Global creative studio Framestore is usually known for taking client projects and executing them with world-class attention to detail despite tight deadlines and high expectations. Its visual effects department works on some of the world’s biggest movies, like Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and Doctor Strange, while other parts of the company build immersive and groundbreaking experiences, including Ascend The Wall for HBO’s Game of Thrones and a magic school bus that takes kids on a field trip to Mars.
At SIGGRAPH last week I got the first look at something quite different on the way from Framestore: a passion project led by Senior Creative Developer Johannes Saam. The software is called CORAL and it is a fractal multiverse that will invite VR developers and early adopters on some long relaxing visits. It is expected to be available in the coming months.
For those unfamiliar, a fractal can be gorgeous and almost mesmerizing when representing a repeating mathematical function as objects or shapes in two or three dimensions.
“A fractal is a mathematical function with very…mathematically simple terms that ever-repeating patterns creates very interesting shapes and structures that, in theory, have infinite detail,” said Saam.
I spent a fair amount of my third grade class staring at a screensaver on an old computer that had similar kinds of illustrations, which can sometimes seem to be represented as an endless tunnel with changing shapes and colors. When the teacher finally realized it wasn’t just me but a large portion of the class totally ignoring her for hours at a time, she turned the computer away from us so we couldn’t stare at it while she spoke. For a few minutes at SIGGRAPH, I was brought back to that mesmerizing effect and didn’t want to stop flying through the fractal multiverse of CORAL.
“It’s more of an art piece, a gallery experience, than a game as of today. Nothing stops us using the same technology in a game, or making this experience more game-like,” said Saam. “If you’re interested in beautiful shapes and you just want to relax it’s kind of a very meditative state you get into.”
I describe it as a multiverse because these structures repeat in every direction into infinity and a simple button press on an Xbox controller transports the visitor to a completely different structure to explore. It is almost like shifting to a different universe. Other buttons on the controller change the parameters of the function so you can change the shape and pattern of the structures as you fly through them.
You can use a stick on the controller to move forward and wherever your head is pointed is where you fly. They’ve implemented a similar kind of field of view constriction as seen in Eagle Flight so that intense flying or shifting in directions should be more comfortable.
So if you’re familiar with Eagle Flight, this is basically that type of flying experience but instead of soaring over Paris you’re zooming into an endless universe of shapes that might look like coastlines or snowflakes. One minute it feels like you’re passing through a vast alien ship and the next through the intricate structures of a cell. Having not experienced an acid trip myself, I suspect this is about as close as you can come to having one without actually taking a drug.
— Johannes Saam (@JohannesSaam) June 30, 2017
We’ve heard of some other fractal VR software in the past but getting them to run at 90 frames per second required for comfortable VR viewing is a real challenge. That said, it appears to be something Framestore has a good grasp on. I thoroughly enjoyed my time in CORAL and didn’t want to leave. Saam and the rest of his team at Framestore’s Los Angeles office are targeting reasonable specifications for PC hardware but may build some settings so it looks even better on higher end hardware.
Do you have any mesmerizing fractal memories of your own? Let us know down in the comments below!