Friend of ameriDroid leading new trend in video production
In a world first for an independent tech-ed YouTuber, friend of ameriDroid, Category5 Technology TV has shifted its production workflow to augmented reality. The small Canadian studio, owned by Robbie Ferguson, is removing physical constraints of a traditional studio environment by producing its fifteenth season using software originally designed for virtual reality, placing their actors into simulated 3D environments without the space requirements and cost of physical sets, nor the limitations of traditional green screen.
The new season kicked off with a comprehensive Q&A featuring the Top 5 questions the on-air team receive about their free Pinecraft software, which allows users to easily create a powerful multiplayer Minecraft server using a single board computer. Viewers learned how to install Minecraft server plugins, modify server.properties files on the pocket-sized server, and use a ridiculously fast external flash drive to accelerate gameplay performance.
You can catch the pilot episode here:
The way Category5 is creating this new iteration of their show is groundbreaking for a YouTuber and is a good demonstration of how the tech shift brought about by the pandemic is making new things possible for smaller budget broadcasters.
Unreal Engine is software that has its roots in 3D video game creation. It has been re-shaping the movie and television industries in recent years, allowing video production studios to place actors on virtual sets, with big budget productions such as The Mandalorian and The Matrix Resurrections utilizing this advanced technology on a grand scale. To date, over 160 major motion pictures and episodic television programs have adopted this next-gen production framework, and in 2022 Unreal Engine is poised to have a profound impact on how video is produced for YouTube.
“With all the lockdowns and fluctuating restrictions we’ve experienced in Ontario,” says Ferguson, “we weren’t able to continue the live broadcast we’d been doing since 2007. We can’t have the staff together on the set, and I had to come up with a way to continue the show moving forward.”
Ferguson and his team continued to produce educational content for YouTube throughout the first two years of the pandemic, though less frequently than in the past.
During this time, Ferguson and co-host Jeff Weston began educating themselves on ways to evolve the show, staying relevant while adapting to the shifting sands brought about by the pandemic. It was determined that the use of Unreal Engine would allow them to have several staff together on screen who were in fact separated by time or physical distance.
With tech giants like Microsoft, Facebook and Nvidia pushing to bring Metaverse to the masses, it’s clear that content consumption is fast shifting to virtual and augmented reality. “We’re not talking about replacing the staff with avatars,” Ferguson clarifies. “We’re utilizing photorealistic augmented reality sets and props to place our on-air personnel within virtual environments. We’re no longer restricted to physical space. We can make it look like our team is in a giant warehouse, or a huge space station, and we can move the virtual camera around in the scene to give it a very realistic appearance.”
Weston, who calls Ferguson “a true trailblazer,” has largely focused on virtual set creation and asset modeling, while Ferguson tasked himself with learning the video production capabilities of Unreal Engine. “I’ve been blown away by the cinematic quality of the software,” he recounts. “Not only do the sets look real, but the lighting, lens focus and bokeh effects are astonishing. We’re able to build a studio set and equip it with high-end cinematic cameras in a virtual environment–to retrofit our humble studio to look like a multi-million dollar setup, all while using hardware we already owned.” Ferguson notes that his approach could revolutionize corporate video presentations and budget-restricted TV shows in a post-pandemic world.
The Season 15 pilot episode of Category5 Technology TV aired on February 23 and is available on their YouTube channel, bringing four real-world actors to the scene, one of whom was located in New York.
“We’ve successfully created a studio environment that allows us to keep our staff safe, while offering viewers something fresh–that to my knowledge has never been done at this scale by a YouTuber,” says Ferguson. “The four people you see in our pilot episode are seen conversing on screen, but none of us were in the same room. In fact, our individual video shoots were all done over the course of several weeks and then assembled to make it look as though we were there together. The entire show was shot without ever exceeding two people at the studio at a time.”
While Category5 Technology TV is using augmented reality for its production, the show is still viewed on traditional platforms such as YouTube. “With Metaverse coming to mainstream users,” says Ferguson, “I have no doubt the viewing experience will continue to evolve as well. It will be incredible to see how the technology grows in the coming years, and I’m so very excited to be among the first independent studios to adopt it.”