ILMxLAB is the experimental division of Lucasfilm’s VFX house, Industrial Light & Magic, and it’s the division that remains extremely bullish on the VR market. In fact, it’s so convinced that VR is the next frontier that the company is currently experimenting with large GPU arrays of up to eight cards in order to bring photorealistic graphics to virtual reality.
Virtual reality is widely considered one of the most important emerging storytelling techniques available to filmmakers and it’s clear to see Lucasfilm is extremely interested in the technology.
Lucasfilm has invested in HP Z Workstations equipped with NVIDIA Quadro professional GPUs. Using NVIDIA VRWorks VR SLI technology, which allows multiple GPUs to be assigned to specific eyes, ILMxLab dramatically accelerated stereo rendering.
“VR SLI has nearly doubled our rendering power and allows us to create higher fidelity renderings,” says ILMxLAB principal engineer and technology development lead Lutz Latta.
ILMxLAB was specifically created as the laboratory for immersive entertainment at Industrial Light & Magic. It is expected that the division will develop, produce and release premium, story-based immersive experiences for the home, cinema and public venues. ILMxLAB’s stated goal is to enable to people ‘to step inside our stories’.
“As we cloud-streamed a movie to a tablet, the black bars around the movie disappeared and the viewer was suddenly immersed into an entirely interactive CG world,” says Lutz.
“It was an example of where VR was heading and how we could find new opportunities for storytelling and engaging the fans of our own stories.”
Lucasfilm has already released Star Wars content on the SteamVR platform, available on HTC Vive, but it wants to go further.
“There is a fine line between a VR video game and an interactive cinematic experience that engages users in the story,” adds Lutz.
“We want engagement with the story and the world it plays in, but less of the competitive nature of a video game. Trials on Tatooine was our first step in creating something meaningful.”
ILMxLAB is already talking about how to repurpose offline rendered movie-quality assets for real-time rendering in the sub-11 milliseconds per frame necessary for VR.
“We’re experimenting with using four to eight NVIDIA graphics cards working together for rendering,” Lutz says. “We’re also closing the gap between creating movie assets and VR assets with an eye towards continually increasing frame rates.”
It has been predicted that VR technology could help kill off home theatres, as users look for an even more immersive experience. A move into photorealistic graphics for VR content would definitely help in making VR even more enticing.