Last Tuesday night, Vivien and I went to see The Lion King. I was awfully excited to watch a movie that had been among my all-time favorites since I was four years old. The animation, the music, and songs, the classic Shakespearean plot - I loved all of it. But this time was going to be particularly special. The 2019 remake of The Lion King was entirely produced and shot in Virtual Reality.
That’s right. Although the entire film is animated, the film was actually shot in a 3D environment using more traditional fit equipment, like Steadicams or cranes. This gave the film the feeling of being an actual film, rather than perfect frame-by-frame animation. In most animated films, the camera doesn’t actually move. There aren’t props that block the camera’s path to the characters. And the camera certainly doesn’t sway with the wind.
Camera crews moved in the way they normally would in the real worlds, though this time they wore HTC Vive headsets as they filmed every shot in VR. Editors then could change any facet about the environment they wanted: removing trees, turning from night to day, or even changing the animals in a scene. This photo, courtesy of WIRED magazine, is what the future of digital filmmaking may look like:
(Director Jon Favreau, left, and his production team.)
For decades, the promise of VR in Hollywood has been on the tips of tongue, but never before has such a mainstream film leveraged VR in such a unique way to present realistic animations at such scale of Pride Rock.
To be fair, I don’t anticipate that we’ll see scores of similar-style films in the next year or two. Animated films like this one are still comparatively niche and even further, animated films produced in VR will remain few and far between. But I strongly encourage everyone to see The Lion King, because to me it was the single clearest demonstrator of VR at its best I’ve ever seen - not only a tool for experiencing immersion, but also for designing and creating immersive experiences.
The future of our VR initiatives has been on my mind a lot this summer as we plan to grow the Systems and VR teams beginning at the tail end of this year. Much of the timing will be defined by the recruiting we are able to do, the market adoption, and the amount of free cash flow we can generate from our existing operations to simultaneously invest in our current activities as well as start new business lines.
There are still many steps that we will need to taken before the VR offering takes shape in a meaningful way. I’ve attached here a copy of a ‘Master Plan’ document from February, 2018 for your reference. This is not for sharing or reproduction. In the coming months, I’ll be sharing an updated and more detailed version of this for everyone’s reference and detailing where my thinking has changed since >1 year ago. I’m happy to say that we’re closing in on completing Step 1 of 12 :)