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Star Wars Virtual Reality Demo Rocks

LOS ANGELES — Someday, we'll have the ability to step into the golden shoes of C-3PO as he and R2D2 attempt to escape a squad of Stormtroopers or jump behind the cockpit of an A-Wing Fighter to take out a AT-AT lumbering in the background — all in virtual reality.

Unfortunately, that day isn't in the near future, but if LucasFilm has its way, you'll be doing all that and more with a set of new tools, one of which is dubbed V-Scout. A new piece of software, V-Scout allows filmmakers to scout future movie sets while seamlessly blending live-action with computer generated graphics.

I got a glimpse of the technology during a workshop titled "The Force of Virtual Reality" at the Oculus Connect2 conference. Lucasfilm VP and ILM VFX supervisor Rob Bredow walked us through several demos. V-Scout comes from the work of two different Lucasfilm teams: Advanced Development Group and ILMxLab. AVG will target the creation of professional-grade tools while ILMxLab will focus more on the consumer-level products. However, both teams share the goal of transforming entertainment by using high-fidelity graphics merged with live-action scenes filmed with motion-capture equipment, rendering the results in real-time.

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Although the app is still a prototype, V-Scout impressed. Using a 5-minute short film created for the demo, Bredow and an assistant started tweaking major details such as character point of view and camera angle on an iPad.

V-Scout can be used to create content for virtual reality. According to Bredow, you can run the app "anywhere you can run Netflix." The hi-fi graphics can be rendered in the cloud or from a host computer in real-time, meaning your Star Wars VR experience might only be a tap or a swipe away. I watched as Bredow utilized the tablet's gyroscope to navigate around that crashed Star Destroyer, which has been featured prominently in the Star Wars: The Force Awakens trailer.

The app can also mimic camera lenses, as evidenced by the effortless switch to an 18mm camera while adjusting the focal length. You can also switch from a normal view to the dual-lens view shown in VR headsets. Bredow demonstrated the ease of adding cutting room floor material into the demo by quickly rewinding to a point where the two droids appeared from a hut. Entering the darkened enclosure, the audience saw C-3PO conversing with a hologram of someone that looked suspiciously like Princess Leia, who told the droids to get to the extraction point.

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Just as our heroes were about to beat a hasty retreat, infamous bounty hunter Boba Fett flew into view. With a few deft taps, the audience was looking at the robots and surrounding Stormtroopers through the mercenary's eyes. Next, the demo took advantage of the gryoscope's shaky leveling as someone jumped onto a speeder bike and sped through the already chaotic scene. The demo ended behind the cockpit of the A-Wing with Bredow tapping on a target button to send some well-placed shots at the metal monster.

Lucusfilm says it's nowhere near releasing the software, but Bredow did share several intriguing insights. For one, the teams working on the product discovered that viewers can tolerate latency, at least 120 milliseconds worth. That seems to be true, as I didn't notice any lag or stuttering. They've also been dabbling with capturing actors and rendering their images for future use.

Those of you hoping for a full-length VR movie will have to wait a while longer. When asked about the possibility, Bredow said that the current generation of headsets is best suited for 5-minute clips and aren't comfortable enough to wear for a two-hour movie. The other big hurdle is that the technology to create a full-length 360-degree movie isn't there yet. However, Bredow remains hopeful for that and the emergence of augmented and mixed reality technology to take film's storytelling abilities even further.