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January 02
2018

ISSUE

Winter 2018

AUGMENTED REALITY CATCHES A WAVE WITH APPLE, GOOGLE

By CHRIS MCGOWAN

Pokémon Go, published by Niantic, is the free-to-play, location-based AR app for iOS and Android devices that took the world by storm in 2016. (Image copyright © Niantic)

“The recent release of these technologies [ARKit, etc.] is rather important as they will serve as a bridge, an introduction to the concept of AR for both consumers and developers. Using existing mobile platforms as a window to see and experience digital data in our physical spaces — or as augmented tools for physical tasks — will ease the way to our future integrations of digital devices with our senses.”

—Vangelis Lympouridis, Founder, Enosis VR

Many of us have already found Pokémon in our homes and gardens. Soon, more will watch airships attack tiny outposts on dining room tables, view design specs appearing in the air at work, or see streams of information hovering before us as we walk down the street.

The world is about to get more crowded.

Augmented reality (AR) superimposes text, graphics and audio upon a user’s view of the real world. It has gotten a boost from Apple’s recent launch of ARKit, a software developer kit, and Google’s release of the competing ARCore; both will bring high-quality augmented reality to smartphones and tablets. Along with those firms, Facebook, Microsoft and other tech giants are actively involved in AR, as are a number of major film studios and producers.

“The recent release of these technologies [ARKit, etc.] is rather important as they will serve as a bridge, an introduction to the concept of AR for both consumers and developers,” comments Vangelis Lympouridis, Founder of Los Angeles-based Enosis VR. “Using existing mobile platforms as a window to see and experience digital data in our physical spaces – or as augmented tools for physical tasks – will ease the way to our future integrations of digital devices with our senses.”

The ARKit uses camera sensor data to accurately track motion and the space around the iPhone or iPad, and lets creators lock digital content onto real-world objects such as a floor or tabletop. “It enables you to visually track the environment around you. It helps the camera makes sense of the world around it,” comments Tuong Huy Nguyen, Principal Research Analyst for Gartner Inc.’s Consumer Technologies and Markets Research Group.

Nguyen adds that Apple’s dive into AR will have a huge impact, as there is an “Apple effect” that results in “increased interest in adoption across the board,” as tends to happen with Apple’s “introduction of anything.” Apple is “not necessarily the first but they are the first to go out there and say, ‘This is a thing and this is why it’s cool.’ They have a pretty strong base of engaged users.” Pokémon Go is one AR app that many kids and parents already know. Published by Niantic, the free-to-play, location-based game for iOS and Android devices took the world by storm in 2016 and Niantic claims that it has been downloaded more than 650 million times. It features virtual creatures (Pokémon) that appear on a smartphone or tablet screen as if they were in the player’s real-world location. The creatures are located, captured and trained.

“It changed user behavior and expectations considerably. Prior to Pokémon Go what reason would you have, or expectation would you have, of holding your phone up to a scene other than taking a picture? I would say not much else,” comments Nguyen. “What Pokémon did is that now you recognized that here is a thing your device can do. I can hold it up and it will superimpose some kind of information on top of the real world. I would say that application was by far the most influential [AR app until now].”

A few years prior, Nearest Tube was another popular AR app. Developed in England by Acrossair for the iPhone and released in 2009, it helped tourists and locals locate the nearest London Underground stations. Another landmark came a few years later with the debut of Google Glass. While the AR headset in the shape of eyeglasses wasn’t a success, it paved the way for the better received Glass Enterprise Edition, which appears to have great practicality as a workplace tool. Nguyen observes that “Google Glass, despite what the critics have said, played an enormous role. Prior to that, AR wasn’t a thing for consumers or businesses. After that, the [bar] was raised for everybody. It’s one of the biggest reasons we are where we are today.”

“We feel AR will affect gaming and most other industries in significant ways. Unlike VR, AR is a complete paradigm shift in how to make and play games,” comments Mike Levine, CEO of Happy Giant, a social-mobile game developer and publisher that is releasing the tactical strategy game HoloGrid: Monster Battle. “It’s going to be very interesting to see what kind of experiences people gravitate to.”

Happy Giant, a social-mobile game developer and publisher, is releasing the tactical strategy game HoloGrid: Monster Battle. Happy Giant worked with Tippett Studio to create HoloGrid, a game that features monsters designed by Phil Tippett, VES, who created the creatures in Star Wars’ famous Holochess scene 40 years ago. (Images copyright © Happy Giant and Tippett Studio)

“What we did was use photogrammetry to scan [Phil Tippett’s] monsters [and] turn them into digital 3D models, which we rigged and animated to use in the game.”

—Mike Levine, CEO, Happy Giant

Happy Giant worked together with Tippett Studio to create HoloGrid. The game features monsters designed by Phil Tippett, VES, who created the creatures in Star Wars’ famous Holochess scene 40 years ago. “What we used photogrammetry to scan his monsters [and] turn them into digital 3D models, which we rigged and animated to use in the game,” comments Levine.

Speaking of Holochess, it will soon also come to life with AR. Disney is launching the AR title Star Wars: Jedi Challenges, which will include the Holochess game, lightsaber battles and strategic combat. It will be packaged with a Lenovo Mirage AR headset, a “tracking beacon” and a “lightsaber controller.” The headset is compatible with select iOS and Android smartphones.

Lenovo’s Mirage headset with lightsaber and tracking beacon for Disney’s Star Wars: Jedi Challenges for AR. The headset is compatible with select iOS and Android smartphones. (Images copyright © 2017 Lenovo and Disney. Star Wars © & ™ 2017 Lucasfilm Ltd. All rights reserved.)

