“Filmmaking should be easy and accessible for all — with the right technology, no movies should be hard to make. At Glassbox, we want to give content creators the technical capability to make and produce high-quality movies with ease,” says Taiwanese American Norman Wang, CEO & co-founder of Glassbox Technologies.
Technology has dramatically changed the way we access and consume video content. With the proliferation of streaming services and growing consumer demand for content, production studios are having to churn out more movies and shows than ever before.
But while meeting the high-volume demand is one thing, consumers today also expect high-quality visual experiences. To understand more about the challenges and opportunities in the highly competitive film industry, we sat down with Norman Wang, CEO and co-founder of Glassbox Technologies, a filmtech startup that is playing a key role in the midst of all the Hollywood action.
As studios face increasingly tighter deadlines, adopting an efficient production workflow has never been more important, and for the team at Glassbox, it’s all about giving creatives the digital tools they need to create high-quality content faster and more efficiently. “Filmmaking should be easy and accessible for all — with the right technology, no movies should be hard to make,” says Wang.
A life-changing Star Wars game
Growing up in Australia, Wang said he initially wanted to pursue astrophysics at a university, but a Star Wars game sparked a passion in him for immersive virtual reality (VR). He said playing that game made him realize that “some stories can only be told in VR '' and he wanted to do research on immersive experiences and study them on a psychological level.
With completed tertiary studies in the fields of computer vision, software engineering and multimedia (games & interactivity), Wang went on to study a Ph.D. in media psychology at Swinburne University of Technology, which was where he got his foot in the door in the VR and gaming industry and formed Opaque Media Group with a group of Ph.D. students.
NASA’s astronaut VR experience
Known for its AR/VR application development, the Opaque Media Group was the team behind the Virtual Dementia Experience, a VR experience that allowed users to see through the eyes of people with dementia and learn to develop empathy. This project won Microsoft’s Imagine Cup which included a US$50,000 prize and led them to their next big project, Earthlight, an astronaut VR experience that was developed in partnership with NASA.
As the team continued to grow its market presence and professional network, Wang got to meet with some of the executives from NVIDIA, and they asked him if he wanted to take on a guest speaking opportunity in Taiwan to share his experiences on AR/VR. “I took the opportunity and that’s where I connected with the team at HTC who ended up investing in us,” says Wang.
“For Glassbox, we’re different from other startup journeys in the sense that we already have the technical know-how and existing clients before we even received funding from investors. So when we were deciding what sector our startup should focus on, we looked at all the projects we'd done at Opaque, and saw the greatest potential to accelerate was in movie production.”
Wang initially wanted to pursue astrophysics at university but a Star Wars game sparked a passion in him for immersive VR. (Meet Global photo)
Creating technologies that fill the market gap
Founded in 2016 and headquartered in the home of Hollywood, Los Angeles, the fast-growing filmtech startup already counts Disney, DreamWorks, The Third Floor, and Universal Studios as their clients. “In this industry, word of mouth referrals are very important,” as Wang explains how they built up their client list. “We grew quickly because we saw what the filmmaking industry needed so we developed the right technologies to fill this market gap — big-scale Hollywood productions need efficient workflows because they’re burning a lot of money every second.”
From story development, feature previsualization, rapid animation production, and performance capture visualization — Glassbox’s solutions are being leveraged in many different applications in movies, TV shows, games, and VR experiences.
By enabling content creators to harness the power of game engines and real-time, virtual production, Glassbox has already won two prestigious Lumiere Awards which recognize outstanding achievements in the creation of immersive storytelling using advanced visual technologies.
Tapping into the global Chinese-speaking market
With offices in Germany, Australia and Taiwan, Glassbox is looking to accelerate growth in Taiwan and is announcing a US$5 million Series A+ funding round. The startup has also partnered with global accelerator SparkLabs Taipei to help fuel its business growth.
To connect with viewers in the Asian market, content localization is an important investment for businesses and Wang believes that Taiwan will be an attractive location for studios wanting to produce Chinese-language content. “There is a growing appetite for premium Asian content and we see a big opportunity to expand in Taiwan by providing local creatives with the technology they need to produce high-quality content that can reach the global Chinese diaspora.”
To demonstrate its commitment and introduce the latest technology in filmmaking, Glassbox has partnered with Shih Hsin University in Taipei, which is well known for its communication and media studies, to help build Taiwan’s largest LED virtual studio on campus. Wang says he wants to see Taiwan have the technical production capabilities to remain competitive in a global economy.
As for what upcoming collaborations and projects we can expect from Glassbox, Wang hints that there are several great productions lined up. “We work with The Third Floor as one of the world’s leading visualization studios, known for its work on big productions like the Marvel movies, so all I can say right now is that we’ve got some exciting projects coming up!”