Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Hamilton and Kidd Bring Virtual Reality to Escape Studios

Hamilton & Kidd

At Escape Studios we are always looking for ways to make our classroom content as cutting edge as possible. And why can't our students engage with the recent leaps in VR technology, which are at last bringing to life the long-overdue promise of VR?

This past week the guys from Hamilton Kidd came to Escape to give us some training in the very latest in VR tech.

Amazing VR from Hamilton & Kidd
Hamilton and Kidd came to Escape Studios this week to talk about the latest in VR - and how we might be able to build it into our classroom curricula.  

So, what is VR?  "We take someones idea, visualize it, and then bringing that idea to life".  In the end, successful VR "is all about visual communication".

Escape Studios tutor Davi Stein gets a dose of VR
But the most important thing is: "you have to think what is the delivery going to achieve?" VR has to be handled carefully, else you get an output that "would make the audience vomit in 30 seconds".  Handled badly, VR simply "does not work".

Hamilton and Kidd have a big vision of what VR can bring us in the future. "What if you can’t fly? It doesn’t matter. If I have a holodeck that convinces me I can do it, then I can fly".  

VR will enable audiences "to go to a virtual theme park instead of a real one". In fact, if you "can go on a virtual rollercoaster – it might be even better than the real thing". 

The Star Trek holodeck is the "ultimate goal" of VR - the holy grail of virtual reality.
The power of VR is huge: "What if you moved house, you could keep in touch with your family through VR. Would it even matter if you werent there?".

The bad news is: "we are nowhere near this yet. But it’s promising".
Google Cardboard
The question now is: "will the consumer buy into VR? Consumer expectations are high, but what can we actually deliver? Right now, the hardware is the tension area."

The VR Experience "starts with Google cardboard", which costs about £10 and can be hooked up to your Android phone. This is cheap entry-level VR. It's cool, but it only goes so far.

Star Trek Holodeck. Image: Wikimedia Commons
Then, moving up through the levels of experience, there is the Samsung Gear VR, then Oculus Rift, then Magic Leap, then, ultimately - holy of holies - our goal of reaching the Star Trek Holodeck.

What about 360 video? Is this the same thing? No, 360 video "is not VR, because it does not give you a sense of immersion". 360 video "is an ingredient in VR, but it is not VR". After all, "planetariums have been using 360 video for years. But it’s not VR".

There are also "big problems" with doing paint FX on VR images. The brushes need to change shape as you use them, since 360 images are projected on to the inside of a sphere. The technology is still in its infancy, and the stitching-together of VR images is still a tricky process.

Stitching is done in AfterEffects, and the Escape team got some detailed training in how to stitch together the multiple images that get produced by the VR camera. In essence, a VR Camera looks like a big cube, taking pictures in multiple directions at once.
"spherical" camera by GoPro

Having created your film, these six camera views (up, down, forward, back and sideways) have to be stitched together in After Effects to create a seamless image that can then be projected onto the inside of a sphere. The sphere creates the VR experience.

VR is a fiddly piece of tech and still doesn't quite deliver its promise of a completely immersive experience.  But we're excited to be showing our students the very latest tools.


PS If you'd like to know more about VR and what Hamilton Kidd do, come along to the VFX Festival in February next year!

The Escape Studios Animation Blog offers a personal view on the art of animation and visual effects. To find out more about our new BA/MArt starting in September 2016, follow this link.   To apply, visit the offical page here.

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