Imagine walking up to a character in a movie and have a conversation with them. No longer a fantasy, the Sundance Virtual Reality project by Lucasfilm is making this a reality for Star Wars fans.
It’s an expansion of the Star Wars universe into virtual reality, but other projects are in the works:
The project is a concerted effort by Lucasfilm, Industrial Light & Magic, and Skywalker Sound to bring a cinematic virtual reality experience to audiences like they’ve never seen before. A new branch of the Lucasfilm company, ILMxLAB, was created to focus on pioneering this immersive new technology in the hopes of eventually making it accessible at theme parks, and even your own living room.
Sundance Virtual Reality and Star Wars
Of course, there’s a paradox here. The studio behind the highest grossing movie of all time has a tech demo in an experimental program. At a film festival for independents, no less. But technology makes strange bedfellows, and virtual reality has caught the attention of the Hollywood studios. Everyone’s a beginner in the virtual space. Some just have a lot more resources than others.
The project is under ILMxLAB, a Lucasfilm division for the Star Wars team. Their new technology is called Holo-Cinema. It’s almost like a form of experiential theatre. But one that allows you to explore an immersive environment, step inside a story and interact with the characters. John Gaeta of ILMxLAB said the
The technology is developed with members of Lucasfilm’s story group, so the experiences feed into the overarching “Star Wars” universe being developed by the group . . . Eventually, the form could be used to build ‘portals’ that explore whole worlds or subplots of the ‘Star Wars’ universe only hinted at in film.
This is thinking outside our current virtual reality mindset. There will be VR films, but studios could do “VR portals” tied to subplots of a film. Or a studio could expand on the elements of a film that are not essential to the overarching narrative. In other words, cinematic narrative could become a framework for storytelling by what we used to call “the viewers”. The possibilities are wide-open here, especially when the audience is no longer dependent on the frames of the cameras.
John Gaeta on Virtual Reality and immersive media
Speaking of possibilities . . .
Since John Gaeta has a hand in the Holo-Cinema, you might want to see an older interview with him at the Palo Alto Film Festival. It covers everything from the history of cinema, the Hollywood business, the failure of Microsoft’s kinect, the 3-dimensional qualities of “flat” photographs and movies, storytelling and games, to the possibilities of technology to transform cinema and entertainment.
Best line, among many (@25:00):
You’ll have a (holographic) elephant walking around your house within three years.
It’s a fascinating journey.
(The video does not play on some mobile devices but you can may be able to access it directly on uStream)
Emory Craig is a writer, speaker, and VR consultant with extensive experience in art, new media, and higher education. He speaks at global conferences on innovation, education, and ethical technology in the future. He has published widely and worked with the US Agency for International Development, the United Nations, and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Living at the intersection of learning, games, and immersive storytelling, he is fascinated by AI-based avatars, digital twins, and the ethical implications of blurring the boundaries between the real and the virtual.