Great demos

You’ll have spotted the key words which spelled disaster; “new product”, “latest hardware”, “complex operations”, “all the journalists”: bound to crash, wasn’t it?

Wind forward 8 years and we are demonstrating 2d3’s first product which takes image sequences and figures out how the camera had to have moved in order to record it (“camera tracking”).  If you are doing special effects you need this information in order to add any computer generated models into the scene seamlessly.  We were at IBC in Amsterdam and our closest competitors had the stand next to us.  Not that we cared or even noticed because the reactions we were getting to our demos were fantastic.

People who had had to do camera tracking by hand, or by using the previous generation of products went through a range of emotions during the demo.  They would start with scepticism when we said what we were going to show them, then disbelief when we first showed boujou tracking a shot completely automatically.  Finally, their mouths would drop slackly as they stared wide eyed, or nudged each other as if to say “did you just see what I just saw?”.

Like showmen we had figured out how to time the demo to get the best effect.  We’d go for an “ooh” every 30 seconds and an “ahh” every minute.  We’d tease them.  We’d show them a shot and encourage them to tell us that it was “impossible” to track, then press the big green button and, ignoring the screen, chat to them about something else, knowing that they were not paying attention because behind us, magic was happening.

That is the point.  We should consider all demos primarily as theatre.  They should have a plot, they should take us through a range of emotions.  They should engage our audience and gain their empathy.  They need to believe, to want.

At the end of the tradeshow our competitor’s demonstrator came over to our stand.  He had clearly been inhaling that which you can only buy in Amsterdam.  “I wanna tell you” he slurred “you’ve got a really great product”.  “Thanks” I replied.  “No, no” he went on, and on, “t’s really great, really great”.  It wasn’t that he thought the product was great, surely, but that he’d also breathed in people’s reactions to our demos.

Back to my less than perfect demo with the crashed Onyx where, finally, our fabulous marketing executive realised what had had happened and dashed to the front with a tray; “anyone for another sausage roll?”…

[1] Later to be called Illusion and then Media Illusion and then Avid Media Illusion and the Softimage XSI Illusion and then … you get the picture.