Disguise gives fans a concert experience – from their living room

Disguise gives fans a concert experience – from their living room

Artistic vision: An xR stage using Disguise technology at Savannah College of Art and Design in the United States © Aman Shakya/Savannah College of Art and Design

Two years ago, when Covid shutdowns forced the closure of stadiums, arenas and theaters, many live entertainment businesses were on the brink of collapse. Unable to sell tickets as governments banned indoor and outdoor events, the industry suddenly had no way to make money. Companies in the sector collectively lost $30 billion in 2020, according to estimates by trade publication Pollstar.

For British event tech company Disguise, that meant the potential loss of many customers as they were forced out of work. Needing a way to provide financial security, he found one through a new extended reality, or xR, product to help businesses host live events virtually.

Extended Reality covers a wide range of technologies – including Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality and Mixed Reality – that can create immersive user experiences, putting customers into live events.

“The entire company has stepped up and accelerated the development of new technology – which at the time was just a simple science experiment – that would allow users to deliver the same visually stunning productions, but in a virtual environment,” says Fernando Küfer, CEO Disguise.

Using real-time graphics and camera tracking, Disguise’s xR software allows producers to create virtual performances and display them on LED screens. Küfer explains that the technology essentially renders content “from the perspective of the camera” so that “what we see on screen is a fully immersive 3D scene extending far beyond the LED walls into space. physical”.

“Actors can perform on a small-scale LED stage, but xR can transform it into a vast virtual environment from the camera’s perspective, extending far beyond the walls of the set,” he adds. .

Disguise xR found immediate success after its launch in 2020, winning the Queen’s Award for Enterprise in the innovation category this year.

He also has a growing list of celebrity clients. American pop star Katy Perry used technology in May 2020 when she sang ‘Daisies’ during the singing competition TV show finale american idol. The performance involved Perry singing in a virtual world.

Katy Perry performing 'Daisies' on 'American Idol' in 2020

Katy Perry performing ‘Daisies’ on ‘American Idol’ in 2020 © xR Studios

Billie Eilish was another early adopter of Disguise xR. The Grammy and Oscar-winning singer used technology in October 2020 to perform 13 songs in a virtual concert titled Where are we going?.

Disguise has also worked on shows for streaming platforms, such as Netflix and Amazon Prime, as well as live shows for Eurosport, MTV and ITV in the UK. Demand for the technology “skyrocketed” after Perry and Eilish’s performances, Küfer says. It was then used in 600 productions and on 300 stages.

He credits a thriving user community as the key to the company’s success, describing it as “the vital link between Disguise and the end customer”. “As our biggest brand advocates and primary users of our technology, this community works closely with the Disguise team to test new software features and hardware products, and provide critical feedback,” it notes. -he. “Everything Disguise does, it does with its user community at its heart.”

Disguise has its roots in the early 2000s, when friends Ash Nehru, Chris Bird and Matthew Clark set up United Visual Artists, a creative technology company in London. They designed visuals for the 2003 Massive Attack tour 100th windowbefore working on gigs for U2 and American rapper Jay Z.

It was while developing videos for U2 vertigo tour between 2005 and 2006 that Nehru created software that allowed the Irish rock band to view content on a three-dimensional stage before the physical show took place.

Sensing that this technology would be disruptive to the live event industry, Nehru left UVA in 2010 and started a new company dedicated to developing his software. It became known as Disguise from 2017.

This software is the bread and butter of Disguise as a company. It allows users to “preview and program every pixel of a video file in advance” so they can “validate ideas” and “deliver the show on time and to maximum standards,” says Kufer. “Think of some of the most breathtaking live shows you’ve seen, with video on large LED or projection screens – Disguise was probably behind them.” He points out that Disguise has provided concert technology to artists such as Ed Sheeran and Beyoncé, festivals such as Coachella and Glastonbury, and theater productions such as Frozen and Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

Küfer joined Disguise in 2015, having held finance roles at companies including Lidl, L’Oréal, Ultra Motor and A2B Bikes. His task was to scale Disguise, which has since expanded to launch in Los Angeles, New York, Beijing, Shanghai, Singapore, Tokyo, Seoul, Auckland, and Montreal. It has secured investment from private equity firm The Carlyle Group and video game developer Epic Games.

Küfer admits that the company faced “a difficult financial time” because of the pandemic, but should now resume “an upward journey through its innovation in a completely new and growing market”. Revenue is expected to reach £63.6 million in 2022, compared to £42.5 million in 2021 and £20.6 million in 2020.

An advertisement in production at the Savannah College of Art and Design
An advertisement in production at Savannah College of Art and Design © Allison Smith/Savannah College of Art and Design

But, to continue growing in the ever-evolving and competitive xR field, Disguise must overcome several challenges. One of the most challenging will be educating producers on the value of extended reality and encouraging them to embrace it.

“Extended reality, as a technology, only appeared in productions in 2019,” observes Küfer. “It’s relatively new, which makes it difficult to convince major production studios that have existing green screens. [technology] and hard sets to take the plunge and explore an entirely new tech ecosystem.

“Even though the benefits of extended reality far outweigh the initial cost, it requires a significant cultural shift within the organization when it comes to replacing a virtual studio with a new hard set for every show. .”

The company has launched several initiatives to sell the benefits, such as allowing users to try out the Disguise software interface for free and offering free online training. Disguise has also expanded access to its software interface by launching it in six languages.

Recognizing that there is a shortage of production talent in the global entertainment industry, the company is working to train the filmmakers of the future, through its Virtual Production Accelerator program. This provides budding filmmakers with the pre- and post-production knowledge needed to create their own short films.

The competition will increase, however, as xR takes off. Data provider Statista says the market has grown 24.9% this year. Disguise responded by expanding its team, developing new products and acting on customer feedback.

“We do our best to respond head-on to any criticism and challenges from our community,” Küfer says. “We stay in close contact with our core users through several ‘insider groups’ to ensure their thoughts and ideas are continually considered and to mitigate any issues or obstacles they may encounter.”

He remains confident in the value his business provides to customers, despite the emergence of competitors, and believes Disguise can remain competitive in the years to come.

“While other solutions for xR are on the market, Disguise has the most advanced and integrated offering, meaning productions can use it without worrying about failing elements,” says Küfer. “With Disguise xR, customers can make changes to content easily and in real time. This is essential in entertainment, where changes need to be made on the fly.

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