Feature: Parallel universe
Feature: Parallel universe
Aux Media Group has created Singapore’s largest Extended Reality stage to bolster its rental business during the pandemic and beyond. Richard Lawn finds out more about Aux Immersive Studio
The times they are a changing. For those established rental production companies that experienced SARS in early 2003, alarm bells began to ring audibly long before national restrictions took effect during the current pandemic. Seasoned veterans of the roll in, set up, roll out fraternity knew their flight-cased equipment would be gathering dust for some time and that business would be anything but usual. Survival became paramount as the hatches were battened down and events ground to a halt. For a handful of visionaries, however, opportunity and investment lay ahead.
Incepted as a small Singaporean rental company just one month prior to the SARS outbreak, Aux Media Group lost no time in reinventing itself to increase its leverage this time around. The Kallang-based outfit is now promoting itself as a creative content development agency in events and media production, losing no time in setting up the Aux Immersive Studio. This immersive environment merges physical and virtual events through Extended Reality (XR) technology and game engine systems, with the aim of bringing brands and content to life.
Aux Immersive Studio is the result of Aux Media Group’s partnership with global creative technology company disguise, which has helped create world tours for artists including U2 and Ed Sheeran, in addition to theatre productions such as Frozen and Harry Potter. An increasing amount of major events are commissioning disguise xR’s virtual technology platform, including the recent MTV Video Music Awards and various K-Pop performances in Korea. The UK-based company has moved increasingly into the production of film commercials and is becoming one of the most versatile virtual platforms on the market.
“During the pandemic, we were looking for ways to pivot and wondering how the industry would change,” explains Aux Media Group founder and chief executive, Choong Chyi Kei (CK). “As one of the most versatile virtual production platforms on the market, we chose disguise because we see a huge potential in what XR can do for us, not only in events but also crossing over into multiple industries.”
Aux Media Group’s new identity is a far cry from its humble roots. Established in 2001, Choong and his small crew learned the ropes by mixing local band showcases and events. With growing word of mouth referrals in Singapore, Aux Media accrued many government agency and corporate accounts which saw it hosting celebrations, showcasing national campaigns and working on events such as the Singapore Night Festival. Prior to the circuit breaker restrictions coming into effect in April 2020, the company’s technically certified in-house production crew worked closely with clientele including Design Singapore, National Arts Council, Nanyang Technological University, Nexus, SMU and The Straits Times.
Creating an immersive experience is a natural progression of the Aux Media Group’s trajectory. The team behind the Marina Bay Singapore Countdown and the Singapore Night Festival has constantly sought new concepts and technologies with which to excite and involve audiences in its campaigns. As the company approaches its 20th anniversary, the introduction of the Aux Immersive Studio marks the next stage of growth for the homegrown experiential and events stalwart.
Coinciding with the circuit breaker, Aux Media Group decided to break with its reliance on hosting traditional events for clientele by entering the virtual realm. This involves the creation of elaborate and realistic sets augmented with CGI animations around an actor or presenter, delivering a 360°, 3D visual experience to viewers watching on their screens. “Aux Immersive Studio is the first of its kind in Singapore,” asserts Choong. “We were introduced to this technology and decided to take the plunge. All our staff are being trained in this new workflow, learning how XR technology can make our work even better. Marketers and content creators can now connect with their audiences in a more immersive way, bringing elements of their presentations to life through XR.”
Choong makes the point that as technology becomes increasingly sophisticated, there is the need to rethink, refocus and re-engage target audiences. “To allow brands to engage better and share their messages, we need to push the boundaries of storytelling in the digital realm,” he explains. “With Aux Immersive Studio, we are bringing XR technology to Singapore and integrating it with our capabilities in existing technologies, to widen the scope of what is creatively possible. This will allow for new opportunities and tailored solutions to bridge brands and organisations with their communities.
“It’s clear that more events will be hosted online, which is leading to increasing demand from brands, organisations and content creators who are constantly looking for innovative ways to engage their audience through online events and webinars. Blending the physicality of an in-person event and a virtual event experience, Aux Immersive Studio aims to stimulate further possibilities for immersive learning, virtual merchandising and events, audience interaction and brand activation.”
Aux Immersive Studio comprises three spacious, acoustically treated rooms which have been created by configuring its existing 377m2 space. The current setup allows immersive environments and graphics, such as lifelike animations or data overlays, to be rendered in real time around the presenter. Unlike traditional formats of presentation where the presenter needs to memorise tracking patterns, XR creates graphics that are also visible and can be interacted with on the studio set by the presenter, creating more engaging visual content and dynamic storytelling. The technology can be applied to a wide range of market sectors, including education, training, retail, marketing and entertainment to present content or livestreaming events to audiences.
To equip the studios, Aux Media Group has invested in a host of XR equipment, including motion trackers, multi-cameras and livestreaming technology. This includes equipment from Panasonic, RED, Mo-Sys and a digital Rivage mixing ecosystem from Yamaha Music (Asia). The Rivage package comprises CSD-R7, CS-R5 and CS-R3 control surfaces paired with Yamaha’s new DSP-RX engine. The RPio stagebox is fitted with 64-in/32-out and RIO3224-D2 and RIO1608-D2 I/O stage racks. Inserted with SWP2-10SMF switches and HY144-D-SRC audio interface cards, all three consoles connect to the racks over a 96kHz Dante network, handling up to 144 input and 144 output channels. Yamaha HY256-SMF digital I/O cards provide a secondary TWINLANe audio network protocol for accommodating up to 256 simultaneous I/O channels.
The partnership with disguise makes Aux Media Group the first to deploy a truly collaborative digital experience, not just in Singapore but across Southeast Asia. “Housing all these next-generation digital tools in a single facility under Aux is in line with our goal to be a one-stop agency partner,” concludes Choong. “From the most spectacular and imaginative showcase to the most intimate and detailed dialogues, Aux Immersive Studio will create bold and better experiential solutions for outreach and engagement, helping our clients realise their vision.”
The transformation of Aux Media’s production capabilities into an XR broadcast suite doesn’t just represent a significant financial investment for the group during a stagnant year. By demonstrating an acute vision that should propel Aux Media Group forward through the coming decade, Choong has displayed courage in his convictions.