Disney is launching the AR title Star Wars: Jedi Challenges, which will include the Holochess game, lightsaber battles and strategic combat, packaged with a Lenovo Mirage AR headset, a tracking beacon and lightsaber controller. The headset is compatible with select iOS and Android smartphones. (Images copyright © 2017 Lenovo and Disney. Star Wars © & ™ 2017 Lucasfilm Ltd. All rights reserved.)

“Google Glass, despite what the critics have said, played an enormous role. Prior to that, AR wasn’t a thing for consumers or businesses. After that, the [bar] was raised for everybody. It’s one of biggest reasons we are where we are today.”

—Tuong Huy Nguyen, Principal Research Analyst, Gartner Inc.

Microsoft’s HoloLens AR/MR headset demos the AR version of the hugely popular Minecraft game as well as a motorcycle visualization. (Images copyright © Microsoft)

Meta’s AR headset (Photo copyright © Meta)

In terms of other headsets, Microsoft has sold the HoloLens AR/MR headset since 2016, and has shown a demo AR version of the hugely popular Minecraft game on it. Avegant and Meta are among others offering AR headsets. IDC (the International Data Corp.) predicts the combined AR and VR headset market will hit 92 million units (61 million of those for consumers) by 2021. “Consumer-focused AR headsets are still some way off, as most people will first experience AR through the screen on their phone,” says Tom Mainelli, Program Vice President, Devices and AR/VR at IDC, on the company’s website.

AR smartglasses include the aforementioned Google Glass (“Google Glass Enterprise Edition” in its 2.0 version), Epson, ODG and Vuzix. Facebook and Apple are developing smartglasses, while mysterious startup Magic Leap has everyone wondering what it’s up to. Based in Plantation, Florida, Magic Leap is funded by such heavyweights as Google, Warner Bros., Alibaba, Qualcomm and VC firms like Kleiner Perkins, Caufield and Byers. It is reported to have raised more than $1.4 billion in capital, have more than 1,000 employees, and be valued at several billion dollars without having released a product. Magic Leap appears to be creating a new type of wearable computer device – smartglasses for augmented reality and mixed reality. The device reportedly projects an image directly onto the retina, but that is currently unconfirmed, as is the product’s launch date.

Magic Leap’s AR whale demo teaser. This well-funded startup is creating a new type of wearable computer device – smartglasses for augmented reality and mixed reality. The device reportedly projects an image directly onto the retina. (Image copyright © Magic Leap)

Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh’s (Lord of the Rings) augmented-reality studio Wingnut AR showed off an impressive demo in June at Apple’s Worldwide Development Conference in San Jose and at the SIGGRAPH convention in Los Angeles. In the demo, airships attacked a tiny bustling town in a scenario that was superimposed on a tabletop on the stage. The AR piece was created with ARKit and Epic Games’ Unreal Engine software, and demonstrated on an iPad. During the Apple WWDC demo, Alasdair Coull, Creative Director of Wingnut AR and former R&D Head at Weta Digital, says, “We’re on a remote outpost in a desolate world where supplies are scarce.” He circled around the table, viewing the impressive scene from all sides and angles. “Wouldn’t it be cool to have airship battles in the midst of your own living room?” he asked.

Along with Pokémon Go, some current or upcoming AR entertainment app titles include: Touch Press’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Climax Studios’ ARise, Next Game’s The Walking Dead: Our World. SnapChat and others have also delved into the whimsical side of AR with popular face-filter apps.

Wingnut AR’s demo shows an airship attacking a tiny bustling town in a scenario superimposed on a tabletop on a stage. The AR piece was created with ARKit and Epic Games’ Unreal Engine software, and demonstrated on an iPad. (Images copyright © Wingnut AR)

“To create a pure play AR entertainment app will require many attempts before we see wins. Pokémon Go is clearly a huge win, but it wasn’t a pure AR win. Location was a big factor in the attach rate for that app. The innovations will be amazing to watch over the next several decades. But the impact of both AR and VR on narrative and game stories is going to be profound.”

—Anthony Batt, Co-founder, Wevr

Wevr’s co-founder Anthony Batt comments, “Generally, I think AR will make an immediate impact on the companies behind today’s successful apps. For example, Airbnb may let owners put AR notes in parts of their housing as a simple web app interface. Airbnb users could simply point their app at a corner of the space and get instructions or information. Apps like that will be helpful, but they will not be ‘entertainment.’ To create a pure play AR entertainment app will require many attempts before we see wins. Pokémon Go is clearly a huge win, but it wasn’t a pure AR win. Location was a big factor in the attach rate for that app. The innovations will be amazing to watch over the next several decades. But the impact of both AR and VR on narrative and game stories is going to be profound.”

“AR is already popular and has grown significantly for the past 12 to 18 months. [We’re] seeing enterprises using it as a tool for their employees. Even though AR has been around for a long time, the iteration we’re talking about now is new and so the market is new. And we’re still in discovery mode,” says Nguyen.

Tom Szirtes, Creative Technologist for London-based design studio Mbryonic, offers a different perspective. “My personal belief is that for AR adoption the issue isn’t so much limitations of tracking spaces but one of form factors.” It is important, he says, to transition to “affordable wearable AR.”

Jon Peddie, President of Tiburon, California-based Jon Peddie Research and author of Augmented Reality, Where We Will All Live, adds, “The bottom line is that AR is very similar to electricity. It is not a thing; you can’t go buy 13 pounds of AR. And like electricity it is totally application-dependent for a description. An electric fan is an app that uses electricity. Pokémon is an app.”

Lympouridis adds, “We are currently in the early days of this amazing technology. AR has the power to drastically transform every aspect of our lives. In contrast with VR that introduces parallel universes to our existence, AR expands our current reality and creates a fusion of data with our senses. When established, our everyday experience will become an amalgam of our physical, sensorial and technological layers, affecting once and for all how we live our lives, navigate our structures and recall our memories.”


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