Dizzying ‘Assassin’s Creed’ VR experience drops you into the Spanish Inquisition

Video games just weren’t enough when it comes to Assassin’s Creed.

Ubisoft’s franchise, which has sold over 80 million copies worldwide, has a big budget feature film opening Dec. 21, starring Michael Fassbender.

But why wait until then? Fans can step into the live action world of the movie now through the Assassin’s Creed VR Experience. It can be viewed on Facebook 360 now, but is also part of an in-theater AMC tour using Oculus Rift and Alienware Aurora PCs. It’s playing at select AMC theaters in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Austin, and New York City. through the first of January, 2017.

Although the experience does feature a cameo from Fassbender, who produced the feature film and stars as Aguilar, Matthew Lewis, CEO and founder of Practical Magic, told DigitalTrends that the VR experience introduces a new character to the franchise.

“The identity of the viewer’s character is intentionally left somewhat ambiguous — but needless to say, the viewer is an Assassin, and finds themselves in a situation that requires them to put their Assassin skills to good use,” Lewis said.

360-degree action, all in one take

The five-minute sequence focuses on the Spanish Inquisition. Practical Magic shot Fassbender in London on set at Pinewood Studios, which is where you’ll get an up-close 360-degree view of the new Animus created for the film, as well as in Malta. The team used drones and cameras to capture the sets during production.

“The Assassin’s Creed games influenced the entire process, not just the fighting styles.”

“We based the script for the VR experience in the world of the film, and spent time on set in several countries making sure our experience would be as in-sync as possible with Justin (Kurzel’s) film,” Lewis said.

But the bulk of the VR experience was filmed in Los Angeles, in order to get up-close-and-personal with a cast of over 50 actors.

“Shooting large-scale 360 scenes with a lot of actors can be challenging for a number of reasons, some of which are rather practical — where do you put your equipment? How do you light it?” Lewis said. “In our case, we used motion control systems to shoot certain scenes a ‘slice’ at a time, so we could break down large crowd scenes into smaller, controlled scenes.”

Just as the feature film draws inspiration from the unique parkour and fighting elements that gamers are used to experiencing, this 360-degree story also taps into those interactive roots.

Lewis said filming action for VR has distinct challenges, the least of which fewer opportunities to cut footage.

“We took action cues from Justin’s film, but of course had to make a number of adjustments to make it work in VR,” Lewis said. “For example, when you have a 60-second-long fight scene with no cutting, and you have stunt actors doing all kinds of aerial tricks and kicking people out of windows — there’s no room for error. The scene has to be choreographed and shot as one continuous fight, and if anything goes wrong, the whole thing starts over.”

Paying respects to the franchise

There are also some Easter Eggs for gamers baked into this VR experience, something Kurzel is also doing with the feature film.

“The games influenced the entire process, not just the fighting styles, but all manner of subtle creative decisions,” Lewis said. “For example, there are a number of stealth Assassins in the VR experience that you might not even see until you’ve watched it a couple of times.”

Every time I’ve heard someone suggest steadfast rules […] I’ve just chuckled. There are no rules, yet.”

When fans watch the feature film, they’ll see a big screen Leap of Faith, which was shot with real stunt people and not the magic of CGI, according to Kurzel.

“We tried to do as much as possible in camera,” Kurzel said. “We’ve gone and shot in real locations, and I was determined for this film not to be a ‘car part film’ where you’re shooting on green screen and using post (production) to help you out. The wonderful thing about cinema is you can bring a 3D world to life by filming in real places. So it was important that it had its own tone and its own kind of dance, while embracing the DNA of the game.”

Lewis said creating the Leap of Faith in VR required a combination of techniques, including motion control, matte painting, and a live-action plate of Fassbender shot on stage in London. All of these elements were put together into one long shot by VFX artists at Practical Magic in Burbank.

“We had to be very careful to make that scene work without making people fall over while watching it,” Lewis said.

Only a beginning

Practical Magic partnered with AMD to bring the cinematic world to VR through Oculus Rift. According to Roy Taylor, who heads up the AMD Radeon Technologies Group (RTG) studio team in Hollywood, the more cameras you have running at higher resolutions, the better the 360 will be. But each step up in resolution creates additional demands on the computation needed for editing and stitching.

