Former gaming industry professional Gerben Pasjes joined TV tech company NEP The Netherlands a year ago. Whereas many have predicted the demise of traditional media, Gerben sees a world of opportunities in this field. Gerben and his team are using augmented reality to develop entire digital studios and sets for TV formats worldwide.
Gaming vs designing solutions
‘I always really enjoyed working in the gaming industry, which is not surprising as I do have a degree in game design. But after working in the industry for about three years, I knew I was ready for a change. You see, my real passion was and is drawing – I think it’s just the coolest thing ever. But then I went on to do some more research, specifically into effective design. I found that, although I liked creating beautiful images, it’s not as interesting as designing the right solution – I think that’s where the added value comes in. I discovered that what really interested me was concept development. It involves talking to people, discussing the problem together, listening to a client’s needs and then designing a solution that meets those needs. I really get to use my drawing skills – or rather my 3D design skills – to solve problems. My job now involves so much more than simply producing attractive illustrations.’
‘In the digital world, when you design and build something, you can easily have it tested and tweaked where needed. I really like that part of the job: the fact that you can come up with an idea on the spot, test it, and see if it works. At some point I learned that NEP were looking for people with knowledge of augmented reality, which happens to be my area of expertise! It’s about launching and using new technologies that are still largely unknown to the public in the world of television. You can do just about anything with augmented reality, but it’s people’s budgets and needs that ultimately determine the stuff we design. Game technology serves as the basis for the solutions we design here. What we basically do is design digital studios and environments and subsequently project these in a green box or green room. We work with a whole team of 3D artists to create all these amazing solutions, and I have the privilege of managing that team. It’s been a thrill all the way!’
‘A lot of my job involves talking to clients, many of whom are national and international broadcasters. I basically act as a liaison between our clients and our team. Clients tells us what they want, what they’ve got in mind, and I eventually work those ideas into a solution. I then brief the team on this solution, and we work out the design together. It’s an intense, but also very rewarding process, in which concept, technology and design all come together. It does mean, however, that I spend less time behind the computer screen these days. Although that’s a bit of a shame, the interaction with clients and the concept development process more than make up for it. It just gives me a lot more satisfaction.’
‘The possibilities of augmented reality combined with TV are endless, of course – and we’re one of the few companies that have truly mastered the art. We also spend a lot of time together as a team, doing much more than just creating augmented reality environments. We are finding that we’re playing the dual role of technical partner and creative partner. Augmented reality is not just a solution; it’s also increasingly used as the basis for TV productions. So it’s becoming more common for clients to ask us to develop an overall concept, including the branding. This means not just implementing ideas, but being there right at the start of a project, which includes designing the look and feel of the channel and the new studio settings. We are seeing an increase in these types of projects. Technology is also changing faster than ever before, so there’s a lot more we’re capable of doing in terms of technology and design. With all the advances that have been made, augmented reality takes place virtually in real time. Soon enough, we won’t even need a green room anymore: you’ll simply be able to walk outside with a camera in a location, and the technology will then enhance your setting with augmented reality in real time. I think it will take another three years or so for us to get there, but there’s no doubt it will happen.’
Technological advances in this field are moving at a staggering pace, to the point where we will soon be able to skip entire steps in the current design and production process. We’ve got smart cameras and computers that can solve solutions in real time. Gerben believes everything will become far more accessible in the future. Isn’t he afraid that all these technological changes will eliminate certain types of work?
‘No, I would say it’s quite the opposite. What matters at the end of the day is that we use creativity to solve problems. While technology might make it easier to create certain objects, it takes creativity to really solve a problem and meet the client’s needs and requirements. Technology alone will never get the job done. Sure, all those online label makers can produce a slick-looking logo for you for 100 euros. But does that actually solve your problem? Do you end up with something unique, developed by people with whom you’ve held several meetings, who are familiar with your goals and who look at your future and your company’s future? The answer, of course, is no. So I think creative ideas are more important than ever. Just about everyone has a decent-quality camera on their phone these days, but it takes a “real” photographer to really present a story. With all their experience, professional photographers can capture so much more than just an image with the right pixels. The technology then becomes less relevant, while it’s the unique creative idea that can solve problems. I feel that’s what it’s really all about.’
A Day in Gerben’s Life
‘On a typical day, I’ll have at least one meeting. That did take some getting used to at first; I always considered myself a creative person, but attending meetings comes with the territory. So I might have a company meeting, which could be a briefing or some concept development together with the entire team, or an offsite meeting with a client or manufacturer to discuss the progress of some project. I spend at least two hours every day giving feedback to the team. Of course, we’re all involved in different projects at any given time. It’s all about asking critical questions to the designers. Why did you make that decision? Why did you choose those colours? Unfortunately, there’s a fair amount of admin involved as well. You’d be shocked to hear how many emails I have to reply to on a typical day. And of course, I still spend a lot of time at the computer as well. I still prefer to be in charge of the creative process myself, but I no longer have the time to devote full days to it.’
Gerben says the number-one source of inspiration for him is watching the people he works closely with and manages every day grow and develop.
‘I get inspired by looking at design artists all over the world. What are they working on, and will I ever reach that level? Eytan Zana (Concept artist – Ed.) is one of my role models. He looks so far beyond the image alone – he works on such an emotional level, which is reflected in every pixel that he and his team design. But I’m also inspired by the movies soundtracked by Ennio Morricone, such as The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.’
‘I’m pretty happy where I am right now: there’s a lot of work to be done and a lot of stuff to be sorted out. However, I’m not sure my future is in broadcasting; I think I’m focused on the next design revolution and want to be part of that. On a personal level, what I want to do more than anything is help people: support and nurture them in their creativity and make them discover possibilities they might not otherwise be aware of. I want to do this simply because I have that experience under my belt, and want to share that knowledge and experience with others in the future.’
Hilversum and beyond?
‘Most of our clients are broadcasters, so it makes sense for us to be based in the Media Park. We have access to a lot of well-trained technical professionals in the Netherlands, but we need more and more of that talent every year. I feel Hilversum is a good city when it comes to attracting talented people. Fortunately, we’re not tied to any specific location at NEP, since our company operates worldwide. My team and I take on projects from all over the world, so our location will become less relevant in the future. There just needs to be an airport nearby, and fortunately Schiphol is not too far away.’
Lessons from the maker
‘Get stuck in and work it out! I mean that in the best possible way. You have the control and power to work out the problem and solve it. If you’re not sure how to go about it, do the research. Don’t give up until you can solve it, and when you do, make sure you get it right.’