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KeyWall director Thibault Baras on how his VR company adapted to Covid
The managing director of Charleroi-based virtual reality production company KeyWall – part of 100 employee-strong DreamWall Media Solutions – first built a virtual studio for broadcaster RTBF in 2005. Now, the company has an international reputation for cutting-edge virtual studios and sets that are used in animated films and major sporting events
What was the immediate impact of Covid-19 on the company?
The first was the cancellation of all sports events and the postponement of Euro 2020 and the 2020 Summer Olympics. We were due to travel to India on 15 March as we had developed a scenography for the Indian Premier League cricket competition, but the country decided not to let foreigners in without quarantine. The second, the big one, was the cancellation of football championships and leagues. For two to three days a week, we rent a big space and equipment for these events, so the impact was really important.
How did the company adapt to this situation?
We were lucky in that we produced already around 25 weather shows a day for various customers, including RTBF and TV5. From the beginning, we took measures so that a reduced number of people remained on set, and so far no one has been infected by the virus. We focused on a project – a new scenography for the RTBF weather show, using new technology to see the weather conditions inside a virtual studio. It will be on air in September.
Did any new opportunities arise?
We had a request to do a live mass for RTBF, which was new, and we have done five or six, with the next one in July. As it costs less to produce in a studio, maybe it will continue. Another opportunity was the EuroMillions lottery show, which could not continue because of social distancing. Now it is in our studio and we have put in place a new workflow using Zoom. It could continue this way. We also produced an alternative Eurovision show for RTBF with Belgium’s best five songs. The management was very happy with it, and I am very proud that we did it from scratch in a short space of time. Some directors are astonished to see the possibilities of virtual technology. Some things will happen in the future that without corona would not have occurred.
How agile has the company needed to be?
Before the crisis we had to be flexible, now we have to be hyperflexible. In June, an advertising company contacted me for a big worldwide project for July. It took six days to exchange ideas and discuss the budget, and we had 13 working days to organise it. It would have taken six months before just to have a decision. We have requests from the US, Canada and Africa, so I think our market will grow thanks to the coronavirus crisis. Even if I’m not always a supporter of globalisation, if I need something in Korea, India, wherever, we now have the tools and don’t need to travel. The crisis has been an accelerator, and I’m sure that virtual technology has permitted growth, that it will enhance the global market. I’m quite confident that we will be able to grow our business activity.
This article first appeared in the WaB magazine, summer 2020