Creating a Giant Experience

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Thu, 01/21/2016 - 15:35 -- Michael Kaplan

A scene from Miica Zec's VR experience Giant.One of the highlights at this year’s Sundance Film Festival’s New Frontier Program could be the five-minute virtual reality film experience Giant. Drawing on director and co-creator Milica Zec’s personal experiences as a child in war-torn Serbia, the VR narrative takes the viewer into the experience of a family struggling to survive in a war zone. The film shows how cinematic VR lets us observe our instincts and ourselves and become more conscious of the way we make choices.

For 10 years running, the Sundance Film Festival’s New Frontiers Program has been a showcase for artists and technologists working together to push the boundaries of storytelling. This year, the program will highlight no fewer than 30 VR experiences and 11 installations across many locations.

“Through virtual reality the viewer can see, hear and feel what it’s like to be at the epicenter of a conflict zone,” said Zec. “They can also witness the fear and suffering that millions of innocent families around the globe are going through, at this very moment.”

Zec and her collaborator Winslow Turner Porter III relied on live actors to create Giant. They shot in 6K with DepthKit SDK. They used Nuke, Flame and After Effects on HP Z840 Workstations for visual effects, editorial and finishing. Color grading on DaVinci Resolve at theColourSpace was handled by Juan Salvo, who also served as technical producer, finishing artist and depth pipeline designer on the production.

All these elements were then brought together via compositing performed in real time inside the Unreal Engine 4 game engine by developers Jack Caron, Todd Bryant, Omer Shapira and Uros Otasevic. NVIDIA Quadro M6000 GPUs accelerated the entire process.  

“Uptime is a real sensitivity with any VR installation. We can’t afford any issues, especially at Sundance,” said Salvo. “We needed the most reliable platform. Quadro runs cooler and more reliably and that makes all the difference.”

The Giant VR installation at Sundance is running with three HP Z840 workstations, each equipped with a Quadro M6000, 64GB of RAM, 1TB of Crucial SSD, and two 8-core Xeon CPUs. It’s all synced via open sound control through a custom show controller app, and viewed on Oculus Rift head-mounted displays.

“We recorded all our frame rates with several different workstation cards and were only getting 45 frames per second. Then we tried the Quadro M6000,” said Porter. “It was the fastest GPU we’ve seen so far and more than just a card — it’s an entire platform for VR. Now we’re getting 90 FPS and resolution could not be better.”

Michael Kaplan is Nvidia’s head of global business development, media & entertainment and professional VR applications