Oculus Connect 2 : Pixar v. Epic : Life in 11ms

There was so much to absorb at Oculus Connect 2, and now coming on the heels of Digital Hollywood, my brain is completely full. So instead of making my massive report as I did last year, we’re going to let the knowledge and wisdom trickle down in little pieces. Here’s the first one, from Max Planck, Sascha Unseld, and the team at Oculus Story Studio that produced Henry:

“At Pixar, with our rendering farm, we accepted the truism that it would take roughly 11 minutes to render each frame of animation, producing 24 frames per second.

With Henry, we have a hard wall of rendering each frame, in real time, at 90 frames per second, which translates to 11 milliseconds of rendering time per frame. We spent 6 months optimizing every single aspect of the models, lighting, renderers and animations to assure that we met that 11ms threshold for each and every frame, without compromise.”

11 minutes to 11 milliseconds.

Thank you Moore’s Law.
And Thank You Epic.

Just Business : Inspiration from Hollywood

This post will be a departure from our irregularly scheduled technical, design, and development musings. Today, we are focusing on that elusive topic called business. Enjoy.

Back in the day, my boys and I were on the high-school wrestling squad. We actually competed at a fairly high level, Varsity won state that year. And at least once a month, the night before match, we’d gather in front of the TV, and watch our deepest wrestling inspiration: VisionQuest. The scene with Matthew Modine beasting up the peg wall then running up and down the stadium bleachers are etched into my brain for life. I can still recall them when I need that last little boost for triathlons.

So now we get to the topic at hand, business. Who’d have thought, there are movies that inspire there too. And here they are. Watch and learn.


5. the Color of Money



4. Wall Street

“Greed is Good.” Watch the speech. Again. and Again. That is all.




3. Blood Diamond
“What’s the business in this one?” you ask. Quite simply: Hustle. If you need the abbreviated lesson, just skip to the scene where DiCaprio barters the weapons for the diamonds…

The-Social-Network-movie-poster-David Fincher


2. The Social Network

The youngest, richest, most successful entrepreneur of the 21st century deserves a decent treatment… and this one is genius.





1. Jobs

Steve Jobs captained Apple from a “has been” into the most profitable, most valuable company in the world. There are lessons here. We shall say no more.





Further Inspiration & Investigations…

This list is the companion piece to “Required Reading for VR.”
Your choice. Reading or viewing. Programming, either way.

…did I mention the Matrix?

And now, back to our regularly scheduled programming…


Luxo, meet Henry : And the Wheel in the dSky keeps on turnin…

In 1986, Pixar Animation Studios created its first film, dubbed Luxo Jr.


It was presented to a sophisticated audience at SIGGRAPH, the annual convention for those in the know, and in the engineering, design, and creation of the best 3D graphics in the world. At the time, the air was one of hope; Tron had just been released to audience acclaim a few years earlier in 1982, the first movie to have significant computer-generated visual effects (nee CG/VFX) sequences, and whispers in the wind predicted at some point, at some time, a completely 100% CGI (computer generated imagery) film would be created.

In less than 2 minutes, Pixar proved that seemingly inanimate objects, in this case simple desk-lamps and inflatable toy balls, could exude, even ooze, character, charm, and even emotion.


That one film opened the door to an entire new era of Hollywood cinema, which arguably exploded into mainstream consciousness a decade later in 1995 with Toy Story, the first commercially successful, full length, completely computer-generated CG film… again, by Pixar, the love child of George Lucas, John Lasseter and  Steve Jobs.

Fast forward 30 years. Oculus, the amazing company that launched on kickstarter and was stunningly acquired by Facebook for $2 billion a mere 2 years later, launches a virtual cinema division dubbed Oculus Story Studio.

And now, here’s Henry.

Meet Henry from Story Studio on Vimeo.

Henry is a clear attempt to move from hardcore, sci-fi, robot-loving gamers, into a more general, emotional, human populace. Presumably, a human populace willing to put on a pair of blackened ski-goggles in order to watch — scratch that — in order to experience, genuine story-fed emotion.

Henry is, plain and simple: An attempt, albeit a decent one, to launch a new category, animated cinematic interactive VR… with a best-in-class example.

Come August 28, and more-so, come February 2016, the world will decide.

Here’s hoping they succeed.





Short-Form, Low-Poly: Necessity as the Mother of Invention

In testing our apps with the general public, one thing has become abundantly clear: the bar for VR content is high. Extremely high, in fact.

Modern audiences have been primed for VR by two mainstream media: Hollywood Special FX blockbusters, and AAA videogames for consoles. Think the special effects from Avatar, or the Lord of the Rings, and Ex Machina; totally synthetic, computer-generated characters that are also totally believable… in fact, indistinguishable from human actors, apart from their extreme biological forms.

L to R Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) and Neytiri (Zoë Saldana).

Avatar by James Cameron  : Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) and Neytiri (Zoë Saldana).

On the videogame front, we have massive 40+ hour experiences with photorealistic graphics, huge free-to-explore environments; think Gears of War, Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto.

These high expectations are compounded by the fact that the essence of the VR experience encourages close inspection of elements. In other words, people just love to lean in and closely examine textures and objects. This means that all the graphical and modelling shortcuts used for far away objects are now null. We must model for close-ups.

First, lets look at some basic economics of content: 

  • a movie ticket costs $10, for 2 hours of play
  • a major hollywood movie costs about $200 million to make and market
  • there are more than 1 billion people who watch movies worldwide
  • a DVD player costs $30.
  • a videogame costs $50, for 40 hours of play
  • a major AAA videogame costs about $30 million to make and market
  • there are more than 300 million videogame consoles worldwide
  • a videogame console costs $300.

Now, for comparison, lets look at

  • VR in 2015
  • A premium VR experience retails for $3 to $12, for 5-20 minutes of play
  • A premium 5-minute VR experience takes about $1 million to create
  • There are currently less than 2 million VR viewers in the hands of consumers globally.
  • an entry level consumer VR rig costs $1,500.

Realistically, most of the VR content being created today is by either small motivated teams of 1-3 people, or by divisions of larger Special Effects firms who are dipping their toes into the new media. The videogame companies will be coming in strong soon. Hello EA, Blizzard, Epic.

To cut to the chase: consumers expect photorealism, yet there is no way to justify photo-realistic production budgets when the existing audience is effectively non-existent.

The solution : short-form, low-poly

The solution, as with most, relies on elegance, not brute force. Extremely low poly models, which perform well on almost any platform, and short-form content, i.e. playtimes less than 5 minutes, are the sweet spot that make modern VR production possible… perhaps even profitable.

Examples of doing low-poly right:

1. Darknet

2. See our earlier post on Synthesis Universe.


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