Microsoft is adding another important piece to its growing immersive computing arsenal by putting its newest Mixed Reality Capture Studio in the center of the movie business: Hollywood.
Following the Mixed Reality Capture Studios in Redmond, Washington, San Francisco, and London, the new studio is a partnership with Metastage, a new Los Angeles-based mixed reality production company headed by VR producer Christina Heller.
"Metastage is capturing incredible performances that can be viewed as if the person were standing right in front of you," said Christina Heller, CEO of Metastage. "Whether using a VR or AR headset, a 2D screen or simply on a mobile phone, instinct kicks in and you may find yourself trying to reach out to touch them, like many of us have."
Similar to the London-based Mixed Reality Capture Studio, which is a partnership with local production studio Dimension, the partnership with Metastage is Microsoft's first US partnership to launch such a studio.
As with the other studios, the facility will be equipped with devices that allow producers to easily capture volumetric video of people set against green screens, footage that can then be used in high-end AR and VR productions, including film, TV, and applications. In the Los Angeles studio, producers will have access to over 100 12-megapixel capable machine vision cameras.
The reason volumetric capture is so important is that it allows producers to avoid the work of crafting original digital characters and instead allows them to shoot real actors and models whose natural-looking performances can quickly and seamlessly integrate into any digital setting they can imagine.
I recently had a chance to tour the San Francisco Mixed Reality Capture Studio and meet the facility's general manager, Steve Sullivan, who walked me through how the studios function. And while the facilities are fairly small, the results achieved in the small spaces are powerful.
A recent example is the VR app Blade Runner 2049: Memory Lab, a companion app to the 2017 feature film Blade Runner 2049 film. When you open the app in VR via the Oculus Rift, you're greeted with a digital hostess who is so well integrated into the surrounding environment that, at first, I thought she was a digital creation.
But she was, in fact, an actor who had been volumetrically captured at one of the Mixed Reality Capture Studios. Later in the experience, you're asked to play detective as you walked around volumetrically captured people frozen in place at a crime scene as you examine their positions looking for clues.
Although many producers and app creators are still unaware of the technique, it's nevertheless a powerful new production method that promises to make creating immersive experiences far easier and faster to produce.
With Microsoft's decision to put its latest Mixed Reality Capture Studio in Los Angeles, which, like the others, will be open to independent producers, the company is helping to lead Hollywood's transformation from traditional 2D film to the new world of immersive experiences.