EU project develops virtual reality application for theatre and film productions
Virtual reality glasses and newly developed software help directors, actors, stage designers and other participants to plan the scenes of a theatre or film production realistically in advance. The technology developed under the direction of the University of Bremen in the „first.stage“ project is also useful for animation studios. The EU funded the project with a total of 3 million euros within the framework programme Horizon 2020.
The planning of a theatre play, a film production or an animated film is complicated and expensive: numerous ideas are developed, tested and often discarded. When the actual production starts, many details still have to be redesigned, because in reality they have a different effect than expected in the pre-visualisation phase („previs“). As part of the EU „first.stage“ project, eight partners have now developed a virtual reality application that makes this previs phase noticeably easier. A comprehensive evaluation of the project results has shown that virtual reality (VR) can help creative professionals in all investigated areas to save time and money.
The software, which was developed under the direction of the Center for Computing Technologies (TZI) at the University of Bremen, is now being brought to market by the British project partner Moviestorm and should be available in a test version by 2020. At the same time, the TZI scientists used the project to investigate the intuitive interaction of users with VR technologies.
System can be used without previous experience
The project consortium has developed numerous prototypes of functions and brought them together in the first.stage system. Core functions include the import of objects, people or vehicles that can be put together and animated in the virtual world to create the desired scene. Users can also add special effects such as explosions, fires or moving waters with little effort. „Our goal was to design a system that can be easily used by people who don’t have any programming experience,“ explains Thomas Münder, who is in charge of the project at TZI. For example, at the State Theatre Linz, which tested the VR solution during the preparations for five different productions, one lighting technician was among the most engaged users. first.stage enables him to recreate the stage set in the virtual world. He can then experiment with a wide variety of light colours and lighting angles in order to arrive at the desired atmosphere. This saves a lot of time in which the real stage is available for other rehearsals – a considerable benefit for large theatres where the stages are fully booked.
For film producers such as project partner Vogel Audiovision, first.stage is appealing because it allows participants to collaborate and create scenes in advance – without everyone needing to be in the same room. In addition, realistic advance visualisation helps to speed up the actual shooting because there are fewer surprises. The system makes it possible, for example, to test a wide variety of camera perspectives and record real film sequences in virtual reality. Directors can use these sequences to explain to their teams what matters to them most.
The animation studio arx anima also reported excellent experiences in the evaluation. The Austrian company cherishes the option to try out many creative ideas in a short time and test their viability. With first.stage, this step in the production process can be completed much faster than before.
Scientists investigate intuitive behaviour in virtual reality
The TZI placed the scientific emphasis on the question of how VR technologies can be designed so that even inexperienced users are supported as well as possible. One successful approach: Users got acquainted with the technology particularly quickly when they were able to build scenes with actual objects – comparable to a doll’s house. In the VR world, for example, a real Lego figure can represent a fictitious person who the first.stage user grasps with his hand and places in the desired position while observing the scene with VR glasses.
In addition to the project partners mentioned above, the companies Next Limit Technologies, Rokoko and Info Consult were also involved in first.stage. Further development of the system with added functionalities from the areas of artificial intelligence and augmented reality is currently under discussion.