Making a film or a play is expensive, often requiring the presence of large teams of creative workers for long periods in studios or on stage or set. But eight European partners have together developed intuitive software that uses virtual reality to help creative people pre-visualise their ideas before spending more time and money on them. Developed under the supervision of the Center for Computing Technologies (TZI) at the University of Bremen, Germany, the software is being commercialised by British project partner Moviestorm. The software is currently in closed beta state and will be available later this year. “Our goal was to design a system that can be easily used by people who don’t have any programming experience,” says project leader Rainer Malaka, head of the digital media lab at TZI.
The software uses virtual reality glasses to allow the user to see herself in a virtual space and directly grab objects using virtual reality hand controllers. “In contrast to traditional 3D content creation tools, all interaction with 3D content can be performed in the real 3D space, rather than with abstract 2D controls such as widgets,” explains Malaka. “This enables the user to interact with the content in a more natural way, which resembles how people interact with the real world.” The system incorporates tools to perform tasks like sketching and painting. A tablet worn on the user’s wrist offers additional controls. Since film and theatre productions involve large teams, there is an online repository where design and scene scripts can be saved and shared between crew members. During first.stage the partners tested the software on three real creative projects. Austrian animation partner arx anima created the preview for a trailer for a series about the adventures of a girl and her animal friend. Studio partner Vogel Audiovision made a pre-visualisation of a short commercial video, putting together a 3D recreation of a brewery tour that real actors would later film. “The realistic advance visualisation speeded up the actual shooting because there were fewer surprises,” says Thomas Münder, researcher at the TZI. The directors tested a wide variety of camera perspectives and used the 3D sequences to explain to their teams their key aims. The state theatre of Linz in Austria pre-visualised a variety of scenes for an upcoming opera. They used the sketching and measuring tools to see how scenes would look on stage, placing virtual actors on them. The lighting technician experimented with a variety of light colours and angles to create his desired atmosphere. “This saves a lot of time during which the real stage is available for other rehearsals,” says Münder. The TZI researchers also used the project to study how virtual reality technologies can best be employed to support inexperienced users, concluding real objects like Lego figures and doll’s houses help users understand virtual reality better. The testing allowed the partners to identify areas for improvement but overall they are convinced the software is better than anything currently on the market. “Most professional 3D design tools become hardly usable due to their complex nature and cluttered menus, leading to mental overload for many users,” says Münder.
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