Is there anything more welcome in February than escaping one of the coldest weeks this winter for sunny California? Well, it turns out there is, when your February escape to California has a virtual and augmented reality technology summit as its focus.
Last week Corey was fortunate enough to join fellow Winnipegger’s from New Media Manitoba and Campfire Union in attending Unity‘s first ever Vision VR/AR Summit in the heart of Hollywood. This sold out event featured many of the industry’s brightest talent and biggest players including Google, Valve, Oculus, Sony and Microsoft. With a location and topic focused at the nexus of VR filmmaking, VR gaming and augmented reality technology the summit checked all the boxes to make it a must-attend event for ZenFri.
And of course it helped that Clandestine: Anomaly was showcased as an Honorable Mention in the “Best AR Experience Category”.
Since we’re experimenting with our post format and are hoping to cover a wide range of topics that came out of this blockbuster 2-day Summit, we’re going to split this update into parts. This first part will focus on the Keynote, with subsequent posts discussing the state of the industry, our experience demoing a range of VR hardware and products and the future of VR Cinema.
The Keynote at Vision Summit had one of the strongest line-ups I’d ever seen for this type of event, and included VR pioneer Palmer Luckey; Alex McDowell best known for creating the worlds and technologies of Minority Report; Dr. Jeff Norris of Mission Operations Innovation Lead at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory; Clay Bavor the Vice President of VR at Google; Dr. Richard Marks, the Director of the PlayStation Magic Lab; and of course John Riccitiello the CEO of Unity Technologies who gave a talk about the growth of VR, discussed the need for the community to properly set consumer and media expectations, and acted as MC.
With such an all star cast it’s no wonder the entrance to the Keynote was flooded.
Unfortunately video game legend Gabe Newell of Valve was unable appear, but he more than made up for his absence by giving all conference attendees a free Vive Development Kit! Which as you can imagine received the biggest cheer of the entire event.
Before jumping into what we thought were the biggest moments of the Keynote, we’d like to express how surprised and excited we were to have clips from Clandestine: Anomaly be a part of the video presentation that opened the Keynote. Our first adventure in AR was one of the first things anyone in the auditorium or online saw before the summit got underway, and we can’t express how lucky and welcome that made us feel.
Here’s a look at the Highlight Reel that opened Vision Summit:
The Biggest Moments of the Keynote
Now we’re quite sure many will argued that receiving the Vive Development Kits was the single biggest moment of the Summit and we agree that was awesome. For us however, the biggest moments were those that you can’t put a price on: the inspiring look into the not-too-distant future.
Of those sneak peeks, the most exciting came from Timoni West, a Principal Designer at Unity Technologies, and Dr. Jeff Norris of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. We’ll start with Timoni West’s presentation of video gaming editing inside VR.
Modeling Worlds in VR
At the Summit, Unity announced that developers will soon have the ability for people to move, mould and bent their game worlds while existing within them in VR. This new feature will not only reduce the iteration time of level design and layout in VR, which is currently a bit of a painful process, but transforms more aspects of game and interactive design into a something more akin to moulding clay.
Being a creative-driven organization, we believe this feature will open up ever more aspects of design and development to those that can’t code and those who work best in more hands-on and tactile environments. With gestures and movements not unlike those initiated by motion gaming, users may feel like a powerful wizard resizing objects and moving elements on the fly.
Beyond gaming, we see this technology as having possible applications in VR filmmaking from obvious applications like previsualization of VR scenes, to perhaps allowing for a new level of film editing where directors and designers can reimagine entire sets and mould any 3D object in the film collaboratively, on the fly, and in a manner that feels more direct. If the film is created entirely through 3D assets (including fully body scans of actors or a CGI cast) creating films will take on the more iterative production model currently used in game development.
We can’t wait to try this feature for ourselves and experiment not only with how this features allows us to create VR games, but explore VR Cinema pipelines that carry a creative and interactive process across production.
NASA wants you be become a Telenaut!
The other big preview came from NASA’s Dr. Jeff Norris, who beyond showing amazingly cool uses of AR and VR by the astronauts and technicians at NASA, introduced the concept of the Telenaut – a user / group of users who through virtual reality can explore Mars alongside manned missions, using image and data sources from the astronauts themselves, rovers and other instruments.
NASA is hoping to not only engage and educate the public with this technology, but crowdsource legitimate exploration during missions. Some of us here at ZenFri (meaning Corey, Danielle still very much enjoys the ground) have always dreamed of becoming astronauts, but are sadly not quite up to the job. Fortunately with this news we can set our sights on becoming a Telenaut.
While it’s too early to say how this will work in practice, NASA is looking to run the Telenaut program alongside the first manned missions to Mars.
Outside of the use cases that apply to NASA, we are starting to imagine this style of VR being applied to a new age of digital theatre productions. Imagine the best actors of stage and screen joined virtually from around the world to perform in virtual costume on a virtual set that can have any scale, with an audience (no longer confined to the number of seats in an auditorium) able to view from infinite locations anywhere in the world simultaneously, and even interact with the performers, if desired.
As the scope of the audience would be digital, budgets for production could also rise creating truly epic, and immersive live performances, allowing theatrical productions to the mass market.
This is a concept we’ve not yet heard of elsewhere, and while its still a long way out we’re optimistic it will come about at some point in the future. Applications such as VR Chat already exist and could act as forerunners to this emerging live performance medium, and offer a platform for early experimentation with the possibilities of virtual theatre.
Onward to Part 2
As you can tell, the Keynote was jam packed with insight, announcements and visions of the future, but it only represents a fraction of the intense two-day Vision Summit experience. We have so much more interesting stuff to share with you in Part 2 as we dive into the current state of AR and discuss our experiences demoing a variety of VR headsets and content.