Hollywood North integrates cinema, immersive digital worlds

Leveraging BC’s technological expertise to integrate cinema with immersive digital worlds

Vancouver has cultivated a reputation as a city capable of transforming into anything from Pyongyang in The Interview to Mumbai in the Mission: Impossible franchise.

Now, new advances in technology for the metaverse have film studios asking Vancouver to transform into just about anything imaginable.

“Vancouver makeup, sort of a mix of Hollywood North with the strong mixed reality group that we have, we think is the ideal location,” said James Hursthouse, CEO of Departure Lounge Inc.

His British Columbia company recently partnered with Los Angeles-based Metastage Inc., which will launch a facility at the Digital Media Center along Great Northern Way that specializes in volumetric capture technology from Microsoft Corp.

Facilities equipped for volumetric capture can deploy more than 100 cameras to photograph people and objects from multiple angles at once before stitching those images together into a 3D representation.

A movie extra can walk into one of these facilities where their body is scanned and a 3D image of them can be inserted into the background of a busy crowd scene in a hockey arena instead of requiring hundreds of extras to fill the steps. Or, scans of people and objects, known as digital twins, can be used for gaming, VR, or business applications like training simulations.

The metaverse refers to an evolution of the Internet, in which immersive digital worlds replace 2D screens for everyday interactions like shopping or hanging out with friends. Put on a pair of virtual reality goggles or hold a smartphone to your eyeline and users can chat with their real estate agent in real time as they tour a digital twin of a home on the market.

“Increasingly… we are seeing human performance captured using the volumetric stage and then brought into television and film production in post-production.[-production]said Hursthouse, whose company is expected to open the Metastage Canada facility by the summer.

Microsoft Corp. agrees to the effort, allowing Metastage to be the exclusive licensee of its volumetric capture technology in Western Canada.

Metastage has been implementing volumetric capture for just over three years in Los Angeles, where Hollywood productions have taken advantage of the technology, and Hursthouse said the Vancouver joint venture has already received inquiries from companies that want to use it here.

The film industry was worth $3.3 billion to the BC economy in the 2020-21 fiscal year, up 13 percent from $2.9 billion the previous year, according to the Canadian Association of Producers’ 2021 Profile report. of Media (CMPA) published earlier this month.

Most of BC’s production activity was concentrated in foreign service work for Hollywood movies and television shows, generating $2.7 billion. That’s 52 percent of all foreign service work done in Canada last year.

“Virtual production is huge right now in all studios,” said Mary Lim, education manager and program development lead at the Vancouver Film School (VFS).

The film school launched a VR/AR design and development diploma program in April 2019, and students have worked on client projects that have harnessed virtual reality to help train some 200 medical students at the University. from British Columbia.

It also recently partnered with Tesla Inc. on a training simulation for its auto manufacturing workers that covers everything from operating equipment to assembling parts.

Beyond Capture Studios, which specializes in the same kind of motion capture technology that brought The Lord of the Rings character Gollum to the big screen, is based on the VFS campus in Gastown, and Lim said that the students have been able to use the company’s facilities. as part of their learning.

“A former production design instructor from our film program approached me to see if I could audit some of the [classes] on the show because I wanted to learn more,” she said. “There is definitely a need.”

In the meantime, Hursthouse said Vancouver’s mix of gaming, animation and film expertise will continue to attract business partners who may only be able to find in-depth knowledge in one or two of those sectors in other cities.

“All of these things come together and it’s really the perfect storm for volumetric capture.” •

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