ILMxLAB Discuss Pioneering VR Storytelling with Star Wars and Beyond

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Ben Lang sits down with John Gaeta and Vicki Beck to discuss Lucasfilm’s focus on immersive storytelling with the formation of ILMxLab last year, and their constant experimentation in the immersive entertainment space.

Lucasfilm’s ILMxLab are optimistic, perhaps even bullish, about the future of immersive storytelling and entertainment. Sitting down with John Gaeta, Executive Creative Director and Vicki Beck, Executive in Charge, Strategic Planning at GDC in March, Ben Lang discusses the division’s work. “We see a time where millions and millions and millions of people are trying these experiences,” says Gaeta on the future of the platform ILMxLab was set up to help define (full video interview embedded at the top of this page).

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ILMxLab was formed last year in the wake of exponentially increasing interest in the rapidly evolving immersive entertainment space. Ostensibly a division focused on experimentation, they are pioneering the language and framework for story-focused virtual and augmented reality production, and they just to happen to have access to some of the most beloved movie franchises around.

On that subject of the rich trove of intellectual at the lab’s disposal, in the form of Lucasfilm’s most popular franchises – Star Wars and beyond – Gaeta is quite clear that the lab isn’t interested in milking those beloved IPs in VR and AR just for the sake of it. “We think that immersive platforms like VR and AR are not to be left in the realm of marketing fodder only, we think that that is a platform unto itself, an equal to cinema for example – or it will be at some point,” an encouraging standpoint in the wake of a seemingly endless wave of VR-centric marketing initiatives.

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But where does VR and AR fit into the existing cinema landscape? Gaeta speaks of an interesting symbiosis whereby production of virtual, immersive counterpart projects would begin before production of a traditional cinematic work. “We think that some of the

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greatest storytellers right now are making cinema and making games, ” Gaeta says, “they need to be brought through perhaps a new process in that which they already make to start developing the sensibility and behaviours to create for immersive platforms.” Gaeta continues “We’re very interested in changing the way films are made for example, to step inside films before they’re made,” he says, alluding to a more integrated relationship between traditional media and its virtual counterpart, “a filmmaker could go about and make their story and we can essentially create a virtual counterpart or replica of that which they make … we can then step inside the cinema that they create …”

To get VR and AR to the levels of creative parity with cinema however, Gaeta recognises that we’re not quite there yet. “… to get to that level of depth we have a lot of preparation to to,” Gaeta says, “we’re in the Thomas Eddison days, it really is like that, but at some point it will be taken over by the next generation of auteurs …”

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“I think we’re really interested in the extended storytelling opportunities, so we’re interested in more episodic type of experiences where you can really explore and engage with that whole world.” says Beck, “That engagement in time may well look a lot like a game.” She also acknowledges this won’t just happen overnight however, “We’re also developing a whole new language around this and so a lot of people are trying to use worlds that they understand from our existing base of knowledge, you know game, story. But I think because it’s an entirely new platform, we are going to have an entirely new language … something we haven’t currently identified.”

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As for what we can expect in terms of forthcoming immersive projects based on those beloved movie franchises, Gaeta teases “We’re actively in development right now with some premium pilot pieces.” Watch this space.