3D images are a necessary component for any virtual reality experience. How these images come into being can have a huge impact on the final product. Different methods involve different VR technology and are useful for different kinds of projects.
Glassbox has just announced their newest VR technology, the DragonFly plugin. The virtual reality toolset makes it easier than ever to create VR content from live film.
How 3D Imaging Happens
3D models built and manipulated entirely with computers are the basis for most content in virtual reality experiences. They are responsible for some of the fantastic and other-wordly visuals that we associate with VR technology. However, making the models move realistically is difficult and time consuming.
Another method involves using a special camera to film events from multiple angles, which are then spliced together. This method creates 3D video but it isn’t very helpful for creating those imaginative experiences that computers can make.
A final method that is something of a mix of the first two is called “virtual cinematography.” This method is similar to the motion capture technology that has been used to create realistic computer generated video for years. Cinematographers use cameras to record actors wearing special suits. Computers later replace the actors with 3D models that move like the actors moved. This method saves time over only using models and ensures that the models move realistically. This method merges the potential for imaginative computer imaging with the realism of 3D filming. The downside is that directors are unable to see what the final product would look like during filming. If something goes wrong, they don’t find out until later in the developing process.
That’s where Glassbox’s VR technology comes in.
Glassbox launched in 2015. Because they work behind the scenes, you may not have heard of them. However, the company is partnered with household names like nvidia, Unity, Unreal Engine, and HTC.
Glassbox has three VR technology products right now.
Live Client is a tool for facial motion capture. The face is very expressive through very fine movements, making it very difficult for designers to render a convincing face. Live Client allows real time rendering of an actor’s face without the use of markers which limit the actor and limit the render.
Beehive is editing software for large scale productions in which multiple editors are working on images simultaneously. It’s a kind of more complicated version of the collaborative editing that you may be familiar with through tools like Google Drive.
DragonFly is a virtual camera that allows motion capture with realtime rendering. That means that directors and editors can see what the final product will look like while filming the real actors. This saves time in the editing process.
“Virtual production poses great potential for creators, but there were no off-the-shelf filming solutions that worked out of the box. In response, we made DragonFly: a virtual window that allows users to complex sets, environments and performances through a viewfinder,” says Glassbox co-founder and CPO Mariana Acuña. “Without the need for a big stage or mocap crew, it brings greater flexibility to the production and post pipeline for films, animation, immersive content, games, and real time FX.”
The DragonFly plugin announced today is currently available for Windows. What’s important is that it works with Unreal Engine, Unity 3D, and Autodesk Maya.
In order to develop the plugin, the team also worked with some Hollywood visualization and production studios including The Third Floor.
“Prior to DragonFly, each studio has created their own bespoke virtual production workflow, which is costly and time-consuming per project,” said Evelyn Cover, Global R&D Manager at The Third Floor. “DragonFly makes real-time virtual production usable for all creators.”
The plugin can be purchased for $420 per year or a one-time price of $750.
DragonFly is an exciting piece of VR technology by itself. However, it is also another great example of the democratization of the tools of production in the VR space. This kind of technology at so low a price and compatible with so many platforms is another step toward affordable VR technology that more independent content creators can use than ever before.
Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that DragonFly is available for all operating systems, while in fact it’s currently available only for Windows.