“The Wasteland” a dystopian scene from volumetric VR project #100humans, which premiers at Sundance

8i unveils first volumetric VR project featuring real human actors at Sundance

Premiering at New Frontier, #100humans explores the next leap forward in the evolution of storytelling

by Linc Gasking

Throughout history, storytellers have always strived to create realistic depictions of their fellow man or woman. Cavemen scratched stick figures into walls; Renaissance painters spent months, if not years, capturing the likenesses of their muses and benefactors; and early photographers worked to master exposure times and shutter speeds. Artists’ scopes were limited only by their respective era’s technical limitations.

Today, with the newest advancements in the field of video capture technology, we’ve come to what I believe to be the final, most realistic medium possible: telling volumetric stories in virtual reality or augmented reality. This week at the Sundance Film Festival’s New Frontier, we’re excited to unveil “#100humans,” the first volumetric VR project which pushes the boundaries of storytelling by bringing real human actors into realistic virtual experiences.

“The Climb,” a volumetric VR scene from #100humans which premieres at Sundance

Volumetric VR gives you the ultimate feeling of reality. Not only can headset-wearing users see scenes with three-dimensional humans — who actually look like real people, as opposed to the glassy-eyed bots of CG — but they can also physically walk around these “characters” and watch them from any angle. Unlike film, there are no “takes” or “shots” in VR that are edited in post-production — it’s much more fluid as the viewer is the one framing the scene and choosing their own perspective. In that sense, the viewer takes that role from the director, which opens up entirely new possibilities for storytelling and acting.

“Volumetric VR is the next leap forward in the progression of storytelling because it unlocks the experience for the viewer and for the first time, lets you become part of the story.”

The goal of our #100humans project was to begin a journey and discover something about what this new medium of volumetric VR means for storytelling. Created by 8i’s award-winning team of visual effects, technology and film industry veterans, including Emmy Award-winner Rainer Gombos (“Game of Thrones”, “Cosmos”), #100humans explores new ways for the audience (in other words, you, the viewer) to experience virtual scenes, featuring human actors, in a way that was never possible before.

To create #100humans, we invited 100 people — ranging from everyday folks to musicians, artists, actors, and social media stars — to record their stories in our LA studio. Using 8i technology, we captured video from multiple off-the-shelf cameras and transformed the video streams into 3D holograms for viewers to experience through a headset.

At Sundance this week, we’ll show four different experiences in #100humans:

“Message to the Future,” starring Ashley Martin Scott as she records an emotional message for her six-month old baby Reese, demonstrates an unprecedented sense of presence and real emotional connection with the “actor.” Ashley returned to our studio six months later and recorded another emotionally moving message for her toddler, now one, taking her first steps. Ashley’s experience demonstrates that VR can function not just as entertainment, but also connect us on a human level through empathy. It also serves as a time capsule for families to revisit for generations to come.

“The Climb” exposes viewers to another emotion: fear (and for some: terror). Viewers find themselves standing on a ledge of a cliff three miles up and looking out at the Grand Canyon. Even though they’re wearing a headset, they still feel incredibly exposed because their emotional brain feels like it’s literally on a precipice, at risk of dying. It’s an incredibly evocative feeling that can only be generated by a volumetric VR experience.

“The Wasteland” completely reinvents traditional cinematographic techniques in this breakthrough dystopian sci-fi scene. In a new VR achievement, we put two real volumetric human actors (recorded separately) into one scene, synchronized in a simulated interaction. This experience also demonstrates how a stationary recording of a human actor driving a car can be moved through a scene.

“Gladiator” takes you back in time as Vine phenomenon Logan Paul joins you in a virtual CG environment of the Roman Colosseum. This scene demonstrates VR as a new medium for social media creators, allowing their fans to get closer to them than ever. Logan, a true pioneer in experimenting with new platforms, came into our studio and invented this character on the fly. The entire scene and sound was developed around his performance in post-production, showcasing what’s possible when you combine Rainer’s “Game of Thrones” style of visual effects with Logan’s spontaneity and humor.

Logan Paul as “Gladiator,” a scene from #100humans, 8i’s volumetric VR project premiering at Sundance

In the past, artistic methods have tended to evolve along the same pattern: practitioners began by using their hands, then tools, and finally, multiple tools. Take the movies, for example. Filmmaking began when the Lumiere brothers created the first dual motion picture camera and projector, which operated on a hand-powered crank (manual). Next came the the metal film camera that we know today (automated tool), followed by the dual-camera rigs necessary for the production of stereoscopic 3D films (multiple tools). Volumetric VR is the next leap forward in the progression of storytelling because it unlocks the experience for the viewer and for the first time, lets you become part of the story. Now you’re free to move through space and time — which opens up worlds of possibilities. When so much is possible, what would you do?