Getting Animated About the Future

Despite the success of VFX houses such as Animal Logic and Rising Sun Pictures, or game studios like Hipster Whale or Halfbrick, the corporate market is the growth area for animation and VR in Australia. That was the word from David Zwierzchaczewski, Animation Specialist with Autodesk, at a recent Media Entertainment Technology Open Day hosted by Digistor.

“Right now, I would say, the civil industries is definitely a massive growth area for that,” says Zwierzchaczewski. “So, last year, I probably did a VR demo every week and I’d say you can count on one hand the amount of people that I demoed to who were media entertainment people. It was architecture and engineering, construction, defence, manufacturing. They are so hungry for it and I’m actually seeing traditional game studios that are moving into that space now, so it traditionally hasn’t been where gamers want to go, because they want to make the next Call of Duty or whatever it might be.

“But, if you want to make money and where I’m seeing real growth in the gaming industry right now, is absolutely in the serious gaming space. And then, inside that gaming space, I’m seeing growth in VR – it is definitely one of those growth areas, right now. It’s one of those things, when you show a video of VR, it’s just someone wearing a headset looking awkward. But, when you experience VR, you get a true sense of where the power of that is and it’s that immersiveness of being in that space that no other experience can give you. And that’s why it’s becoming very good for education, for visualisation and for training.”

Another area of growth for Zwierzchaczewski is that of 360° video, which has seen its uptake largely in advertising.

“That’s where the growth for 360° video is happening,” he says. “I can’t say why that is. I’ve got my own speculative ideas of why I think it’s that way, but 360° video, as opposed to VR, is cheaper in some ways – it uses real life photography. So, anything VR right now uses a game engine, so you tend to get that gamer kind of look to it no matter how good your shaders are. Where 360° is being used in advertising, it’s being used to, say, sell a car or a holiday somewhere or an apartment somewhere – so, you want that to look as real as possible.”

As to the technological challenges confronting Virtual Reality, David Zwierzchaczewski says it comes down to more than just render power.

“Right now, when we’re using VR,” he says, “we basically have two screens that are rendering the whole HD image in front of us. The way the human eye works is that we only see a very small part of our world in 3D – whatever we’re focusing on is in high definition and everything else from that little area bleeds off into a very low resolution. Right now, with VR, we render the whole image in a high resolution, so we’re wasting so much bandwidth. One of the things that needs to happen – which a lot of people are working on right now and should be up relatively soon – is real-time eye tracking.

“That real-time eye tracking will allow us to only render in high resolution what the pupil is looking at, which will allow so much more data to be pushed through. That’s one of the things that’s probably holding that back right now.

“The next thing is a trade-off between what looks good and what plays in real time. That’s always been the universal thing with gaming, that’s what they always struggled with. That gap is getting smaller and smaller, but now we’ve introduced VR, we’ve now added another hurdle to that.

“It’s a tough one, because what audiences expect always changes. So, what was acceptable last year is old hat and unacceptable this year and is no good, anymore. Our expectations are always rising. It’s never a level playing field. So, I think we’ll be here in 20 years’ time and you’ll ask me that same question and it’ll still be ‘We’re almost there, maybe in another 20 years’ time’. But, our expectations are going to keep growing. It’s like that old thing with storage, never say you never need any more storage on a hard drive.”

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