Andurand believes that despite all of its awards and industry leading status, Angénieux remains at heart a smaller business focused on innovation – something that requires bravery and dedication.
Angénieux, he explains, typically dedicates 15-20 per cent of the company R&D budget to fully innovative projects: “We tell our people: you are free to innovate, so go and do it. After a while we look at the returns and check if the market potential is confirmed – if it is, then we support it.”
Andurand cites several examples over the past 10 years where Angénieux has sought out partners for new projects to help spread the risk as well as bringing complementary skills and knowledge to the table.
“It’s been very successful, since it gives us the chance to find and develop new technology,” he says. “We have a very good record for doing just that and, in France the Pacte PME scheme has helped us do so.” Pacte PME (or “SME Pact”) was launched by the French government in 2005 to develop clusters of technology companies in certain areas by encouraging large companies to work with innovative SMEs. In the Bordeaux area, for example, the main area of expertise has moved beyond winemaking to technical – and especially optical – businesses. There are 20 or so of these clusters in France and Angénieux has been an enthusiastic participant. In return, the company has received government funding for its collaborative projects, which typically encompass local labs, schools and SMEs.
“It’s been very fruitful,” says Andurand. “Typically we’re talking about a three-year project valued at around €10m. We benefit from the funding and one of the projects that launched in 2009 has helped us develop a new line in 3D equipment.”
The move into 3D will, Andurand believes, offer Angénieux another avenue to explore in its quest to remain at the cutting edge of optical technology.
“We’ve spent the last couple of years working on the launch of a new 3D TV shooting system including remote-controlled optics and servo-mechanisms – directly from the production van – and stereographic aids, which is a big development for us. This is only possible thanks to working with others.”
Angénieux is collaborating with many partners on this project, including Binocle 3D, in an arrangement that allows them to develop and offer complete systems for “live” 3D shooting. Andurand says that, in addition to working on the technical specifications of the new system, Angénieux engineers have been able to use their understanding of customer needs to focus on the ergonomic side of the new products. It is a reflection, he says, of the intense work that has gone into defining what should be the system’s main differentiator.
“This new 3D broadcasting system needs to be user friendly so we’re trying to make it as easy to use as possible. That’s a slightly different approach: innovation often only focuses on the technology, but we have made the user experience the central point of our approach.” Andurand believes this will be a critical element in promoting 3D TV in the mainstream. Broadcasters, producers and viewers have to be convinced that 3D is about to leave its “disappointing” phase behind.
“3D isn’t new – many companies already work with it in the cinema, such as with films like Avatar and Gravity, as well as in TV,” Andurand says. “But it’s fair to say that many people have been disappointed by the results of some very bad productions. For a few years now, we’ve heard all about 3D and yet people are still a bit underwhelmed by it.”
This disappointment is the result of many factors, he says, from bad stereographic construction and poor lighting to uncomfortable 3D glasses. TV has been the same: inconvenient glasses compounded by a lack of content.
“We are confident that this will change,” says Andurand.
“We have a different vision of what can be done. The potential for 3D broadcasting is tremendous. To become a leader in 3D broadcasting technology, first, a production company will need to use best in class equipment, and we’ve been developing that, making it simple. Second, there’s broadcasting itself – to bring 3D into the home without having to wear glasses, for instance. This part is not in the hands of Angénieux but is expected to be available in a very short time.”
The demand is there, principally from the economies of China, Russia and the Middle East. “We have to be ready with a new solution for the market and we have the chance to do that now, around the world, thanks to Thales backing Angénieux,” says Andurand.