The Holodeck on Star Trek produces a completely immersive environment, complete with solid objects and changing landscapes. We’re not there yet, but a couple of companies in Britain have made a stab at building something like it using a bunch of relatively simple projectors, Sony Move controllers, and some creative visual tricks.
The video shorts (below) were created to show off the immersive qualities of movies rented from Sony’s PlayStation Store. They were designed by Studio Output and Marshmallow Laser Feast (the latter created a giant virtual mountain on stage at a Lenny Kravitz concert). You won’t be able to duplicate what you see here, as one of the tricks used is a couple of guys in reflective Lycra suits. But what makes it interesting is that the videos were shot in one take, with no post-production tricks. A movie such as Avatar involves actors in suits against a blue screen and adding the details in post-production. (If you were actually on the set, you would see actors in the suits in a blank room).
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This system is different. The images on the walls are projected in such a way as to adjust to the geometry of the objects in the room — they would look wrong if projected on a flat surface — but that helps create the illusion that the surface itself has changed. Meanwhile, the PlayStation Move controllers were attached to the camera and fed its position back to the projectors in real time, which means the projectors can adjust for the distortion of the image. That allows the camera to move around.
Although you’d need to mount a set of projectors around a room to make this work at home, one early use for this could be the movie industry itself. Avatar cost about $237 million to make, and a part of that was the motion-capture and CGI technology used in the film. And those costs can sink a film: Mars Needs Moms, a Disney film that used motion capture technology to animate its CGI world, cost $150 million and bombed. (Even though CGI can be lot less expensive than using “real world” sets, the hardware to process all that can be pricey). The equipment showcased here costs a tiny fraction of the millions that go into that used big studio productions, and it looks nearly as good.
Image and video: Sony/ PlayStation 3