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…


First person VR lightsaber : the design intent

We’ve helped pioneer first person VR lightsaber control in-Rift with our ScenePlay demo app. This is what happens when you take that vector and extend it towards its logical conclusion: just add photorealistic rendering, VR cinema backplates, AI stormtroopers, laser bolts and explosions… voila.

Consider this advanced pre-viz of the experiences coming down the pipe in the next 3 years. Start practicing up your swordplay skills, and Enjoy.

What’s a lightsaber look like, you might ask? Well, this:

Mark Zuckerberg tests out the new Oculus touch hand controllers as Brendan Iribe observes

Mark Zuckerberg tests out the new Oculus touch hand controllers as Brendan Iribe observes

And this;

Testing out the Sony Move hand controllers paired with the Sony Morpheus VR HMD for the PlayStation 4

Testing out the Sony Move hand controllers & Sony Morpheus VR HMD for the PlayStation 4

Or, if you prefer the dark side, go ahead, play Vader:

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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And so we pivot : Enter the Rift

Hi All,

dSky begins its pivot to Rift app development, starting today.

I am returning fresh from San Francisco, where I toured the latest development studios, and demo’ed a massive amount of hardware and software that will be released to consumers within the next 18 months.

Let me say, without a doubt, that we are on the threshold of a computing revolution that can and will transform the world. Playing and learning in a VR space is not merely computing, nor gaming… it is ACTUAL EXPERIENCE. It is not merely “immersion” as you might get in IMAX 3d or older VR systems, it transcends mere immersion into what is known as PRESENCE: the uncanny feeling that you actually ARE in another place and time and reality.

These software experiences are so powerful, and the hardware, after 50 years of R&D, is finally ready. Many of you have read about the Neo’s Matrix, Tron’s Grid, Stephenson’s Metaverse, or Ender’s Game. Not one, but ALL of these will be present and available in this coming wave of hardware and software.

Major forces are coming to play. Facebook is currently in the lead with the Oculus Rift. Sony announced Project Morpheus for the PS4 earlier this year… and just today, Samsung announced their Galaxy GearVR, a fully mobile and untethered VR headset that pairs with their Note smartphone.

In the next 12 months, hopefully sooner, each of you will be able to demo these experiences, and I can guarantee that you will have your “aha” moment and see the potential.

So I have decided from here forward to invest my time and money and resources into developing the next generation of education and entertainment software for this new computing platform, which truthfully, Michael Abrash has identified as “the final computing platform”. Won’t you join me?

See you in the Rift,

Designing for Glass, by Glass

This is a wonderful treatment of a spoken word recording by Ira Glass, of NPR’s This American Life. He speaks the core truth of creative people: when you have a vision, translating it to reality is an iterative, lengthy process.

I think many of us who are experiencing Glass have great visions of its potential… and now comes the hard work of translating those visions into actual applications and businesses.

Ira Glass on Storytelling from David Shiyang Liu on Vimeo.