Star Wars is a franchise that sells itself to cinema-goers. LucasFilm, the production company behind the modern movies in the series, could just continue to churn out titles with a similar flavor, and the fans would come. But that is not this studio’s style. Within its technology division, Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), there is a subdivision known as xLab. Its sole purpose is to explore the new ways in which movies might be shot and enjoyed in years to come. The latest prototypes it has produced are just a little mindblowing.
The visual effects maestros and technology experts of ILMxLab recently shared three of their projects with The Verge. Perhaps the most exciting is an iPad app. It currently plays a short film, in which C-3PO and R2-D2 hide from a search party of Stormtroopers on Tatooine. But this isn’t your regular Blu-Ray extra. Although these scenes are apparently 24fps cinema-quality footage, they are in fact live renderings streamed from ILM’s servers. It means that, as the user, you can slow down the action, look around the environment, watch events unfurl from the Stormtrooper’s point of view, or even see what happened before the scene began. If scaled up for a full movie, such content would be truly remarkable.
A similar experience can be had with the Oculus Rift version developed by xLab. Unlike the iPad, these VR goggles lack crystal clear definition, but they still offer a more immersive experience. To aid with this, the motion blur is removed, and the frame rate is altered to make it feel real rather than cinematic. John Gaeta, one of the founders of ILMxLab and the guy behind The Matrix’s remarkable action sequences, believes that movies of the future will be interactive places to explore. His team has already built a scene where you can ride a Speeder Bike around the environment.
ILMxLab’s other big invention is a near-perfect representation of a holodeck, the simulated reality facility envisioned in the other wildly popular space franchise, Star Trek. This “holographic cave” allows the viewer to walk into a 3D world and come face-to-face with characters portrayed by actors using real-time motion capture. It is already being used by storytellers within LucasFilm to design CG environments, and shoot virtual scenes.
Quite how and when these technologies will be deployed is uncertain. But when they arrive, one thing is for sure — movies will change for ever.