What is it?
For many breaking news stories, images are not readily available. An airplane crash or terrorist attack is usually not captured on video, as footage is only recorded after the event. NMA’s News Direct service solves this problem by offering increasingly realistic, 3D animated news videos of actual events within two hours of breaking news.
NMA website: ”Animation is the future of the news. When there are no video cameras present to capture a big story, NMA is able to fill in the blanks with animated news graphics for our viewers and clients in industry-leading turnaround times.”
Convinced that the future of the news is visual, business man Jimmy Lai founded NMA in 2007 to produce entertainment videos for online publishers and TV broadcasters. He then realized that NMA should also provide "the missing images of the news" to serious news outlets through a separate News Direct service, which produces realistic, 3D animations in a sophisticated, high speed production process.
Based in an industrial area in Taipei, NMA now is one of the largest animated news studios in the world, with a team of over 600 animators, script writers, and motion capture actors working on continuous shifts 24 hours a day. Using the latest technologies in 3D animation design, motion capture, and facial scanning, NMA delivers up to sixty 30-second unique news videos every day, equalling the production value and technical quality of a feature length, Hollywood style movie, produced in three days.
NMA’s videos generate about 35 million views online each month
In addition to creating realistic news images that are "missing", NMA also supplies animated graphics to clarify complex issues and visually enhance news reports by adding a new dimension that can help viewers understand news stories.
While the News Direct animations and graphics are sold directly to clients like BBC and CNN, and distributed by Reuters to more than 35 international clients, including Al-Jazeera, Univision, Yahoo!, MSNBC and so on, Tomo News offers celebrity news and other "funny video" mainly through its own website and other online publishers. Together, NMA’s videos generate about 90 million views online each month and have been featured on the Daily Telegraph, Bild, Der Spiegel, Focus, Wired, The Huffington Post, The Globe and Mail, The Daily Show, NBC Bay Area, The New York Post, KDVR and other media outlets.
How does it work?
The production of animated
news is a race against time. At NMA, it is organized as an industrial, 24-hour
pipeline involving a sequence of teams, each executing a specialized stage
of the production process in a continuous cycle.
Throughout the day, on the top
floor, the news director monitors incoming news feeds and selects stories fit
for animation. Every hour, the selected news stories are announced to the news writers
and fact checkers, who write an animation script for the story based on factual
sources and hand it down to the story boarders one floor below.
After approval of the scripts during a storyboard meeting, the storyboard is handed over to the animators on yet a lower floor. The news animator will draw from an extensive database of virtual faces, bodies, and environments to actually build the animation itself. The animation is then given a "soul" by the motion capture actors, who impersonate the animated characters with their human movements in a 24/7 motion capture studio.
After a layer of info graphics and titles is added to the story, the news video is offered to Reuters clients. Animations of breaking news stories are updated every hour.
Kith Ng, CEO of NMA, believes that 3D animation in video news will change the digital news industry.
Next Media vs China
Next Media Animation is privately owned by Jimmy Lai, who is also the founder and chairman of the Next Media group, the largest publicly listed media
company in Hong Kong. It is best known for introducing tabloid style journalism
in Hong Kong and Taiwan, publishing lifestyle magazines, web portals and
tabloid newspapers, including Apple Daily, Sharp Daily and Next Magazine.
Next Media is often perceived as supporting democratic groups in Hong Kong, sometimes provocatively, and regularly critiques the Chinese government. As a result, founder Jimmy Lai is persona non grata in China and all Next Media publications are banned in the People's Republic of China, though not in Hong Kong and Taiwan.
Need for animations
Animated news originally
started with Tomo‘s entertainment news videos about celebrities, offered
through QR-codes in the Next Media magazines. The videos were extremely popular
and shared on social media by millions of people in Hong Kong and Taiwan.
NMA founder Jimmy Lai realised that the lack of images of essential events in serious news media created a need for realistic animations. He then decided to start NMA’s News Direct service.
Why did we select it?
NMA opens the door to a future of journalism in which
reality itself is (re)created in computers, raising important ethical questions
about what it means "to bring the truth" in digital times.
In the new field of
animated news, NMA is a pioneer and world leader with considerable impact globally.
It has invented a new genre, accelerated the pace and scale of production, and continuously
improves the aesthetics by investing in state of the art hardware and
CEO Kith Ng’s goal is to further speed up the production process and reach 100% realistic news animation in 2016. We can only begin to imagine what this will mean for news consumers.
The use of 3D animation in journalism raises important questions. To what extent is news animation telling the truth? How objective is it? Are storyboard artists and animators journalists? Is news animation different from photo journalism, which is often manipulated as well? And how will news animations influence the credibility of news reports in the long term? These questions, relevant for the future of journalism as a public good, need to be debated.
Comparable to NMA?
The Taiwanese animation studio is the first company to
produce news animations for media outlets on a large scale. There are no
precedents and innovation happens by trial and error; often, for example, news
writers draft scripts of news events deemed unachievable by the animators.
"If we would like to show a scene of a hundred people running the marathon, it wouldn’t be possible due to the limitations of computer capacity"
Meggie Lu: ”There are some restrictions on what we can do at this moment. For example, if we would like to show a scene of a hundred people running the marathon, it wouldn’t be possible due to the limitations of computer capacity. Currently, the computer isn’t able to render so many people in two hours.” Hopefully, says Lu, these technical problems will be solved in a few years time.