works with all of the major studios and technology companies.
I also advise a number of businesses, including a game company that published Goosebumps Night of Scares, the first branded mobile game VR experience to come to market; Zerply, which is a global marketplace for talent in visual effects, animation and game development, and several independent children’s app and story developers. And I’m a member of the faculty of Boston University’s Los Angeles Program where I teach a graduate and undergraduate course in Entertainment Marketing. What else can I tell you? I’ve been a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for almost 30 years. I chaired a working group for their Cinema 2.0 committee and have served on the Animation nominating committee. I am also a member of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences in their Interactive Media Peer Group.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated by the way images, moving images and sound, in particular, can transport us to different places and introduce us to characters and experiences we might not otherwise know. I grew up at a restless time when the most popular movies took on challenging topics. So I am very conscious of and interested in how what we portray on screens impacts and influences the way we think.
What Inspired me to Speak at AR/VR Innovate
I was inspired to speak here for 3 main reasons: The event theme, Alex Gibson and Su Duff, the organizers, and Dublin. On the theme, I’ve been following VR since first introduced to it in 1996, and AR a little more recently. I like the idea of looking at VR and AR with some emphasis on how marketers are exploring it. It was very clear from all of our communications and conversations that Alex and Su have a vision and strong interest for what they are bringing to Dublin. The third inspiration is the opportunity to visit Dublin. I am in Europe during the conference week to attend FMX, a big German computer graphics conference where I curate sessions on visual communications. Dublin is not exactly next door to Stuttgart but it’s closer than I am from Los Angeles, so I’m jumped at the opportunity. I’ll also be speaking on a different topic at a Ticketing Technology conference in Dublin early on the 28th. I am very excited, even if it is only very short trip.
Why will it be helpful to attend?
The reason to attend is that the program is filled with important sessions and is attracting major interest from both the local community as well as some top people planning to travel up from London and other places. Daqri is one of the companies participating. I saw them as part of the Intel keynote at CES and they’ve recently made some major hires. These are such early days in the field of AR and VR which means that even experts have much to learn. So much of what is being done is still really experimental. Beyond that, I don’t think that I have ever seen a field that has more dynamic energy and possibility than what we see with AR & VR. There are so many areas beyond entertainment where this is going to apply. When there is so much being written and so much speculation, I think it is incredibly helpful and valuable for people to have a conference like this where they can learn from others’ experiences, see demos, and meet other people in the field.
I plan to talk about some of what I am seeing both in Hollywood, sharing some of what we’ve gathered at the ETC@USC, and in other areas, especially in education and games.
How to be Successful?
To be successful, I think it is vital to create quality experiences. It is also important to be selective in choosing what to do in VR or AR. We saw some good 3D movies a few years ago and we saw some really bad 3D that seemed to be made just because it could be. Same thing in the 1980s when television graphics went from simple titles and lower thirds to flying logos. Look, there are some amazing VFX artists who got their start that way but look at old TV and see some of what was done — everything was moving and flying and spinning and flashing.
Instead of using a technique because you can, use it because it is the best way to tell the story or communicate an idea.
A few other things to consider: pay attention to the viewer experience and stay current on developments in content, technology, platforms and research. That viewer experience is really important. There is a great deal of brain science at play. Be mindful that this is an incredibly powerful medium. Used well and the results will be extraordinary. Be on the side of extraordinary!
Who has inspired me?
I owe much to my parents and family – my wife, our sons and my brother, all of whom inspire my curiosity. Professionally, I’m inspired by the talent behind the scenes. Going back to that first visual effects experience on Poltergeist, I’ve had the privilege of working with all of the greats of modern visual effects from the late Ray Harryhausen and George Pal to Richard Edlund, John Dykstra, Dennis Muren, Ken Ralston, that’s the original Star Wars, Doug Trumbull (imagine having him show you his Blade Runner reel!), Rob Legato, John Knoll, Rob Bredow, the list goes on. And then there are the all the people in animation and some great directors like George Miller, Hal Ashby, the first director I worked with, Spielberg, Coppola, Scorcese, Norman Jewison. Even though there are many names, and others I’ve not mentioned, they all see themselves as storytellers and explorers. They’re boundary pushers and adventurers.
Where can people see a little more about me?
On TED.com, people can see my short talk on visual effects. It’s not a best of reel but rather a selection of clips spanning 110 years of cinema history along with a short explanation of the principles behind these illusions. There is a little more about me on my website, www.smithbrookfarm.com, and people can always find me as @dblevy on Twitter. Lastly, I occasionally write and everyday we publish a news brief out of the Entertainment Technology Center@USC. It can be downloaded as an app under Etcentric in the app stores or online at www.etcentric.org
My website: https://www.smithbrookfarm.com