Neill Blomkamp thinks we’ll be able to live inside Marvel movies soon

Looking Demonic, the first horror movie of 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 envisions a future in which companies like Marvel will film his projects the way he did. Demonicand it will change the way the cinema works.

Some segments of Demonic They were filmed through volumetric capture, a technology that takes the actors’ performances in three dimensions, through a complicated platform, in this case, using 260 cameras at the same time. Blomkamp processed the footage through the Unity game engine for real-time results that placed his 3D actors in virtual environments, digitally derived from real buildings and areas that his team had captured and rendered on the system. Volumetric capture, or vol-cap, is heralded 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 view on a 2D screen or move and interact. with with in a virtual reality environment.

“It’s a case of where I think the technology is going,” Blomkamp tells Polygon. “When VFX started […] Rendering a digital effect can take hours per frame and requires 24 frames per second. It could take 24 hours of rendering for one second of film. And then you need more computers to do more rendering. “But new technologies sped up 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 were affecting to the visual effects industry in the days of movies like Jurassic Park and Terminator 2.

Demonic's volumetric platform, with 260 cameras connected to a dome-shaped platform

Photo: IFC Films

“I think if you move forward in a few years, there will only be real-time rendering,” he says. “Whether you’re watching a Marvel movie or playing Obligations, everything will happen in an environment calculated in real time. Even if you watch a really great Marvel movie, if it was done with real-time rendering, you could passively watch it on a giant screen, but then filming in real time opens up hundreds of different avenues for the audience to experience. more in the movie, whether they want to physically enter the scene and walk around, watch it in virtual reality, or use augmented reality. “

The idea of ​​testing that technology in a movie was what prompted Blomkamp to do Demonic. He says that while most movies start with a script and then a team decides how to put the movie ideas on screen, he started the other way around with this movie. “This process was completely different. It was, ‘I want to experiment with real-time CG on a movie, so what would that be like?’ […] If you looked at it from a traditional cinema point of view and wrote a normal script, and then figured out how to do it, you probably wouldn’t come to the conclusion that you need volumetric cinema here. But here, it drove how the creative side really came into being. “

On Demonic, a young woman named Carly (Carly Pope) learns that her ex-mother Angela (Nathalie Boltt) is in a mental hospital doing experimental work with her comatose patients. Hoping for some kind of closure with her mother, Carly reluctantly agrees to enter a digital simulation of her mother’s consciousness, where the two women can communicate. He 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 the 2000 film by Tarsem Singh. The cell, where Jennifer Lopez enters the mind of a serial killer in a coma to try to find out where he keeps his latest victim. But the technology behind the scenes is more reminiscent of Ari Folman’s 2013 high-concept film. The congress, where similar camera equipment is used to scan actress Robin Wright (playing herself) and create a permanent digital avatar of her that can replace her on film. Behind the scenes footage of Czech effects company UPP shows Pope performing his role for the volumetric scenes from inside a dome-shaped camera rig similar to the one in The congress.

A rough version of one of Demonic's volumetric shots, with one actor appearing to be standing on the floor and another on the ceiling.

Photo: IFC Films

Blomkamp says that one of the benefits of filming scenes this way is that UPP will be able to render the scenes from Demonic’s virtual world as interactive environments for later viewers. “We couldn’t do the whole movie, we could only do the simulation scenes, but UPP is in the process of basically doing a demo where you can see those scenes on something like an HTC Vive Pro, which I did. It is a very good experience.

“I think the movie’s audience [watching Demonic] What I really don’t understand is that the scenes with Carly, in the simulation with her mom, are completely visible in real virtual reality. You can stand there in the room with the two of them and look around you, and they are there. And it will look exactly like it did in the movie. So it’s unusual for people to move. “

One of the most fascinating aspects of Demonic is that Blomkamp used real world spaces to create his virtual world, but did not shoot any real footage on location for the simulation sequences. “They are real places, one is a house, in the same way that you would rent a house for a normal filming. But instead of filming at home, we only took 100,000 photos. And then the sanatorium at the end of the movie, where we physically filmed, was also turned into a 3D model, with hundreds of thousands of photos. And the third simulation was a house not far from the sanitarium on the same lot, which was in ruins and broken, and we did the same with that. But then we took geometry there and broke it and smashed it and made it look a little more like the characters. “

The appearance of the simulation segments in Demonic it’s glitchy and pixelated throughout, which Blomkamp says is an artifact of the state-of-the-art volumetric capture technology at this point (the software is not yet capable of integrating the signals from those 260 cameras into perfect, smooth motion) and a deliberate choice for the movie.

“The resolution we made is fine, it is written in the script that it is a prototype technology that has flaws,” he says. “That was just sacrifice. We had almost no way of avoiding it. “

A close-up of one of Demonic's volumetric sequences, with an actor entering a dramatically lit kitchen.

Photo: IFC Films

Knowing that the simulation footage would have that edgy flair was part of the reason Blomkamp chose to do Demonic like a standalone horror movie. “I wanted to do a little self-financed horror movie at some point in my career,” he says. “And when you are operating in that area, you can do whatever you want. There are no restrictions around what you are doing. So that’s the perfect opportunity. Persuading a large studio to allow me to put 15 minutes of super volatile, untested volumetric images on film; I don’t even know if I could win that battle. And you can see in the movie how flawed it is. Which I think is so amazing as it relates to the narrative. It provides a place where we can experiment. “

That technology gap leaves Blomkamp’s expectations for the future of interactive and immersive blockbuster cinema up in the air – technology still has a long way to go before it can put the sleek, polished look of an MCU movie on the actors. in real time operating. in digital settings for virtual reality or augmented reality audiences. Asked where the technology could go in the meantime, Blomkamp laughs.

“I have a bad answer to that, which is that I don’t really care,” he says. “I only care about the way I use things. People always ask me bigger movie industry questions like that, and I don’t really care. I only care what I can use it for, in my selfish way. ”

Demonic is available for streaming rental on digital services such as Amazon and Voodoo.

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