Step into Star Wars? ILMxLAB’s creative director hints about the company’s VR future

by Will Mason • June 26th, 2015

Industrial Light and Magic recently announced a new virtual and augmented reality lab called ILMxLAB, which based on the video seems to be working on new ways of telling stories using augmented and virtual reality technology. In the video we see a number of VR devices and scenes suggesting that they are working on content for the new Star Wars film – but this may only be the surface of what the lab is working on.

MTBS revealed an interesting analysis of an interview with John Gaeta, who was Lucasfilm’s Creative Director of New Media and Experiences at the time (he’s currently the Creative Director at ILMxLAB), conducted in 2011. In the interview Gaeta outlines his thoughts on the future of media, diving deep into new forms of immersive technology at about the 18-minute mark.

Through the conversation Gaeta asserts multiple times to the validity of technology which at the time was still relegated to sci-fi movies, nostalgic look-backs at the 90s, and Palmer Luckey’s garage. “All I’m saying is that the next major evolution is going to be omnicapture of the movies and all the augmentation and all the stuff we have got,” says Gaeta in one of his many assertions about the technology’s future.

But it gets better, as Gaeta may have hinted at the direction that Industrial Light and Magic might be taking with the a new medium. Describing how this new medium might look Gaeta says “I think that it is approaching where we will see a convergence of the fidelity of what one expects with film but with the dynamic exploration, interactive potential of what has come to be through the game industry.”

A lot of what Gaeta is talking about is using advanced computer imaging – beyond that of the Kinect which he mentions extensively, to volumetrically map the area so that one can essentially walk through and around in an environment. Later in the interview, when pressed further about the idea Gaeta described a vision that he has for how these films might look in the new immersive format:

“You can serve it and it looks the same as the movie but I think that what would be interesting is at a moment you can toggle off the camera and you can get a free view version so you can see the film and performance at any angle – but it’s still the performance. I’m not changing it, I’m not choosing an alternate performance but I can look around the world and get all sorts of incredible extra expository information and sort of deepen my understanding of the characters and the world as a result of having the free view.”

Gaeta’s statements on “omnicapture” and “free view” being the future are also incredibly interesting. Could they possibly suggest some kind of fully 360-degree captured scenes from the film? Extrapolating on Gaeta’s thought process here in 2011, it seems like what he was talking about was a step beyond even that: a view where you could do more than look around, but actually move around the space (something doable via a VR cave or a room tracked HMD like the HTC Vive).


A “VR Cave” environment from ILMxLabs’ launch video

A view like this could be incredibly interesting. Imagine being able to see a scene within the Cantina in Star Wars and actually be able to walk around to the other tables and see what was going on – all while the scene was happening. For a property with a universe as rich as Star Wars this seems like a perfect fit.

This interview doesn’t implicitly say that these are the things that Industrial Light and Magic are working on right now, but to hear Gaeta speak so strongly and passionately about the topic seems to be a bit telling especially considering this video is now four years old. But perhaps we won’t have to wait much longer to find out some real answers.

This Sunday at 11PST (Click here to see in your timezone) Gaeta will be taking the virtual stage in Convrge where he will be answering questions about ILMxLAB. We are also told that he will be releasing some “exclusive info on the new xLAB project for the first time” so we should get a peek behind the veil. We will be there for sure to follow up on this article so be sure to check back on for more!

Until then I highly encourage you to watch the interview above to help further inform your questions.

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