ILMxLAB Will Make Star Wars a Virtual Reality


On Friday, Industrial Light & Magic, the visual effects company created and pioneered by George Lucas, announced a brand new division called the ILM Experience Lab, or ILMxLAB. The division is a collaborative effort between ILM, Skywalker Sound, and Lucasfilm Ltd., with the singular aim to make the world of Star Wars a virtual reality.

The video below describes the goal of ILMxLAB and shows the potential of virtual reality.

President of Lucasfilm and producer of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Kathleen Kennedy, tells USA Today, “ILMxLab is all about us leveraging our skills across all platforms.” She likens the world of potential in modern technology to the Wild West frontier, saying, “we’re all figuring out these new tools.

“Today,” she adds, “technology is in search of content. But we can bring an emotional experience to that technology.”

That’s what the creative team at ILMxLAB intends to do. The virtual reality experience, which, ILM executives tell USA Today, will most likely launch in coincidence with Star Wars: The Force Awakens this December, allows you to step inside an alternate reality through the use of tablets and VR [virtual reality] equipment like the Oculus Rift goggles. It becomes even more immersive when combined with such tools as live performance capture, sound, and interactive real-time 3D rendering, integral parts to a prototype VR experience being tested at ILMxLab (USA Today).

Image from Cinefex. John Gaeta tests an immersive virtual reality experience that uses live performance capture, sound, and interactive real-time 3D rendering (USA Today).

ILMxLAB’s creative director, John Gaeta, explains the end goal of creating the virtual reality experience.

"What we’re aiming for is to open the two-dimensional world of the movies and allow fans to walk into those worlds with the same visual fidelity. All that George begat caused a reassessment of innovation from movies to video games. The next 40 years of ILM is about exploding that universe with tech once again. xLab is as attuned to Silicon Valley as it is to Hollywood."

xLAB’s virtual reality should not be mistaken for a next-level video game, however. Marco Della Cava of USA Today cites one of the key differences as being that the experience will be rendered using photo-realism, not animation as in a video game. The result will, hopefully, be an “image-quality rivaling film,” with which “you’ll be able to literally step into an alternate reality,” says Kathleen Kennedy.

Another difference is that, unlike in a video game, the virtual reality experience will allow you to explore a scene from a movie as if it weren’t a scene, as if it was a real place and you were actually there. For example, in a scene with R2-D2 and C-3PO on Tatooine in virtual reality, the viewer does not merely observe as he or she would when watching the scene on a screen; he or she can explore the world surrounding the scene using an iPad. The same concept applies when using virtual reality goggles, as shown in the video above.

Image from Variety. Rob Bredow, vice president of new media at Lucasfilm, operates a virtual camera on the ILMxLAB immersive stage (USA Today).

As with everything that ILM does, this new project is ambitious and will push the boundaries of current technology. Gaeta says, “Apple, Google, Intel, they all have moonshot projects around AR [alternate reality] and VR, but they’re still just figuring it out. Our standards for world-building are very high, and we intend to use our technology to give people experiences that they haven’t yet dreamed of.”

ILM reiterates this with their list of goals for ILMxLAB division, which includes, “virtual reality, augmented reality, real-time cinema, theme park entertainment and narrative-based experiences for future platforms.” My guess is that Disney will be the first to have access to these technologies, being that Disney owns Lucasfilm.

How are Disney, Lucasfilm, and ILMxLAB planning on bringing virtual reality to audiences through The Force Awakens later this year? That, we don’t know. We also don’t know how much it will cost. But the first step is, of course, the creative process, something that the innovative teams collaborating in this new initiative are known for. My personal hope is that through a widespread accessibility to this new medium, storytelling will achieve a new depth that will result in new generations of creative individuals who, inspired by the work done by companies like ILMxLAB, will continue to take human beings to wonderful places we haven’t even dreamed of yet.

Next stop: a galaxy, far, far away.

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