Can holographic sets revolutionise pre-production?
Lucasfilm’s visual effects company Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) is making use of holographic technology to revolutionise pre-production by enabling the creation of virtual sets.
ILM Experience Lab (known as ILMxLAB) was set up last year by the production company behind Star Wars and in recent months has been showcasing its impressive new toys at industry events like the Sundance Film Festival.
Holo-Cinema is a shiny innovation that creates a virtual set (pictured) by projecting a location onto a square floor and walls using high-definition 3D stereoscopic imaging.
To gain the illusion of an immersive experience, users wear special 3D glasses that constantly track the exact position of the user’s head and calibrate the precise angles at which the stereoscopic images are projected. The result – from the user’s perspective – is a seemingly immersive space in which three-dimensional characters appear to interact with them.
So far the technology has been showcased by letting users meet Star Wars droids C-3PO and BB-8 on the desert planet Jakku, as seen in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Or by meeting the dinosaurs of Jurassic World in a digitally-rendered jungle setting (pictured above).
Alongside the Holo-Cinema, ILMxLAB has also come up with VScout, pre-production software that specifically enables filmmakers to explore the virtual set of the Holo-Cinema and experiment with different virtual camera placements and angles using an iPad.
The underlying irony is that this new tech enables filmmakers to embrace ground-breaking digital technology while they work hard to specifically avoid using flashy visual effects during principal photography.
The toys being created by ILMxLAB are helping the producers of the rebooted Star Wars franchise to return to the physical set-building of the original films, a style that’s once again been welcomed by its loyal audiences.
Director Gareth Edwards reportedly used the technology to ‘scout’ locations and supervise set designs as he prepped Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, the next to be released in the space saga.
Abu Dhabi doubled for the desert planet Jakku and an expansive physical set was built in the desert, while location work for Jurassic World was filmed in Hawaii.
The Holo-Cinema could become a key pre-production tool for large-scale shoots because, crucially, it’s fully collaborative. All the various departments of a big-budget production can share their ideas and designs and can visualise the virtual set simultaneously simply by wearing the 3D glasses.
It offers a controlled digital environment to experiment and plan, before a project becomes a more expensive reality on an extended location shoot. Similarly, it seems VScout (pictured above) will give filmmakers the opportunity to play around without having to rely on the added manpower associated with location filming.
Physical shoots may be in fashion but Hollywood is breaking new technical ground to help deliver it.