The award-winning virtual reality studio, Baobab Studios, will be showcasing the short virtual reality trailer for “Bonfire” at the Tribeca Film Festival this week that will provide viewers with a short blurb of the upcoming VR movie. It takes viewers on a journey through space in a dystopian vision of a future where humanity has destroyed the earth and is hunting for a new abode in a far off planet.
The experience will put the viewer at the center of the story and take them on an exploration of new planets that the viewer is supposed to develop and colonize over the long haul. The viewer is cast in the role of Space Scout 817 and on a galactic travel when they crash and make an emergency landing on a on a distant planet that is millions of miles from the earth. The new planet seems quite daunting not just because of the many strange creatures in it but also the threatening noises emerging from the alien-looking fauna. There is no lighting here so you have to build some campfire that will bring in the brightness and ward off the creatures.
The viewer plays the explorer and is assisted by a trusty robot helper named Debbie who will be voiced by the comedian Ali Wong. The robot will not be quite as mobile after the crash-landing but she will be helpful to the human companion and perform tasks such as making some delicious marshmallows.
Like in other galactic adventures, there is no shortage of strange creatures. On this planet, they happen to inhabit some spooky forest. The most dangerous ones include an attack dog but there is a friendlier puppy-like creature that seems a little curious. In the VR experience, the user is in control of the exploration adventure and they must also learn how they will interact with these strange creatures and decide on whether they will be able to inform humanity about their discovery of this potential paradise.
The “Bonfire” trailer will last between 15 and 20 minutes based on the choices made by the viewer. However, the trailer will not be a choose-your-own-adventure creation. The viewer will not be able to change the plot or direction of “Bonfire” but their behavior in the virtual reality story will impact their interactions and experiences with the new puppy-like friend that they will encounter in the new planet. The engineers at Baobab Studio have likened it to a standup comedy where the comedian knows the plot and the jokes they will crack but they still have to interact with audience and pick up some cues.
With the viewer being cast as the main character in the story, the studio has had to work on various actions. For example, as a viewer, you will feed the alien creature some marshmallows or throw all items that fall onto your hands into the fire. You can even choose to simply stay passive and not engage in the game at all.
In order to realize this, each of the characters’ possible responses had to be broken into a rich library of gestures, animated actions and responses by the film’s lead animator Ryan Gong. These “modules” of responses were then mastered by the film’s artificial intelligence to create real-time reactions that are quite believable and realistic. According to the “Bonfire” lead animator, the micro-actions mapped out covered everything “under the sun” so you can expect the library of animations to be quite extensive.
The studio also had to juggle the challenge of balancing the look of the film with the scope or capabilities of the virtual reality headsets that will be used so as to render the virtual environments in real-time. This might be easier on premium virtual reality headsets but it proved trickier in mobile virtual reality headsets that may not give you the power and performance of PC-bound setups. Realizing this required capturing lots of photos and working out how to transform them into math.
A good example of this was the “Bonfire” friendly alien who emerged out of the strange forests and while expressing emotions with wiggly lines on the face. These emotions could change in real-time depending on the actions of the viewer. To realize this, the film developers used algorithm in animating the lines on the creature’s face without overstretching the computing resources.
The studio also leveraged the benefits of some of the virtual reality headsets’ unique display properties to create the visual effects without straining the computing resources. The forest in the film, for example, looks pitch black initially but the forms and shapes begun to emerge as you move closer. To realize this effect, the developers used a high dynamic range where the eyes of viewers adjusted naturally, as they would in real-life when you are staring at a dark forest.
The film premieres this Friday at the Tribeca Virtual Arcade and will also be launching later in the year in a host of Oculus virtual reality headsets. The studio is yet to announce the pricing and other information.
Baobab Studio has been behind other notable creations in the past such as the Pixar-quality VR films like “Crow: The Legend” and “Invasion”.