Why Visual Effect Studios are expanding towards Virtual Reality ?

2 October 2017

Science says that eighty percentage of our memories are determined by what we see and eighty percentage of what we learn is through our eyes. With better visuals, our memories and learning will be better too and this is why man has always looked out for better ways to see things around us. Have a look at your Television Screen. How was it ten years back? How is it now? Likewise, look at your mobile phones and computers. Video Cassette Recorders were once considered the supreme quality of home entertainment but today they are nowhere to be seen. With the arrival of modern Blu Ray Players, even DVD quality doesn’t seem enough. Man’s quest to procure unrivalled visuals is never ending and Virtual Reality, the latest sensation of the world, underlines that fact.

The stand out feature of Virtual Reality is the immersive experience. Until recently, viewers were just viewers. They were never in the story. Now, through VR the viewer gets absorbed into that unique world of the story. But, as we talk about immersing, we cannot forget the technology that helps create distinctive worlds. Without this we would have never watched dinosaurs, dragons, vampires, aliens, fantasy worlds, planets, galaxies, historical periods or wars in any entertainment medium! The Visual Effects. So primarily, both visual effects and Virtual Reality is concerned with the creation of a new world that can amaze a viewer. Needless to say, the ‘World Builders’ are both interlinked.

Most of the visual effect studios are already familiar with the many challenges behind VR. For long VFX studios have been trying to visualise sets real time on location. With techniques such as real time graphics, motion capture, real time facial capture and camera tracking, studios have been improving their tools to develop Virtual Production which is also an important asset to Virtual Reality. Moreover, VFX studios build most properties for all major Films and Television Shows and it can be easily used in Virtual Reality experiences. To pull of stunning visual effects or virtual reality experiences, one needs more or less the same set of skills. One has to be clever, original, innovative and problem-solving. For example, while designing the future world in Star Wars, George Lucas wanted a “used future” impact, meaning, he wanted his world to look like regularly inhabited or used. The ultimate effect was that, the total fantasy world looked incredibly real! Most of the other futuristic films gave us a neat and tidy world, whereas Lucas’s future world gave us “your next door” kind of an image! 

And so it is not much of a surprise that most of the visual effect studios are slowly getting into the arena of Virtual Reality. Framestore Studios, who won the Academy Award in 2013 for their work in Gravity worked with HBO and came up with a virtual reality project ‘Ascend the Wall’ based on the blockbuster Television Series, Game of Thrones. Ascend the Wall made use of Oculus Rift VR Headsets, Oscar-Winning VFX pipelines, wind machines, real elevators and unity game engine to provide the immersive experience. The headquarters of the Night’s Watch, Castle Black, in all its glory of 700 ft were there for viewer’s ascending! One could also walk the wall on top and see the North! Checkmate Jon Snow!

Image Courtesy: Framestorevr

Hollywood films had never been shy to introduce space explorers. From Kubrick’s Space Odyssey to Alfonso’s Gravity there have been many silver screen space heroes. Now what if we could take a similar journey as the protagonist! 20th Century Fox, Fox Innovation Lab, RSA Films, MPC VR and The VR Company came together to provide a VR experience for the ‘Martian’ movie starring Matt Damon. Viewers could fly onto the surface of Mars, navigate at zero gravity through space, drive a rover and also encounter some of Matt Damon’s experiences in the film!

Another major VR experience came from Moving Picture Company, the visual effects studio based in London. The 360 degree FZERO1 concept of Faraday Future gave users an experience of sitting behind the wheel of the high-performance Electric Car. MPC filmed a stand-in vehicle and a performance race track to re-create the driving and camera work. Using visual effects, the two locations were then combined together and the stand in car was replaced with a CG replica of the Faraday Future concept car.

And thus experts who have carved their niche in VFX is slowly expanding their territory to the VR world as well. Though having VFX skills doesn’t make VR process a piece of cake, it sure serves as an added advantage. In an era where it so important to combine concept development with technological expertise VFX players will prove substantial in redefining the entire craft of storytelling.

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