The planning of a theater production, a film production, or an animation film is complex and expensive: Numerous ideas are developed, tested and then in many cases rejected. When producing actually starts, many details have to be reshaped because they come across differently in reality than was hoped for in the previsualization phase (“previs”).In the frame of the “first.stage” EU project, eight partners have developed a virtual reality application that makes the previs phase significantly simpler. “A comprehensive evaluation of the project results has shown that virtual reality (VR) can help the creative producers save time and money in all of the analyzed areas,” explains Thomas Münder, the supervisor of the project located within the Center for Computing Technologies (TZI).
The software, which was developed under the direction of the TZI at the University of Bremen, will now be advanced to market readiness by the British project partner Moviestorm and a test version is be available in 2020. Parallel to this, the TZI scientists have used the project to research the intuitive interaction of application users with VR technologies.
Systems Usable without Previous Knowledge
The project consortium has developed several function-based prototypes and compiled them within the first.stage system. Some of the central functions are the importing of objects, persons, or vehicles, which can be placed and animated within the desired scene in the virtual world. The users can also incorporate special effects such as explosions, fire, or moving waters with little effort. “The system is made so that it can also be used easily by persons without any programing knowledge,” explains Münder.
At the Linz State Theatre, which tested the VR application by using it for five productions, a lighting technician was one of the most frequent users. first.stage made it possible for him to develop the set in a virtual world and then test different light colors and lighting angles in order to create the desired atmosphere. This saves a great deal of time and the real stage can be used for other rehearsals – a significant improvement for large theaters, as their stages are usually continually booked.
For film producers such as the project partner Vogel Audiovision, the appeal of first.stage is that the involved persons can jointly design scenes in advance, even when they are geographically separated. Moreover, the realistic previsualization also help to speed up the processes during the actual filming, as there is less chance of there being surprises. For example, the system makes it possible to test differing camera perspectives and to film real film scenes in virtual reality. Directors can use these scenes to make their wishes clear to their teams.
In the evaluation, the arx anima animation studio reported that they had had a positive experience. They see particular potential in the opportunity to try out many creative ideas in a short time and test their effect. This working step is completed far more quickly with first.stage than was possible beforehand.
Scientists Research Intuitive Behavior in Virtual Reality
The TZI placed their scientific focus on the question of how VR technologies can be designed so that users without any previous experience can be helped by the software. A successful approach: “The test persons were able to easily find their bearings when they were able to build the scenes using real objects – much like a dollhouse. A real Lego person can, for example, portray a fictional person. The first.stage user can then grab said ‘person’ and place them in the desired position whilst watching the scene with the VR glasses,” according to Münder.
Alongside the named project partners, the companies Next Limit Technologies, Rokoko, and Info Consult were involved in first.stage. Currently, a further development of the system in order to incorporate functions from the areas of artificial intelligence and augmented reality is in discussion.
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