With 3D coming to market aggressively, both in the movie theater and at home on 3D TVs, it got me wondering what was likely to be next. After listening to DreamWorks CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg speak on 3D technology the other day, it would seem that the real ramp for 3D will come with TVs that don’t require glasses. They should arrive at good price points sometime around 2018 to 2020, so we have a bit of a wait. Still, it is fun to break out the crystal ball every once in a while, and look forward beyond even that.
Let’s talk about what comes after 3D in entertainment. It’s likely a stronger blend of gaming, movies, and virtual reality.
One of the first compelling 3D demonstrations I have seen was from PhaseSpace. The company’s technology allows actors to wear sensor suites and translate their actions, real time, into animated characters. To do this level of work for commercials and movies typically costs between $1,000 and $10,000 a second. PhaseSpace’s solution costs about $10 a second. While it clearly wasn’t Avatar quality yet, and would require some post editing to clean it up, the concept of people being able to enter the movies they watch, or eventually being able to create 3D movies with pocket change, could dramatically alter both what we watched and how we interacted with it.
I could see a partial gaming solution, such as a head-mounted controller which would move your character’s head and lips when you spoke in-game. I really hate typing in game, and vastly prefer speaking. You could even include voice-altering technology to help add to the special effects.
What is really cool is the aforementioned technology, coupled with “virtual cameras,” which are really similar to iPads. These allow the director to walk around, look at the tablet, and see into the movie world from all angles. I can picture future head-mounted displays, or augmented-reality setups that could combine these concepts into some really interesting participatory experiences.
DreamWorks has showcased a next-generation technology that allowed it to move high-definition rendered images real time. Historically, animators using computer animation had to work with hundreds of controls to make one minor move, then send the result out to a render farm for a day to see what the result looked like. The task looked way too much like work to me, and the skill it takes to do this is unbelievable.
New technology from Intel and HP allows them to re-imagine how this is done, and animators will be able to move a character and render it in real time. This will not only cut millions of dollars out of production costs, but allow animators to experiment with more things. Right now, if it takes several hours to make a move, and then a day of expensive computer time to render it, no one wants to take chances for fear they will screw up the production schedule and budget.
In real time, HD rendering now begins to take us to a place where we might be able to do an Avatar-like immersive movie or game where you could move around the environment much as if it was a real place, and not a movie. The experience would feel much like get now with games, but at cut-scene resolutions and reality levels.
The Next Big Thing: Crowd Sourced Movies and Immersive HD Games
These two ideas aren’t mutually exclusive. In fact, it isn’t hard to imagine that an immersive game, properly cut and directed, couldn’t actually be an interesting movie. Some people might want to create, while others watch the result. Some people, like this group that did a Star Wars piece, are already messing with the idea of doing crowd-sourced movies (it clearly has a long way to go). William Shatner may actually be working on what looks like a crowd-sourced project on myouterspace.com, also anticipating this change.
When you combine the ability to immediately translate real actors into high-definition, animated, photo-realistic characters, in realistic, real-time-rendered environments, and view them all in their total glory, in real time, you have the potential to bend gaming and movies in a way that we may not be able to tell the difference.
The really big inventions weren’t devices like iPads or even TVs; they were the printing press, sound equipment, cameras, video cameras, color video cameras, and finally 3D cameras and the eco-systems that surrounded them. TVs and iPads are part of those eco-systems, but it was the content, not the viewing device, that made the result compelling.
The computing power we are seeing coupled with the imaginations of folks in places like Disney, DreamWorks, Intel, and HP is creating the opportunity for a new world of adventures that will make movies like Avatar, as wonderful as they are, pale in comparison. And games. Oh, the games.
Big things like this happen only a few times each century. What is the next big thing in entertainment that you think will eclipse 3D?