VR Is Cool, But This Company Is Making it Cinematic
Early examples of VR have been, well, a bit ho-hum. At MPC, ‘it’s all about forging the next frontier of entertainment.’
When Hollywood moguls and corporate titans want a decent explanation of “this whole VR thing” and how it can earn them some cash, they head to creative studio MPC in Culver City, California.
“We blow their minds by showing them what’s possible,” British-born Tim Dillon, MPC’s Executive Producer of VR, told PCMag, “as well as explaining what they really want is not necessarily VR, but Cinematic VR (CR), as we enter the sandbox of mixed reality and the line blurs between what’s real and what’s next in this space.
“In fact, what we’re doing most of the time [is] not trying to replicate reality at all. Our clients want us to create something cool, stylistic and deeply immersive instead,” said Dillon.
MPC’s clients include U2 via production company VRSE, Chrysler, tech firms such as Facebook and Google, Sony Pictures, Ralph Lauren, and 20th Century Fox (MPC worked on The Martian VR Experience last year). So these so-called Cinematic VR projects tend towards high-end concepts — and big budgets.
Construction workers are still putting the finishing touches on MPC’s new Los Angeles studios, which are spread out over 25,000 square feet, around a Japanese-style central courtyard with staggered stone steps and suitably climate-tolerant planting. Creatives mingle in front of flat screens in functional chic head-to-toe black clothing and Teutonic eyeglasses, testing haptics mats and advanced head-mounted devices inside exposed brick demo rooms. It’s a cool setup, designed to impress.
As Dillon gave us the tour, he explained that the term Cinematic VR is more commonly used in Asia but is gaining traction in the U.S., as some early examples of VR have been, well, a bit ho-hum.
“Many of our music industry clients in particular asked us, ‘Where do we fit in with this whole VR/CR explosion? We have music, bands, events — what should we be doing?’ So, for them, we’re doing some real-time live event extension cinematic VR; all under wraps for now, but really exciting stuff. You see Cinematic VR is pushing the boundaries of what’s possible.
“It’s not about replicating reality but creating entirely new worlds,” Dillon said.
One project MPC can talk about launched at CES 2016 with Faraday Future, which wowed conferences audiences with its Batmobile-like electric concept racecar.
“We mirrored and then re-imagined the whole experience,” said Dillon. “At Faraday, you put your phone inside the steering wheel, and you’re off. We took that as our starting point. MPC built the first fully live-action blended 360 CG designed and animated Cinematic VR, inspired by Kubrick, putting the viewer inside the car on a high-speed thrill ride.”
I can vouch for this. Inside the Samsung Gear VR, with high-end headphones, it’s truly exhilarating. If that’s any indication of the forthcoming experience of sitting inside a fully autonomous vehicle at top speed in a futuristic cityscape, sign me up. In comparison to mere VR projects, which often just replicate the world in a “Wow, I’m here — or am I?” way, this goes far beyond into something rather fabulous.
What makes Cinematic VR come to life? MPC is part of the Technicolor Experience Center, which develops content, platforms, and technology for VR, AR, and other immersive media. As part of Technicolor’s R&I (Research and Innovation) group, MPC uses its VR/AR/CR suite, including 2D stitching workflow, 360 stereo virtual cameras, real-time rendering solutions, and HDR (High Dynamic Range) 4K picture and audio processing tools.
The OZO, which Disney will use to create new VR “experiences” to complement its theatrical releases, is “an interesting piece of tech,” Dillon said. “We’re working closely with their team on the West Coast as the platform evolves. At MPC we’ve already integrated with the CARA VR plug-in for Nuke [toolkit], which speeds up the stitching and authoring time considerably.”
But we’re talking about Cinematic VR, so surely big movie camera giants like Panasonic, ARRI, and RED are getting into the game?
“Because of IPD — inter-pupillary distance — and the unchangeable laws of physics,” explained Dillon, “whereby you can’t shoot two digital cameras close enough together to make the final experience believable, you have no option, as yet, but to use a panoramic 360 camera. Having said that, we did shoot Jack Black on a ‘wedge’ or ‘slice’ and then built everything else in CG around him.”
That Jack Black experience was commissioned by Sony Pictures for the movie Goosebumps. You pop on a VR headset, are transported to a fairly beaten-up station wagon moving fast down a dark country road, and hear a familiar voice in your left ear. That’s Jack Black; he’s manic and kinda crazy but looks so very real in the driver’s seat.
“Don’t look at me! Look at the road!” he screams just as gelatinous creatures with tentacles slap down on the roof and you jump a mile in the air. It’s not just believable but also highly cinematic and a good example of what MPC is looking to achieve with this new mix of art, science, tech, and movies.
“I keep coming back to this idea that years ago, when we were all just sending SMS on our Nokia phones, there was no way we could imagine we’d have the iPad Pro and everything else that’s available today,” Dillon said. “So taking that thought to its logical conclusion, of course we’ll be looking back in the future from a completely converged-media standpoint. It will be easy to throw an image from a tablet onto your wall at home, have pervasive connectivity, then step inside a fully immersive mixed-reality world, for instance. So when I think about what we’re doing here at MPC, it’s all about forging the next frontier of entertainment.”
Originally published at www.pcmag.com.