Wednesday, 25 October 2017

ILM, Star Wars, & Virtual Reality

Vikki Dobbs of ILMxLAB
At the Turin VIEW conference this week, Vikki Dobbs Beck from Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) talked  about her company's newest venture - ILMxLab - a virtual reality pioneer that "invites audiences to step inside the world of our stories".

ILMxLab is all about "immersive experiences". Their challenge as a startup venture within ILM was to "leverage their in-house talent and create new experiences".

As Vikki put it, we are "entering an age of experiential storytelling". To create this new reality, ILMxLab needed to "take risks, to learn, explore and discover new ideas".

Blue Ocean Strategy
Vikki talked about her team at ILMxLab being inspired by a book about risk-taking, titled "Blue Ocean Strategy", which explains how, for great companies, it's not about beating the competition at what they do, it's about finding new ideas where no-one is competing now. 

ILMxLab and VR
ILMxLab is all about telling great stories (specifically, Star Wars stories), but with new technology to drive the storytelling.  In particular, it's all about Virtual Reality.  Traditional film-making is more than 125 years old - it's a very mature business.  But VR is a "pivot point" in our history, a technological shift. The future of storytelling is immersive - it's all about "the power of connection".

Vikki talked about their first release, Trials on Tatooine, in which the audience feels like they are actually on the planet, even though they might actually just be "standing on a yoga mat". For ILMxLab, it's all about bringing the Star Wars universe into the VR world.

Secrets of the Empire
Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire
ILMxLab has a number of areas of focus, including "Location-based immersive adventures". The first of these will be Star Wars - Secrets of the Empire, which will be a traditional theme park experience which "combines a VR experience with a physical one, in a real-world environment".

Visitors will enter a real-world set, with physical walls and doors, but will also wear VR headsets that create a fully immersive experience. 

In Secrets of the Empire ILM x Lab are working with Disney Imagineering - the department that has imagined, designed and built the Disney parks since the 1950s.  Imagine, Vikki asked, what it would be like to actually stand next to Darth Vader, and feel his presence?

The Business
Right now the division is in the "learn and survive" part of the development of the company (some call it the "trough of disillusionment"), with 2019 being the "grow and strive" part, and then thriving in the near future (3-5 years perhaps) when the possibilities of the medium have been fully discovered. But, from a business perspective, VR is still "very challenging".

The future
Of course, for our students, VR represents the next big frontier in our business: the "Wild West" of the industry. No-one knows how VR will play out, and there are many who argue that the technology still isn't fully developed. But one thing is certain - VR is here to stay.

The Escape Studios Animation Blog offers a personal view on the art of animation and visual effects. To apply for our new BA/MArt starting in September 2018, follow this link.

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