Neill Blomkamp thinks we’ll soon be able to live inside Marvel movies
Watching Demonic, the first horror film by District 9 and Elysium Writer-Director Neill Blomkamp, most people won’t immediately think, “How could the technology that made this movie be used to make the Marvel Cinematic Universe more interactive?” But Blomkamp foresees a future where companies like Marvel turn their projects the way he did. Demonic, and it will change the way the cinema works.
Some segments of Demonic were filmed via volumetric capture, a technology that takes into account the performance of three-dimensional actors, through a complicated platform – in this case, using 260 cameras at a time. Blomkamp processed the footage through the Unity game engine for real-time results that placed its 3D actors in virtual environments, digitally derived from real buildings and areas that his team had captured and rendered into the system. Volumetric capture, or flight-heading, is touted as a new solution for creating photorealistic 3D models of actors for video games, but as a movie-making tool, it creates environments that viewers can either watch. on a 2D screen, either move and interact. with with in a VR frame.
“This is one case where I think the technology is going,” Blomkamp told Polygon. “When the visual effects started […] rendering a digital effect can take hours per frame, and you need 24 frames per second. It may take 24 hours to render for a second of film. And then you need more computers to do more rendering. But new technologies have both accelerated the process and allowed for more realistic and varied effects. Blomkamp says that volumetric capture, which accelerates the process to real-time speeds, reminds him of the changes that plagued the visual effects industry in the days of films like jurassic park and Terminator 2.
“I think if you go forward a few years, there will only be a real-time rendering,” he says. “Whether it’s a Marvel movie you watch or play Call of Duty, everything will take place in an environment calculated in real time. Even if you were watching a really big Marvel movie, if it was done with realtime rendering, you could watch it passively on a giant movie theater screen, but later on realtime filming opens up hundreds of different possibilities for you. the public. more in the movie, whether they want to physically enter the stage and walk around, or watch it in virtual reality, or use augmented reality.
The idea of trying out this technology in a movie prompted Blomkamp to make Demonic. He says that while most movies start with a script and then have a team decide how to put the ideas for the movie on screen, he started the other way around with this movie. “This process was completely different. It was, “I want to experience real-time computer graphics in a movie, so what would that be like?” […] If you were to watch it from the perspective of traditional filmmaking and writing a normal screenplay and then figuring out how to do it, you probably wouldn’t come to the conclusion that you need a volumetric movie here. But here it determined how the creative side actually came into being. “
In Demonic, a young woman named Carly (Carly Pope) learns that her mother Angela (Nathalie Boltt) is being held in an asylum doing experimental work with her comatose patients. Hoping for some sort of closure with her mother, Carly reluctantly agrees to step into a digital simulation of her mother’s consciousness, where the two women can communicate. She quickly discovers that something supernatural and dangerous is sharing Angela’s head – something that explains Angela’s violent past and erratic behavior.
Conceptually, the film resembles Tarsem Singh’s 2000 film. The cell, where Jennifer Lopez enters the mind of a comatose serial killer to try to find out where he’s keeping his latest victim. But the tech behind the scenes is more closely reminiscent of Ari Folman’s premium 2013 film. The Congress, where a similar camera is used to scan actress Robin Wright (playing herself) and create a permanent digital avatar of her that can replace her in the film. Behind-the-scenes footage from Czech effects company UPP shows Pope performing his role for the volumetric scenes from inside a dome-shaped camera similar to that of The Congress.
Blomkamp says that a secondary benefit of shooting scenes this way is that UPP will be able to render the scenes from Demonic’s virtual world as interactive environments for subsequent viewers. “We couldn’t do the whole movie, we could only do the simulation scenes, but UPP is basically doing a demo where you could watch those scenes on something like an HTC Vive Pro, which I have. made. It’s a pretty cool experience.
“I think that the public of the films [watching Demonic] I don’t really understand, is that the scenes with Carly, in the simulation with her mom, are fully visible in real virtual reality. You can stand there in the room with the two of them and look around, and they’re there. And he will look exactly how he looked in the movie. So it’s an unusual thing for people to get their minds.
One of the most fascinating aspects of Demonic is that Blomkamp used real-world spaces to create his virtual world, but he didn’t shoot any actual footage on location for the simulation footage. “These are real places – one is a house, the same way you would rent a house for a normal shoot. But instead of filming in the house, we just took 100,000 photos. And then the sanatorium at the end of the movie, where we physically shot, was also turned into a 3D model, with hundreds of thousands of photos. And the third simulation was a house not far from the sanatorium on the same lot, which was run down and broken, and we did the same with that. But then we took the geometry in there and smashed it and shattered it and made it look a little more like the characters.
The appearance of simulation segments in Demonic is glitchy and pixelated all over, which Blomkamp says is both an artifact of the state of volumetric capture technology at this point – the software is not yet able to integrate the streams of these 260 cameras in perfect, smooth motion – and a deliberate choice for film.
“The resolution move we took is good, it says in the script that it’s the technology of the prototype that’s having the problem,” he says. “It was just a sacrifice. We had almost no way around it.
Knowing that the simulation footage would have this edgy style was part of the reason Blomkamp chose to make Demonic like an independent 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 business, you can do whatever you want. There is no restriction around what you do. So this is the perfect opportunity. Persuading a large studio to let me put 15 minutes of highly untested, super volatile volumetric footage into a movie – I don’t even know if I could win this battle. And you can see in the movie how glitchy it is. What I think is so great because it ties into the narrative. It provides a place where we can experiment.
This technological gap leaves Blomkamp’s expectations for the future of successful interactive and immersive air theater – the technology still has a long way to go before it can deliver the sleek and polished look of an MCU movie about live cast. real time operating on digital stages for a VR or AR audience. When asked where the tech might go in the meantime, Blomkamp laughs.
“I have a wrong answer to that, is that I really don’t care,” he said. “I only care how I use things. People always ask me bigger questions about the movie industry like that, and I really don’t care. I only care about how I can use it, in my selfish way. “
Demonic is available for streaming rental on digital services like Amazon and Seen.