Weta, Epic Games Create 'The Hobbit' CG Virtual Reality Experience

The user comes face to face with the dragon Smaug.
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Epic Games and Peter Jackson’s Weta Digital are premiering a three-minute virtual reality experiment loosely based on Jackson’s film The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Wednesday at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco.

The story is set in the treasure hall where Bilbo meets the dragon Smaug in the film’s climax. For the VR experience, demoed on the Oculus Rift Crescent Bay prototype VR headset, the user has the point of view a burglar such as Bilbo, and comes face to face with Smaug.

Hollywood has already been exploring the potential of creating VR content based on movies; several examples, such as Fox’s Wild VR experience, were photographed using 360-degree camera systems.

This Hobbit test was created to examine the potential of CG experiences, in this case running on Epic’s Unreal Engine 4 for real-time rendering. “It allows you to realize virtual worlds. This was about how can you take a fully digital character and put it into the real-time [CG] domain,” Epic’s CTO Kim Libreri, a vet from VFX houses Digital Domain and Industrial Light & Magic, told The Hollywood Reporter. “The dragon is talking and emoting. Smaug’s face up close to you is a really emotional experience.”

To develop the content, Weta created new CG of Smaug, with a performance customized for the VR demo. “This was an exploration for us. We did a lot of work on our real-time pipeline for features, and [this was an] opportunity to experiment with VR technology. [Unreal Engine 4] made this quite easy,” Alasdair Coull, Weta Digital head of R&D and project lead, told THR.

The dragon’s dialogue is taken from the film, for which Smaug was voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch.

On the potential of CG and VR, Libreri recalled the excitement when Jurassic Park was made, saying, “the same pioneering feeling is back again. … This is a new revolution for entertainment [requiring] very high-end visual storytelling.”

Email: Carolyn.Giardina@THR.com
Twitter: @CGinLA

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