Image courtesy Fxguide / Warner Bros Pictures

‘Ready Player One’ Behind-the-scenes Shows How Spielberg Used VR in Production

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As an official partner of Ready Player One, HTC has been using the film to highlight its VR wares. In addition to releasing several VR experiences inspired by the movie, the company has released a behind-the-scenes short showing how immersive virtual reality was used in the production process.

As blockbuster films increasingly rely on CGI, filmmakers have looked for better ways to visualize the virtual worlds that are eventually rendered for the final movie. Huge portions of Spielberg’s Ready Player One take place in a completely computer-generated virtual world (with fully digital characters), nearly 90 minutes of its 180 minute runtime, according to Fxguide.

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With so much of the film taking place in CGI, Spielberg and others were able to easily peer inside of virtual sets using consumer VR headsets during production. In doing so, the director, actors, and others were better able to visualize the virtual world that would eventually surround them in the film, informing performances, shots, and set design in real-time, according to a new behind-the-scenes short release by HTC:

Fxguide has a great detailed breakdown of Ready Player One’s production process, noting that Industrial Light & Magic produced everything in the film’s ‘Oasis’ virtual world, while Digital Domain handled motion capture and visual effects in the real world portions. Fxguide’s Mike Seymour explains how the film leveraged virtual production techniques:

Spielberg commented after filming that, “every single set in the OASIS is virtual, so they created an avatar for me that let me walk through the space and see the actual set. And once I figured out how I was going to shoot each sequence, I asked the actors to put on the goggles so they could get a feeling of what their environment looked like. Otherwise you’re acting in a big white room with a bunch of digital cameras looking down at you. It’s confusing for any actor or director to walk onto a bare-naked set and try to imagine what’s there. With the goggles on, we didn’t have to imagine. All we had to do was remember what it looked like when we were back in the motion capture volume.”

Spielberg also utilized a custom virtual camera rig specially developed for him by motion capture production supervisor Clint Spillers, who had worked with the director on both of his previous mocap films. Having made note of Spielberg’s likes and dislikes on those projects, Spillers consulted with robotic engineer Jim Kundig at Digital Domain to develop and fabricate a lighter, ergonomically friendly handheld virtual camera rig, complete with its own small screen to monitor the real-time game engine render. “Steven could quickly toggle through lenses or adjust his perspective with the push of a button. It’s the slickest camera rig ever designed,” Spillers says with a smile.

And while HTC naturally wants to highlight the Vive’s use in the production of the film, apparently a number of headsets were used throughout. Girish Balakrishnan, the film’s Virtual Production Lead at Digital Domain, tweeted, “we used Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and HoloLens during the filming of Ready Player One, not just one headset. Each one was used at a different stage of production. When shooting mocap, Rift. When scouting virtual cameras, Vive. When on the practical set, Hololens.”