The year is 2025. You’re a visual effects artist working on the latest big-budget blockbuster, and it’s time to start your day’s work.
Once you’ve silenced the gentle chimes of your morning alarm, you scan the ubernet headlines. The ubernet knows better than you what stories will catch your eye, so there’s no need to browse. Everything’s just there on your smartwall, exactly where you need it.
Two coffees later and you’re all set. Your Oculus IV headset materialises a keyboard in front of your eyes; a coded flick of your wrist unlocks it. You enter your passport details and allow the headset to scan your retina.
The instant your identity is confirmed, your smartscreen opens a three-dimensional window on an aerial view of a vast ocean. You swoop through clouds, descending rapidly towards a tiny green dot adrift in the sea. The dot grows bigger, becomes an island. The terrain is verdant green; snow-capped mountains rise in the interior.
You land at the island’s main terminal. An ubernet avatar greets you, checking your credentials a second time.
“Nice to see you again,” the avatar says. “VFX Nation welcomes you.”
You walk the short distance to your familiar office. It overlooks the sea. The view is to die for. Your colleagues greet you with friendly avatar smiles. In meatspace, they’re scattered around the globe, citizens of their own nation states and resident in their own time zones. But the ubernet has united them all here, in this common space, each artist travelling on an exclusive VFX passport.
How does this happens?
It happens because you and your colleagues are all citizens of an independent political entity, a virtual territory unfettered by international boundaries and laws. In VFX Nation, you work together to create visual effects for smartscreen theatre productions, Ultra-HD homeshows and multi-user Ocularena events.
Despite your diverse backgrounds, you are all together, here and now, working enthusiastically towards a common goal. Making magic in a virtual world.
You are citizens of VFX Nation.
If you think the above sounds far-fetched, think again. According to a major new survey, we can look forward to many such extraordinary changes in the coming years. The internet will penetrate so deeply into our lives that we’ll no more think about its functioning than we do about the flow of blood around our own bodies.
By 2025, data will be all-pervading. It will also be accessible in ever-more remote parts of the globe, to the point where traditional business models will start to break down. So too will concepts of sovereignty and national identity. New virtual nations will begin to form, built not around geographies, histories or ideologies, but around common interests and shared goals
In such a world, the concept of VFX Nation will be more than a geek’s wet dream.
It will be an inevitability.
At least, that’s what Elon University’s Digital Life in 2025 suggests. Here’s what internet pioneer David Hughes has to say in the survey report:
All 7-plus billion humans on this planet will sooner or later be “connected” to each other and fixed destinations, via the Uber(not inter)Net. That can lead to the diminished power over people’s lives within nation-states. When every person on this planet can reach, and communicate two-way, with every other person on this planet, the power of nation-states to control every human inside its geographic boundaries may start to diminish. Being replaced—over another 50 or more years—by self-organizing, trans-border people-groups.
Still sceptical? Well, it’s happening already. In this article for StudioDaily, Peter Plantec discusses the state of the art with regard to managing VFX artists remotely, using software like cineSync Pro, Shotgun, SyncSketch and Frankie. Plantec neatly summarises the benefits of such systems thus:
Sequence clips are uploaded to the cloud (or shared in real time over the net) and scheduled sessions allow all concerned to tune in to the clip discussion. Most allow the supervisor to make notes right on the clip, in note files, or even on stills from the clip that are stored online or downloaded. All concerned individuals with a digital key can access the notes and clips and even add to the discussion.
Cloud-based sharing? Individual digital keys? A virtual collaborative environment? Sounds like the foundations for VFX Nation to me.
Okay. But every country needs an economy. So what commodities does VFX Nation trade in? What resources does it possess? What’s its major export?
The answer’s obvious: visual effects, of course.
“But ‘visual effects’ is an abstract concept,” I hear you say. “You can’t put a digital matte painting in a crate like a bunch of bananas. It’s all just binary bits whizzing down a high-speed pipeline.”
Well, if you’ve been paying attention to the extraordinary odyssey of Daniel Lay – AKA VFX Soldier – as he fights to redefine the very definition of the term “visual effect”, you’ll know that binary bits are just as tangible – and taxable – as, well, bunches of bananas. Digital products (such as for example, the creative output of a digital effects facility) are commodities just like everything else.
VFX Soldier’s latest report from the front line includes this quote from an interview he did with Buzzfeed:
The MPAA and the [International Trade Commission] have confirmed our position that digital products are goods, their electronic transmission are effectively imports, and the Tariff Act applies, which contains not only strong anti-piracy provisions, but strong anti-subsidy duty provisions too.
So what about the end products that are made using this essential raw material known as visual effects? Are feature films compatible with the virtual sensibilities of VFX Nation? You bet your boots they are. In this recent article for Variety, David S Cohen reports on the following prediction made at the Technology Summit on Cinema in Las Vegas:
The hope is for a future where technology doesn’t limit filmmakers, where cameras and screens can reproduce almost anything the eye can see, where networks make collaboration effortless – in short, a future where filmmakers choose their own boundaries rather than being hemmed in by hardware and software. But in that future, theaters may become the lowest-quality way to view content, trailing Ultra-HD TV and Internet devices that leave UHD eating their dust.
While this vision is as cautionary as it is inspirational, the language should be familiar to all those hoping for a ticket to VFX Nation: “a future where filmmakers choose their own boundaries,” is the assertion.
So what about the studios? There’s no sense in filmmakers and artists marching into the future if the suits don’t march with them. And studio executives aren’t exactly renowned for being forward-thinking, are they?
Or are they? As reported by Devin Leonard in Business Week, Disney-owned Marvel Studios have just announced a release strategy that looks as far ahead as 2028. That’s three years after 2025, the date to which Elon University’s survey looks ahead. By then we’ll have more than just the foundations of VFX Nation in place – the borders will have been marked out and the building work will be well under way. In Leonard’s article, Disney CEO Robert Iger has a seemingly endless list of potential future superhero projects:
Iger would like to replicate the success of The Avengers with other Marvel teams. He says Marvel could potentially spin off members of the Guardians of the Galaxy, which include Star-Lord, Gamora, Drax, Groot, and Rocket Raccoon, in their own features. In November, Disney announced a deal with Netflix (NFLX) to create individual TV shows about Daredevil, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, and Jessica Jones. They will join forces in a fifth series called The Defenders. Iger and Alan Horn, chairman of Walt Disney Studios, recently met with the Marvel team to talk about new heroes who will be introduced in Age of Ultron and could be spun off in their own films as well. Iger declines to name them. “The possibilities are endless,” he says.
2025 is just eleven years away. Where will you be then? Will you be trudging to work down the same city street along with the rest of the commuters? Will you be packing your suitcase in a faceless hotel room, just another pixel gypsy on an endless trek from one subsidised territory to another?
Or will you be turning up at passport control on a remote island in a virtual sea, a citizen not only of your own homeland, but of an independent republic whose constitution was written exclusively for you?
Will you be a citizen of VFX Nation?