As the technology evolves and becomes more accessible, virtual reality (VR) is finding its way into unexpected places. The result means unlimited potential for creating completely immersive virtual environments for everything from designing cars in midair to building virtual film sets.
Vector Suite is leading the pack in that kind of 3D concept design. I talked with Neil Johnston—the company’s CEO and Founder—about how the technology is currently being used for supercar design as well as how it translates to video production.
Let’s start with the basics: What’s the difference between VR and 360 video?
I asked Johnston to explain this one as he would to a five-year-old. Maybe you already understand it, but true confession: I didn’t.
Johnston explained that “360 video is static. You are viewing [the space] from a single aspect ratio. If you walk forward or backward, [it] moves with you. You cannot enter into the space.”
“Virtual reality,” on the other hand, “allows you to be completely immersed inside a virtual environment using a headset that’s tracked by sensors. If you move forward and backward, you’re moving inside the space and can interact with it in real time.”
How does 3D design software work?
This video demonstrates the software in action with supercar company McLaren. Johnston explained that the traditional industrial design process starts with a sketch in Photoshop, moves on to the digital modeling team, and then goes on to a clay modeling department before any vehicle designs are approved. It’s an expensive and lengthy process.
Vector Suite shortens the design pipeline by taking the designs from photoshop straight to creating models in an accurate 3D space. This allows the team to evaluate whether the design works before spending any time in modeling software and clay.
How might VR technology apply to video production?
Johnston sees potential for VR technology to translate well to video production by allowing interactive storyboarding, simplifying communication and beyond.
Imagine being able to create your set, put on your goggles, and interact with it virtually. VR technology allows you to do just that. You could work out every framing, lighting, and lens challenge before stepping foot on set or spending any of your budget on filming. You could storyboard a production, place all the key players (DP, actors, etc.) into the scenes, and get an accurate idea of depth and how different ideas and players interact. You can even replay scenes and switch out lenses and camera locations until you get the result you want. Once you’ve worked it all out, you could still go ahead and film in the traditional way.
What if I want to film something that is hard to come by or nonexistent?
VR makes a problem into a possibility! The Mill's blackbird is a good example of technology that allows you to bring your asset to a set virtually. Johnston described that in the actual shoot, you see a “Batmobile-style car with a bunch of QR codes on it, but what the end user sees is a real car model that looks like it’s there.”
While a traditional setup would include a camera and a camera rig, the assets need to be digital to function in the 3D space. Another example is Unreal Engine’s real-time ray-tracing demo in Star Wars: Reflections.
We are headed toward camera technology that can actively pick up 3D models. That combined with technology that can do real-time production on the fly means the potential is unlimited.
Whoa. Are robots coming for my job?
In short, no.
Johnston recognizes that humans are resistant to change. “There’s an element of nostalgia in the Super 8 cameras and vinyl records,” he said, “but those who can adapt are the ones who will ultimately succeed.”
The game quarters allow you to have excellent control, but they don’t negate the lighting, framing, and creative skills of good old fashioned human beings. All of those are still necessary. If you want a crane shot, you use that skill to “tell it what to focus on and where to go. [The software] will take the info and spit out your shot.”
The potential for using VR for storytelling is vast. Johnston advises people to “Find or make new opportunities for yourself to make your skill set applicable inside this turbulent sea of change.”
He also offered advice that’s tried and true for anyone in any industry: “Don’t get too hung up on the threat of change. It might just bite your ass off.”
We couldn’t fit all the fantastic info into one post. Listen to the full interview.
Alicia Sample East is a producer, writer and office manager at Brave Voices Media—a full-service video production company specializing in documentary style storytelling.
We do to stories what salt does to a good dish—make it taste and feel more like itself. We are a DP (Joseph) and producer/office manager/writer (Alicia) and we work with a mighty network of audio technicians, colorists, composers and more. We specialize in true stories and believe amplifying voices—in partnership with people like you—is part of what we are on this earth to do.
Neil Johnston is CEO & Founder of Vector Suite. Vector Suite is a first-of-its-kind, design software for industrial design, facilitating the speedy creation of initial design concepts as a fast track to 3D through the use of immersive technologies. Neil owns one of Europe’s largest games industry focussed co-working spaces, and his use of games engine technologies for enterprise projects has flourished over recent years. Vector Suite’s first use case was announced through a ‘Pioneering Partnership’ with McLaren Automotive at the GREAT festival of innovation in Hong Kong. Vector Suite is now being used across the automotive industry with new use-cases underway in the wider industrial design sector including Architecture and Aeronautical design. Neil Resides in Guildford; a leafy suburb of London which also happens to be the ‘Hollywood’ of computer game production in Europe.