Be My VRalentine
For Valentine’s Day we’d like to share this floaty experience we produce for our friends and loved ones.
Check this link to transport yourself into a lighter than air scene. Desktop and mobile devices are fine, but VR headsets yield the full 360 experience. Go full screen and 4k!
VR360 can be quite technical, especially in all its flavors, but that doesn’t mean we can’t use it to invoke sweet emotions. As media producers, it’s important we focus on the final sentiment we want to convey and not get caught up in using technology for technologies sake.
Mechanism Digital’s team has been producing spherical content for about two decades and I have very much enjoyed pushing the evolution 360 media to its current forms. In the beginning we produced spherical imagery with the use of nodal tripods allowing a few dozen photographs to be shot one at a time and placed into an array that share the same no-parallax point or “entrance pupil”. In other words, the camera was carefully rotated between each shutter release to capture every angle of the environment from a single point in space. These photos would then be “Stitched” together in or workstations software resulting in a single file to be viewed in QuickTime as a QTVR file or even some Java formats for web allowing the viewer to pan around the scene in all directions including up and down.
The last few years the media and hardware has made great leaps into the motion/video world allowing action to happen all around the viewer by shooting with multiple video or film cameras. One of the challenges with video is multiple cameras (typically 2 to 16 cameras in a rig) can’t all use the same exact no-parallax point as the laws of physics still state that two objects (or cameras) cannot occupy the same space at the same time. The bigger the cameras, the further apart the lenses are physically mounted which causes double vision as objects get close to the camera rig. The challenge has been to use smaller cameras smaller without compromising quality.
As a VFX and digital animation studio, Mechanism Digital takes advantage of working “virtually” in the computer where we can actually have all camera at the same center focal point at the same time and therefore render mathematically perfect spherical images every time and we don’t even have to paint out the tripod! Objects can be close or far without any parallax problems and can easily export stereoscopic content which requires double the number of cameras. 360/VR Computer Generated Imagery (CGI) video is perfect for taking your audience where you can’t put a camera. We use CGI for medical education inside the human body at the microscopic scale, architectural visualizations, or for telling stories with animated characters and talking animals. For projects requiring live action we regularly use creative techniques to combine real actors and CGI elements taking advantage of the best of both worlds. Visual effects and graphics can be added all around the viewer as well which definitely adds a new dimension to storytelling.
For the Valentine’s Balloon project we used our proven mulit-phase design process which includes mood boards, style frames and even 360 storyboards to nail down the overall look, feel and animation of the experience. Our 3D balloon models were modified and painted/textured by our artists but we decided not to animate them by hand, but rather use the random precision of particle motion with Maya’s dynamics simulations to give the balloons a realistic wobble and rotation. The balloon geometry was parented to these individual particles and cached out to render on our render farm without having to perform particle run-ups for every frame.
The clouds required the most research and experimentation time to develop their look. Our lead artist and designer Fangge Chen spent a couple days testing the shapes and working on ways to bring render times down as Valentine’s day wouldn’t wait for the long render times that are common with smoke simulations. We settled on settings that looked great with for wispy edges and would calculate on our render farm in time for V-day.
We decided not to produce this project in stereoscopic as the format was not supported by all devices and we wanted the experience to be viewed by as many friends and colleagues as possible with and easy distribution. You can view on a standard computer with click/drag around to look in all directions, but the most dramatic effect is when using a headset like the Oculus Go.
The project was fun for the whole studio and pushing the envelope further always adds to our experience which we apply to future client projects. Even with the additional render time and technical needs that come with VR, we are excited about many upcoming projects we are doing this year.
If you haven't yet, please check out the final Valentine’s Balloons video here: