Neill Blomkamp believes that we will soon be able to live within Marvel movies

Looking Demonic, the first horror film of Districts 9 i Elisi writer-director Neill Blomkamp, ​​most people won’t immediately think, “How could the technology that made this film be used to make the Marvel Cinematic Universe more interactive?” But Blomkamp predicts a future where companies like Marvel will shoot his projects as he fired Demonic, and will change the way cinema works.

Some segments of Demonic they were filmed using volumetric capture, a technology that hosts representations of actors in three dimensions, using a complicated platform, in this case, using 260 cameras at a time. Blomkamp processed the images through the Unity game engine for real-time results that placed its 3D actors in virtual, digitally derived buildings and real areas that his team had captured and represented on the system. Volumetric capture, or vol-cap, is billed as a new solution for creating photorealistic 3D actor models for video games, but as a filmmaking tool it creates environments that viewers could see on a 2D screen or well move and interact with with in a virtual reality configuration.

“It’s a case of where I think technology is going,” Blomkamp tells Polygon. “When VFX first started […] rendering a digital effect can take hours per frame and you need 24 frames per second. It could take 24 hours to act out for a second of film. And then you need more computers to do more rendering. ” But new technologies accelerated the process and allowed for more realistic and varied effects. Blomkamp says the volumetric capture, which speeds up the process at real-time speeds, reminds him of the changes that affected the VFX industry in the era of movies like Jurassic Park i Terminator 2.

Photo: IFC Films

“I think if it moves forward in a few years, there will only be real-time performances,” he says. “Whether you’re watching a Marvel movie or you’re playing Call of Duty, everything will happen in a real-time calculated environment. Even if you watch a really big Marvel movie, if it was done with a real-time rendering, you could passively watch it on a giant movie screen, but later, shooting in real time opens up hundreds of tracks different so that the audience can experience more of the film, whether they want to physically enter the scene and walk around, or see it in virtual reality or use augmented reality. “

The idea of ​​testing this technology in a movie was what drove Blomkamp to do Demonic. He says that while most movies start with a script and then a team decides how to show the ideas of the movie on the screen, it started the other way around with that movie. “This process was completely different. It was, “I want to experiment with CG in real time in a movie, and what would that be like?” […] If you look at it from the point of view of traditional cinema and write a normal script, and then figure out how to do it, you probably won’t come to the conclusion that you need to make volumetric cinema here. But here he promoted how the creative side emerged ”.

In Demonic, a young woman named Carly (Carly Pope) learns that her estranged mother Angela (Nathalie Boltt) is being held in an asylum that is doing experimental work with her comatose patients. Hoping to close some guy with her mother, Carly reluctantly agrees to enter a digital simulation of her mother’s consciousness, where the two women can communicate. He quickly discovers that something supernatural and dangerous is sharing Angela’s head, which explains Angela’s violent past and erratic behavior.

Conceptually, the film resembles the 2000 Tarsem Singh film The cell, where Jennifer Lopez enters the mind of a comatose serial killer to try to find out where she keeps her last victim. But behind-the-scenes technology is more reminiscent of Ari Folman’s 2013 high-concept film The Congress, where a similar camera platform is used to scan actress Robin Wright (playing herself) and create a permanent digital avatar that can replace her in film. Images behind the scenes of the Czech effects company UPP show Pope playing his role for the volumetric scenes inside a dome-shaped camera platform similar to that of The Congress.

An approximate version of one of Demonic's volumetric shots, with an actor appearing on the floor and another on the ceiling

Photo: IFC Films

Blomkamp says a side advantage of shooting scenes this way is that UPP will be able to turn Demonic’s virtual world scenes into interactive environments for later viewers. “We couldn’t do the whole movie, we could just do the simulation scenes, but UPP is in the process of basically doing a demonstration where you can see those scenes in something like an HTC Vive Pro, which I did. It’s a pretty nice experience.

“I think I watch movies [watching Demonic] What I really don’t understand is that the scenes with Carly, in the simulation with her mother, can be completely visualized in real virtual reality. You can stay there in the room with the two of them and look around and they are already there. And it will look exactly as it looked in the movie. Therefore, it is unusual for people to move. ”

One of the most fascinating aspects of Demonic is that Blomkamp used real-world spaces to create his virtual world, but did not shoot any real material at the location of the simulation sequences. “These are real places: one is a house, in the same way that a house would be rented for normal filming. But instead of filming at home, we just took 100,000 photos. And then the sanatorium at the end of the film, where we physically shot, also became a 3D model, with hundreds of thousands of photos. And the third simulation was a house a short distance from the sanatorium on the same land, which was dilapidated and broken, and we did the same with it. But then we took the geometry, we broke it, we broke it and we made it look a little more like the characters ”.

The appearance of the simulation segments a Demonic it’s glitchy and pixelated everywhere, which Blomkamp says is a state-of-the-art volumetric capture technology right now (the software isn’t yet able to integrate the feeds of those 260 cameras with perfect motion and soft) and a deliberate choice for The Movie.

“The resolution we’ve got is okay, it’s written in the script that it’s the prototype technology that’s having problems,” he says. “It simply came to our notice then. We had almost no way to fix it. “

A rough shot of one of Demonic's volumetric sequences, with an actor entering a dramatically lit kitchen

Photo: IFC Films

Knowing the images in the simulation would have this amazing style was part of the reason why Blomkamp chose to do Demonic as an indie horror film. “I wanted to make a little self-funded horror film at some point in my career,” he says. “And when you operate in this realm, you can do whatever you want. There are no restrictions around what you do. This is the perfect opportunity. Persuading a large studio to let me put 15 minutes of highly untested and super volatile volumetric images into a movie, I don’t even know if I could win this battle. And in the movie you can see how glitchy it is. Which I think is so impressive as it ties in with the narrative. It provides a place where we can experiment. “

This technological gap leaves Blomkamp’s expectations for the future of interactive and immersive blockbuster: technology still has a long way to go before it can put the sleek, sleek look of an MCU film about real-time actors that they operate in digital scenarios for virtual reality or augmented reality audiences. Asked where the technology might go in the meantime, Blomkamp laughed.

“I have a bad answer to that, which is that I don’t really care,” he says. “It simply came to our notice then. People always ask me more important questions about the film industry, and I don’t really care. I only care so I can use it, in my selfish way. ”

Demonic is available for rent streaming on digital services like Amazon i Vudu.

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