My research will be at the intersection of three fields: Virtual Production, The Metaverse, and brand interaction with these new technologies. I will investigate methods for how brands can benefit, looking at creative opportunities, business opportunities, and entry points—focusing on feature films and advertising.
Computer graphics in feature films have been around since the early 1970s. In these early days, the work was severely limited by rendering times and the ability of artists to iterate on what they were creating. While computer graphics brought exciting possibilities, meagre computing power limited how fast a vision could be realized.
In the early 1990s, Computer Generated Images (CGI) became an essential part of the movie industry. At that time, the Computer of choice was a silicon graphics workstation. These workstations enabled pre-rendered content in films such as Terminator 2 and Jurassic Park. As the visual standard and complexities increased, so did render times. Individual frames could take hours, if not days, to be rendered.
While this was happening in the feature film realm, the same hardware was driving innovation in a completely different industry, video games. The Nintendo 64, the first mass-market console, offered many players their introduction to 3D gaming. It was a direct descendent of the silicone graphics workstations. Although computer graphics, movies, and video games shared many creative and technical inspirations, they mainly stayed on separate paths.
However, film directors like Stanley Kubrick, the Wachowskis, James Cameron, and George Lucas were among the first to embrace what would eventually be known as Computer Generated previsualization.
In the year 2000, Industrial Light and Magic used the first version of the Unreal Engine to visualize the Rouge city for Steven Spielberg’s film Artificial Intelligence. During shooting, they were able to compose blue screenshots of a virtual environment by combining the British Broadcast Company’s camera tracking system with a Silicon Graphics Inc Onyx-powered system called brainstorm. During principal photography, this was the first use of real-time CGI, a simil-cam merging live action with CGI elements on set to aid in framing and lighting.
Today we call this virtual production. For the next decade, the film and games industries continued on their paths with relatively limited crossover. Things began to change as gaming graphics started to look more and more realistic. In 2002 Robert Zemeckis and his team at Sony Pictures Image Works were early adopters of virtual production techniques using Kadara’s Film box, soon to become Autodesk motion builder to support a motion capture production, The Polar Express. Following closely behind in 2005, James Cameron and his Light storm Entertainment team built upon this technology to create a directable interactive scene resembling a video game. This became the methodology for Avatar. Meanwhile, John Favreau was pioneering virtual production techniques leveraging Unity’s Game Engine for 2016’s Jungle Book and then later for The Lion King. This allowed them to use traditional filmmaking techniques like dollies, cranes, and camera heads inside a virtual world.
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