When the pandemic hit, musical artists across the globe were forced to toss their touring schedules out the window. As prohibitions on large gatherings became the norm, a major source of revenue for artists—as well as an opportunity to connect with fans—suddenly disappeared. And no one knew when it was coming back.
But for the K-pop artists signed to SM Entertainment, one of the largest entertainment companies in Korea, a new opportunity soon arose. Early in the pandemic, SM Entertainment partnered with Giantstep, a creative technology studio with offices in Los Angeles and Seoul, to create dynamic virtual concert experiences for stars including aespa, ITZY, Kai, and Mamamoo. Utilizing Giantstep‘s XR Live Concert Technology, these artists held virtual concerts in immersive environments complete with animated graphics and opportunities for real-time fan interaction.
“We wanted to make the experiences very special,” says Giantstep executive creative director Jichul Lee. “It’s part of our goal of opening a future no one could have imagined.” The industry-transforming success of XR Live Concert Technology has earned Giantstep a spot on Fast Company‘s list of the world’s Most Innovative Companies for 2022.
VISUAL EFFECTS, IMMERSIVE ENVIRONMENTS
When Giantstep launched in 2008, its focus was on creating visual effects for movies and commercials. After eight years of success, the company formed GX Lab, an R&D incubator for the development of new tools and applications using real-time game engine technology. XR Live Concert Technology emerged from the lab a short time later.
The technology creates view-from-home concert experiences using “green screens” that allow designers to craft immersive virtual spaces. For example, Giantstep created a virtual replica of an actual Seoul park for a recent concert and “built” a reality-defying stage in the shape of an inverted pyramid standing on one of its corners. Graphics were also laid in—and motion-tracking sensors gave the artists onstage the capability to control the animation around them.
Meanwhile, fans watching at home—on screens or in virtual reality—can communicate with the artists via real-time chatting, “like” buttons, and voting. For some performances, fans also have the chance to order light sticks that, when moved, can produce visual effects like onstage smoke.
While XR Live Concert may have come to prominence during the pandemic, Lee believes the technology will be a wakeup call to the entertainment industry. “Entertainment companies are starting to realize that they don’t have to put a cap on the number of audience members for concerts,” Lee says. “Since virtual spaces have no physical limitations, the number of fans they can hold is unlimited.”
SM Entertainment, for its part, has topped $20 million in revenue from online ticket sales during the pandemic—since these events don’t include the overhead that comes with putting on in-person live shows. Virtual concerts can also serve as online marketplaces for fans to buy merchandise from their favorite artists. In addition to traditional concert swag, artists also have the opportunity to sell digital items like virtual wearables and NFTs.
For Giantstep, concerts are only the beginning. Through their operations in Los Angeles as well as Seoul, Lee plans to similarly transform gaming, social networks, corporate events, online seminars, and other virtual and physical spaces. “In the future, the boundaries of music, fashion, publishing, and shopping will be blended to create new forms of entertainment,” he says. “We’re helping to build the technology that will be needed for this new era.”