One month ago, Canadian studio The Campfire Union Inc has launched Flipside Studio, a solution to create animated shows in VR. The following trailer explains almost everything about this project, so… have a look at it!
As Lesley Klassen, CEO and co-founder of the company says:
Flipside Studio transforms a standard PC-based VR setup, such as the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive, into a complete virtual TV studio and motion capture system. Flipside Studio lets actors become the characters on a live virtual set.
What it does mean? Well, imagine that you want to do a virtual show, something in computer graphics… nowadays you have to make the virtual environment, then the virtual characters, then animate them to perform all their tasks and finally perform all the dubbing. If you’re a big TV studio, this is not a problem, but if you’re just a bunch of guys that wants to do their first experiments with a cartoon show… what can you do? Well, the answer is: use Flipside.
Flipside lets you to just put on a VR headset and start acting. The main character will just move following your movements: you move your hands with your VR controllers and thanks to some inverse kinematics magic, the character will completely follow your arms movements! Furthermore you can speak freely and thanks to your headset integrated microphone, the audio will get automatically recorded. The system will also animate the faces of the characters to be coherent to what you say: so if you say ‘O’, the mouth of your avatar will be opened.
A dedicated recording studio lets handle all from the camera movements and configurations to the sets and the characters; and it also lets you export your masterpiece to your favourite format.
The resulting show can be then recorded or streamed both in VR and in standard 2D video format. On Youtube you can find two sample shows that Campfire Union has recorded using their Flipside system: Earth From Up Here and Super Secret Science Island. This is the trailer of Earth From Up Here…
While this is the behind the scenes of Super Secret Science Island, where you can clearly see in the upper left corner the actor that is just talking and moving her arms and in the remaining part of the screen the final result of the show.
As you can see in both videos, the graphical quality is not a top-notch one. But here the purpose is not to create animated shows for the national television, but for little indie studios, so it is ok. Then consider that this is a ratherly new (and complicated) project, so I guess that lots of improvements are to come: when you are a little startup, you just begin with a prototype and then improve continuously until you get to a marvelous final product.
There are some things I especially like about this solution:
- It enables the actor to see the show from the character’s standpoint. I mean, if you just record the show with a motion tracking rig, the results are the same… but if you wear a VR headset while you act, you see the world as the virtual character sees it, so the actor feels more immersed inside the scene, so he will act more naturally. This in my opinion can be a game changer in lots of situations, even in cinema. Think about all those actors that now just play in a completely green screen room and they have to imagine the real environment they should be in… and this is hard. If the actor could see himself in the real environment, even if he is in a green screen room, that could make acting easier. I think that VR/AR could help in that… and with Flipside this is possible, since you really embody your character in its native environment;
- It enables acting together. If you want to start a virtual show with a friend of yours, you can. The greatest part is that you can do that even if you’re at the opposite sides of the world! All actors can be on the stage at the same time. This is another strong point that makes acting better. You don’t only see yourself in the character’s body, but you also see all other characters there, next to you, in VR. This enables collaborations between actors, complicity, improvisation, things that you can have only when you’re on the same stage with your partner actors;
- Their idea of a VR audience is just gold. In their vision, the actors stay on a virtual stage and the audience stay in the virtual parterre and watch the show. But they don’t only watch the show, they could also contribute to it. This can enable a new medium of communication where actors and public are all in the same place virtually and they co-operate together;
- It is cheap, and this means that lets indie studios to create their shows. It lets guys that just want to dip their toe in this kind of shows to start experimenting without having to buy expensive rigs. Maybe in the future we’ll have a super-famous show where the creator will say “we had few bucks, so we started with Flipside… and look where we are now”.
This all… doesn’t resemble something to you? To me yes… and the name is “virtual theaters”. Think about it… what is that place where there are actors together on a stage, a public that watches them live and react live to their peformance and can interact with them? The theater, indeed. I think that Flipside can be a framework to enable not only TV shows, but also theater shows in virtual reality. It depends on what the performers want to do: a one-man show is more like a TV show, whereas a multiple people set-up is more like a theater show. Of course they’ll need time to implement something like that, but in my opinion can be a very interesting opportunity… and could also give new light to theater shows. Animated theater shows for everyone!
The software is available for early adopters on their website. I’ve not requested it, since I’m terrible at acting… but if you instead are good at it and you want to try to set up your animated TV show, well, my advice is to give it a try! (and then returning here to leave a comment with your personal review, of course)
Hope that this project will go on because it’s very interesting…