Inside the XLAB, a vir­tual-re­al­ity test kitchen

To de­velop Star Wars and Juras­sic World in VR, IN­DUS­TRIAL LIGHT & MAGIC has formed a su­per­group

Bloomberg Businessweek (North America) - - Contents -

Stand­ing on the desert sur­face of Ta­tooine, you in­stinc­tively duck as the Mil­len­nium Fal­con swoops in for a thun­der­ous and dra­matic land­ing be­side you. Through the lenses of your vir­tual-re­al­ity head­set, Han Solo’s star­ship looks real. That’s be­cause it is—in the sense that it’s ren­dered ex­actly as it ap­pears in Star Wars: The Force Awak­ens. Now, it’s the star of Tri­als on Ta­tooine, a first-per­son vir­tual-re­al­ity ex­pe­ri­ence cre­ated by In­dus­trial Light & Magic’s Ex­pe­ri­ence Lab (XLAB), a su­per­group of artists, en­gi­neers, sound de­sign­ers, and sto­ry­tellers build­ing the fu­ture of in­ter­ac­tive, im­mer­sive cinema. “We’ve as­sem­bled an ex­tra­or­di­nary group of dream­ers and rocket builders,” says Vicki Dobbs Beck, the ex­ec­u­tive in charge of the lab. “The dream­ers are con­stantly think­ing about what’s pos­si­ble, and the rocket builders fig­ure out how to get us there.”

When Rob Bre­dow, chief tech­nol­ogy of­fi­cer of ILM’S par­ent com­pany, Lu­casfilm, and his co-writer on Tri­als on Ta­tooine, Pablo Hi­dalgo, en­vi­sioned the Mil­len­nium Fal­con “land­ing on your head,” the XLAB en­gi­neers had to cus­tom­ize the game en­gine so the mas­sive 3D model could ren­der fast enough for a dy­namic and smooth vir­tual ex­pe­ri­ence. Mean­while, Sky­walker Sound, an au­dio de­sign com­pany, built a sur­round sys­tem that rum­bles like the Corel­lian freighter re­puted to have made the Kes­sel Run in less than 12 par­secs. “The way we do tech­nol­ogy devel­op­ment here is re­ally hand-in-hand with the cre­ative goals,” says Bre­dow. “The R&D is al­ways in ser­vice to the story.” <BW>

● Diana Wil­liams, a Lu­casfilm Story Group mem­ber, rein­vents the way sto­ries are ex­pe­ri­enced. Ear­lier in her ca­reer, she gen­er­ated sce­nar­ios for sol­diers at the U.S. De­part­ment of De­fense.● Vis­ual ef­fects su­per­vi­sor Tim Alexan­der has workedon Harry Pot­ter and the Goblet of Fire and WaltDis­ney’s James and the Gi­ant Peach. ● Hil­mar Koch, di­rec­tor of vir­tual pro­duc­tion, holds de­grees in art and math­e­mat­ics and won an Academy Award for de­vel­op­ing “am­bi­ent oc­clu­sion,” a means of recre­at­ing how am­bi­ent light re­flects off sur­faces. ● John Gaeta, ex­ec­u­tive cre­ative di­rec­tor, won an Academy Award for The Ma­trix, for which he de­signed ef­fects like “bul­let time,” an ex­treme vis­ual trans­for­ma­tion of time to show what’s oth­er­wise un­filmable, such as a fly­ing bul­let.● Dobbs Beck● Bre­dow

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