Back in May at GDC 2017 Epic Games presented a revolutionary pipeline for rendering visual effects in real-time using their Unreal Engine. Developed in partnership with visual effects studio The Mill, the outcome of the project was a short promotional video for Chevrolet called The Human Race (above). While the film’s visual effects are stunning the underlying innovation isn’t immediately apparent. The following film by The Mill’s Rama Allen nicely summarises the process.
Behind the visual effects The Mill have an adjustable car rig called The Blackbird. Mounted on the car is a 360 degree camera rig which uses The Mill’s Cyclops system to stitch the video output from different cameras together and transmits it to Unreal Engine. Using positioning data from the The Blackbird and QR-like tracking markers on the outside of the vehicle as a spatial reference, the Unreal Engine then overlays computer generated imagery in real-time. Because all of this is being done in real-time a viewer can interactively reconfigure the virtual model of the car that has been superimposed on the The Blackbird rig while they are watching.
For the film industry this means that CGI and visual effects can be tested on location. For audiences it might mean that aspects of scenes within the final film become customisable. Perhaps the viewer can choose the protagonists car. Perhaps the implications are wider. If you can instantly revisualise a car or a character in the film why not an entire environment? With the emergence of more powerful augmented reality technologies, will there be a point at which this becomes a viable way to interact with and consume urban space?
The videos The Human Race and The Human Race – Behind The Scenes via Rama Allen and The MIll.
Today while trawling the web I stumbled on this promo for an early MMO from 1986 called Habitat. Produced by Lucasfilm Games in collaboration with online service provider Quantum Link the game provided for real-time interaction between Commodore 64 users via dial-up modem. The advert repeatedly assures potential players of the possibilities for fast paced ‘drama and adventure’, but its hard to get that sense from the in game footage. The appeal of the game likely had more to do with the novelty of synchronous interaction between players in a persistent and graphically represented online environment. To that point online MUDs had tended to be text based.
I love the way the players’ interactions are presented in the video. Combined with the jaunty music and voice over they seem jarringly innocent. At the same time the implications of their interactions weirdly presage the tensions and less comfortable aspects of online interaction today. While stealing another avatar’s head is totally fair game [IT TOTALLY IS!], the suggestion that an armed robbery in the game might be averted by a trip to the sauna…from the perspective of a critical reading there’s a lot going on there. I believe today’s augmented audiences are a little less naive.
The game and its advert are wonderful artefacts from the perspective of media archeology, not only insofar as the game is a precursor to today’s MMOs, but also as it relates to the wider context of early developments in online communities, virtual environments and social media. The Museum of Art and Digital Entertainment (MADE) have obtained the original source code from Lucasfilm Games in an attempt to preserve and restore the game in working condition. The code is available on GitHub here.
Both the advert and the game provide wonderful artefacts for critical reading and media archeologies. The Museum of Art and Digital Entertainment (MADE) have obtained the original source code from Lucasfilm Games in an attempt to preserve and restore the game in working condition. The code is available on GitHub here.