“If you can see the stitch then the sense of immersion is lost,” Taylor told DigitalTrends. “So the stitching software is an essential tool.” This demand is what lead to the creation of Radeon Pro Solid State Graphics (SSG), which allows editing of RAW 8K video in real time at up to 93 frames per second. Beginning in January, AMD is partnering with Radiant Images, one of Hollywood’s leading 360 camera companies, to deliver SSG solutions to filmmakers. Fox and Practical Magic had early access to this technology for Assassin’s Creed VR.

assassinscreedvr_head

“There are a lot of ways to experience VR and 360 video now, and frequently you’ll find the better hardware you have, the better the experience,” Lewis said. “That’s certainly true for Assassin’s Creed VR, which we’re distributing at 60 FPS (frames per second) in 4K. Watching it at low-resolution, or on a hamstrung system, just breaks my heart.”

And this is just the beginning of 360-degree storytelling.

“We’re in the Pong era of VR, which is an exciting time to be a part of any emerging art form or technology,” Lewis said. “Filmmakers are just beginning to translate their talents into the language of VR, and it’s all blue sky as far as I’m concerned. Every time I’ve heard someone suggest steadfast rules about what you can and can’t do in VR or 360 I’ve just chuckled to myself. There are no rules, yet.”

Movies & TV

Why First Man’s Oscar-nominated visual effects are a giant leap for filmmaking

Paul Lambert, the award-winning visual effects supervisor on First Man, reveals the innovative techniques that blended old footage with modern movie magic to make the Apollo 11 mission to the moon resonate with audiences 50 years later and…
Movies & TV

How Avengers: Infinity War’s Oscar-nominated VFX team made Thanos a movie star

The purple-skinned Thanos proved to be a breakout character in Avengers: Infinity War, thanks to the work of actor Josh Brolin and visual effects studios Digital Domain and Weta. Here's how they brought him to life and earned the film an…
Movies & TV

The best movies you’ll find on Hulu right now (February 2019)

From dramas to blockbusters, Hulu offers some great films to its subscribers. Check out the best movies on Hulu, whether you're into charming adventure tales or gruesome horror stories.
Movies & TV

J.J. Abrams wraps production on Star Wars: Episode IX with a heartfelt message

Star Wars: The Force Awakens director J.J. Abrams has wrapped production on Star Wars: Episode IX, which he directed and co-wrote. Here's everything we know about the movie before it premieres in December 2019.
Gaming

The best VR headsets at CES 2019 could bring the technology to the mainstream

While there weren't a ton of new VR headset on display at CES 2019, the ones we saw led us to believe that VR could have a real moment soon, both from a gaming and business standpoint.
Gaming

These are the coolest virtual and augmented reality gadgets from CES 2019

CES 2019 had plenty of VR and AR gadgets on display, including headsets that completely change how you experience virtual reality, and some that don't even require a PC or a phone to run.
Gaming

These shoes let me stroll through ‘Skyrim,’ and I desperately want to go back

After being funded in just two hours on Kickstarter back in October 2018, Cybershoes has earned itself a place among the coolest VR walking and running tech. At CES 2019, we got to try them out and they live up to the hype.
Gaming

The Teslasuit could turn Black Mirror’s terrifying ‘Playtest’ into a reality

We spoke with Teslasuit co-founder Dimitri Mikhalchuk about VR gaming at CES 2019. With all its features, the future of the Teslasuit and virtual reality look bright. And it also sounds a bit like a Black Mirror episode.
Computing

Could the next Microsoft HoloLens be announced at MWC 2019?

After not having a presence at Mobile World Congress for three years, Microsoft is now sending out media invites for a press conference on February 24 during the annual event in Barcelona. Could a next-generation HoloLens be on the way?
Gaming

Immerse yourself in a new universe with these incredible PSVR games

The PSVR has surpassed expectations and along with it comes an incredible catalog of games. There's plenty of amazing experiences to be had so we've put together a list of the best PSVR games available today.
Gaming

Take a trip to a new virtual world with one of these awesome HTC Vive games

So you’re considering an HTC Vive, but don't know which games to get? Our list of 25 of the best HTC Vive games will help you out, whether you're into rhythm-based gaming, interstellar dogfights, or something else entirely.
Virtual Reality

Is the Vive Pro better than the original Vive? Our answer might surprise you

HTC Vive vs. Vive Pro, which comes out on top? That's the subject of our latest comparison, which looks at everything from tracking solutions, to controllers, and the brand new headset that could set a new standard for VR.
Computing

Samsung files a VR patent featuring a curved OLED display

Doubling down on its emphasis on curved displays, Samsung recently filed a design patent for a new virtual reality headset that could feature a curved OLED display, which would be an interesting development in VR.