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6 July, 2021

Staying Ahead of the Curve: Next-gen Studios Take Digital to Virtual

3 Key Takeaways from Episode 5 of the E-commerce Content Creation Podcast

Staying Ahead of the Curve: Next-gen Studios Take Digital to Virtual

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We talk so much about digital transformation's effect on photo studios that we often forget to think beyond it: What's next? What's more? What is-if we dare to fathom-the next big evolution to impact the future for studios and for product photography? To answer these questions, E-Commerce Content Creation Podcast host Daniel Jester brought in Jason Hamilton, Senior Director of Imaging Operations at Bed Bath & Beyond.

Jason Hamilton

Jason Hamilton

Senior Director, Imaging Operations

BED BATH & BEYOND

For Daniel and Jason's full discussion of what's next for product photography, stream the episode on our site or on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music, or anywhere else you listen to podcasts.

Read on for some highlights on the direction Jason sees studios going and why, despite a predicted shakeup of roles and responsibilities, he remains optimistic for the future.

Studios Go Virtual with Computer-Generated Imagery

During a stint with a furniture manufacturer, Jason grew curious about capturing product images with 3D renderings. The technology was something he had experienced mostly through past interest in video games-game worlds built in 3D or augmented reality-but had become passionate about product imagery. "I spent months researching companies that were doing it worldwide," Hamilton says, "who you could get the technology from, who was doing it as a service, who you could send your products to, who would give us tools to utilize."

Jason, like other studio industry veterans, had navigated the shift from film to digital. Now he sees product photography going through a new shift, from digital to virtual.

The allure of virtual environments? They eliminate supply chain-related delays, Daniel notes. "I mean, how many times have we been involved in a shoot where samples aren't there, samples aren't going to be available?" he says. "The shoot gets delayed, or there are certain colorways aren't available for the shoot?" With computer-generated imagery, a new colorway is a quick swap of a texture file, not a wait for more product to reach the studio.

Virtual Environments for Product Photography Have Come a Long Way

Like any technology, computer-generated imagery has wildly improved since its earlier iterations. It's evident in the video game industry Jason mentioned and clear also in product photography. Tightly detailed textures, like fur and rugs, used to look clearly fake and take lots of effort to render. Those with ripples, like pillows, looked a bit too perfect-almost inflated. Today these are all photorealistic files created quickly. "Now it's gone to the point where they just pull a texture file and say, "OK, I'm going to use the rug No. 1011 and throw it on the floor," Hamilton says.

If your studio hasn't looked at this technology in a few years, it may be time to glance again.

The Robots Aren't Taking Our Jobs-Well, Not All of Our Jobs

Let's address the concern on any studio employee's mind, of disruptive technologies putting creative teams out of work. It's not a doomsday scenario, Hamilton says, because the workflow with computer-generated imagery still requires a team's attention.

Companies developing this technology still rely on stylists, photographers, directors, lighting experts, and so on. "This stylist is saying, 'That throw or that blanket or that cushion needs to be roughed up a little,' let's say," Jason explains. "The photographer is saying, 'Your lighting is really weird. What's happening? Where are your lights coming from? What have you got?'"

While positions in production support or warehouse support are potentially diminished by a lightened supply chain (fewer samples and props coming into a physical set), roles in on-set photography are still necessary to execute virtual environments.

Now is a good time for creatives to consider how they might add skills and expand their roles in preparation for the pick-up in virtual assignments.

To get the full discussion-from a low-key horror story about a studio in need of storage space to an explainer on why you need to build even the "off-screen" walls in virtual environments - listen to the episode on the website or on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or Amazon Music.

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