U.K. Agency Invests in VFX House to Create Virtual Reality Content

Figure Digital Camera - H 2014
Courtesy of Drive Worldwide

Figure Digital Camera - H 2014

U.K.-based marketing agency Drive Worldwide has taken a 40 percent stake in London-based facility CherryCherry VFX, with the aim of producing cinematic virtual reality content for Oculus Rift and Sony Project Morpheus headgear.

CherryCherry VFX, which also has a base in Istanbul, was launched in 2010 by VFX vets Tony Landais, formerly of Glassworks, and Nico Cotta, who has served as a VFX supervisor or artist at companies such as Framestore and MPC. 

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Drive's swoop for a VFX facility follows hard on the heels of its acquisition earlier this month of British VR production equipment specialist Figure Digital.

Interest in VR has skyrocketed since Facebook's $2 billion purchase of Oculus Rift and Drive's own research projects that 20 percent of households in the Western world will own a VR headset by 2017.

?”Our group vision is about creating a synergy between VFX, live experience and the technology that surrounds it whether that's 3D, augmented reality or wearable computing,” Ben Fender, Drive founder and CEO, told The Hollywood Reporter. “This puts us at the forefront of creating content and experiences for this emerging technology and for the future of experience.”

Over and above the use of VR for experiential marketing, Drive has ambitions to produce longform, live-action, 360-degree video. It believes there is a huge market in waiting.

“Even more exciting than animated VR is the opportunity around longform VR filmmaking,” said Fender. “Virtual reality is going to create new ways of experiencing cinema. Our plan is to move from an agency purely creating live marketing experiences to a company producing cinematic productions for the consumer.”

He revealed that Drive has three longform projects in the pipeline with U.S. production partners that will come to fruition over the next 12 to 16 months.

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“The grail is photorealism,” added Fender. “We aim to create a much more photoreal immersive experience and the only way to achieve that is with a quallity 360-degree camera and post workflow.”

WIth the acquisition of Figure Digital, Drive believes it now has the camera it needs to produce cinematic-quality 360-degree video. This "Panopticon" device (pictured above) comprises a 3D-printed spherical casing housing 36 HD video cameras. It's currently in development and being reworked with real-time image stitching algorithms to aid the editing of VR.

“The partnership with Drive and with Figure Digital opens up more opportunities for us to offer our clients new digital tools like augmented and virtual reality alongside traditional VFX like compositing and animation,” said CherryCherry's Cotta.

Companies including Hollywood studios, broadcasters and game developers are exploring the potential of VR as a new avenue for entertainment.

“VR is not a fad,” said Fender. “It is more and more of an important media form because we trying to create experiences where you can be part of something completely real. Unlike a TV or cinema screen — which is a rectangle on a wall and experienced much like you would look at a painting in a gallery — VR breaks the fourth wall and encompasses all of your senses. It manipulates your reality.”