Magic Leap, the secretive Hollywood, Florida-based augmented reality startup, just landed a literal blockbuster of a partnership. At Wired’s Business Conference in New York City on Thursday, Magic Leap chief Rony Abovitz announced a multiyear collaboration with Lucasfilm’s xLab, the movie house’s division focused on virtual reality platforms, to produce Star Wars content for Magic Leap’s as yet unrevealed hardware.
The partnership is hardly a token effort. It will see the creation of a joint lab at the San Francisco headquarters of Industrial Light and Magic, Lucasfilm’s special effects division, which host “researchers,” “programmers,” and a handful of members of Lucasfilm’s Story Group writers.
“I’ve never seen anything where we’ll be innovating on both a creative and technological level in such close proximity,” xLab executive Vicki Dobbs Beck told Wired. “I’ve spent 24 years at ILM, but I cannot recall anything that looks or feels like this.”
Magic Leap published a video of what form the collaboration might take: computer-generated representations of Star Wars’ C3PO and R2D2 projected onto the floor of an apartment living room. It’s an interactive story, of sorts: The wearer’s tasked with avoiding storm troopers commanded by space gangster Jabba the Hutt, who isn’t pleased about the (presumably unpaid) status of “Captain Solo’s debt.”
At one point, R2D2 projects a hologram onto a real-life table: a miniature Millennium Falcon taking flight from the table’s surface life table and evading an army of TIE Fighters before making a light-speed getaway.
Magic Leap describes the experience and others like it as “Mixed Reality Lightfields” — seamless, immersive blends of real-life and virtual objects. “[They’re the] best of the practical world and the best of the digital world,” said Lucasfilm’s vice president of new media Rob Brewdow in a press release, but Abovitz describes them a bit more fantastically. “[Mixed Reality Lightfields are] whole new medium … designed to harness the power off your imagination and take you to places you never thought possible,” he told Wired.
And Thursday’s Star Wars demo is only the beginning, apparently. “We built some really crazy moments,” Abovitz said, “one-to-one scale ships and characters, things where you suddenly feel like you’re there. I could be looking at somebody, and there’s also a ship taking off and a droid running around — like you walked onto the set, but it’s all real.”
The partnership between Magic Leap and Lucasfilm was born of a mutual interest, from the sound of it. According to Wired, Industrial Light and Magic’s creative director, John Gaeta, reached out to Abovitz through social media. The two met at Magic Leap’s headquarters in Florida, and while the tech wasn’t perfect — the ungainly prototype gained the nickname “The Beast” among Magic Leap’s employees — it was enough to impressive Gaeta.
“I experienced something I’d never in my life experienced,” he said. “I was able to look at a computer-generated construct, focus along the length of it at any point, and it would abide by my natural eye focus.” After subsequent visits by ILM engineers, Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy, and general manager Lynwen Brennan, an agreement was inked on paper.
The deal with Lucasfilm isn’t Magic Leap’s first foray into content, exactly. New Zealand-based special effects studio Weta Workshop teamed with the company several years ago to produce augmented games and movies (Weta Workshop’s co-founder and CEO, Sir Richard Taylor, serves as both a Magic Leap board member and the company’s Arts Ambassador to China). But Star Wars is a far bigger step toward the company’s goal of building out a library of experiences that’ll attract mainstream attention. Simply put, experiences featuring a franchise as beloved and recognizable as Star Wars — the latest movie in the long-running film franchise, The Force Awakens, grossed more than $2 billion worldwide — are bound to turn heads.
Magic Leap’s technology, which the company has yet to reveal publicly, has been described as a “head-mounted virtual retinal display” that superimposes computer-generated objects onto real-world ones by projecting light into the user’s eyes. The nascent company has offices in Los Angeles, Seattle, Austin, the U.K., New Zealand, and Israel, and has attracted more than $1 billion in seed funding from Google, Legendary Entertainment, and others. Most recently, it invited 10 hand-picked developers to program apps for Magic Leap’s platform, and announced a tentative mass-production date for its devices: this summer.
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