Hollywood Vets Discuss Potential of Immersive Technologies at Space Society Confab

Fox and Barco collaborator Ted Schilowitz offers update on Barco Escape; asserts that VR technology will create “iPod moment for video.”

Ted Schilowitz -- among the first employees of camera maker Red and now a “futurist” at Fox and “cinema-valgelist” at Barco -- reported that projector maker Barco is in the process of inking deals with major exhibitors in the U.S. and China, with an eye toward rolling out the company’s developing Escape theater system in the coming months.

Unveiled at CinemaCon in March, the tri-screen Cinerama-like theater configuration is one example of a move toward more immersive entertainment, which Schilowitz and additional speakers addressed this week at the 33rd annual International Space Development Conference, which runs through May 18 at the Sheraton Gateway Los Angeles.

Speakers see a lot of potential in the "transformative" Oculus Rift VR goggles -- whose launch is what Schilowitz called the “iPod moment for video. …This is storytelling at a whole new level.”

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He and other speakers at the conference believe immersive technology such as Oculus Rift could be the consumer gateway to space. And if it is, it will take filmmakers to create the content that will take us there.

That was the message of Phil "Captain 3D" McNally, an alum of DreamWorks Animation and Disney, who also spoke at the conference.

McNally -- wearing his new hat as stereoscopic supervisor at Condition One, a San Francisco-based startup that is developing live action narrative content for Oculus Rift -- warned that Hollywood effectively has an expertise in “3D to 2D conversion” as it brings the 3D world to 2D displays. But he emphasized that filmmakers need to keep in mind that a movie can be a 3D experience.

“3D immersion is going to get better as we understand how to make the content,” he said, adding that filmmakers will need to learn to develop these experiences without a frame and with a lens choice that is about creating a 360-degree view.

There also might be the potential in the not-too-distant future to view live imagery from space with new VR technology. NASA is now streaming live HD footage from the International Space Station over the Internet, which was demoed during the conference.

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Addressing the technical considerations, Tom Roberts of JPL related that to have an immersive experience that puts the viewer in space, there’s a need to collect 360-degrees of information and send it to Earth. “That’s a huge data volume that we have to transfer,” he warned, adding that data transfer capabilities need to expand, and JPL and NASA are both working in this area.

Also during the conference, which for the first time this year has a Space and Media conference track, several members of Hollywood’s VFX community discussed the research that goes into sci-fi movie effects. For instance, Bjorn Mayer, a VFX supervisor on Oblivion, offered a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the film's spaceship, which started with studying the design of the Space Shuttles and International Space Station, as well as consulting with experts, including former NASA astronaut Rick Searfoss.

During another session, a team from FutureDude Entertainment talked about its mission to combine entertainment with science education, using a transmedia approach for distribution. “There’s an opportunity through fiction to engage people [in science],” said comic book artist Christopher Jones, whose work has included Marvel Comics’ Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.

Jones is currently working on FutureDude’s Parallel Man, a comic book miniseries, mobile device video game, deck-builder game and animated short film that follows an intelligence agent from an evil version of America in an alternate universe. It’s slated to debut in October.

Email: Carolyn.Giardina@THR.com