Ready Player One: A Virtual Reality Experience at SXSW
Ready Player One posters are everywhere. Groups of actors in grey jumpsuits are roaming the streets in formation to promote the film. There's a giant billboard on the side of a wall. There's no avoiding it. The next Spielberg spring flick, Ready Player One, is absolutely everywhere in the streets of Austin, Texas.
Ready Player One is set in a dystopian future and tells the epic tale a young man on the search for an Easter egg in a virtual reality video game. This game is the OASIS, and it's the only mental escape for people in this fairly-dismal future. The one who finds the Easter egg inherits the game creator's fortune.
The book was well received. It got an Alex Award from the Young Adult Library Services Association division of the American Library Association (1) and also the 2012 Prometheus Award (2). It is especially popular among virtual reality enthusiasts.
But this book is about to become a Steven Spielberg movie. It may be assumed that a great many more people will become aware of it, in the immediate future. The movie comes out March 29th.
For now, at SXSW there is a pop-up event designed to draw attention to this film. A venue on Brazos street has been transformed into a Ready Player one experience. Among a variety of posters and props and other objects that occupy this space, is the bona-fide Ready Player One VR experience.
I spoke with Aaron Lemke, co-founder and chief creative officer of TheWaveVR, a customizable music VR experience, and the makers of this particular VR experience. He is an Austin native who grew up “playing in bands.” Lemke was concerned about the music industry’s lack of adaptation to digital technologies. When VR came along, he “saw an opportunity to use the medium in a way that would help musicians and artists connect to their fans in new ways.”
Lemke believes that VR can be used for “extending the universe of an artist” He believes this sort of creativity has a precedent in the industry. Album art and music videos are “an attempt to create a world outside of just the music” and Lemke sees a comparison here. According to Lemke “what we're letting them do is actually build worlds outside of the music that their fans enjoy and exist inside.”
This particular VR experience is also an extension of an artistic vision. The world of Ready Player One is someone’s artistic vision. Lemke was excited to be working with TheWave team on a project for Ready Player one because “we're all fans of the book...everybody at the company's read it, it's almost required reading.”
Lemke excitedly describes how “HTC reached out to us ‘do this, we think y'all can do it the best.’” So Lemke and the team set out to “recreate the nightclub scene from the film.” They got to work with the “actual assets from the film, in virtual reality, in real time to recreate the scene. Industrial Light and Magic, who made all the visual effects for the film, sent them “3D models and textures and videos and images and stuff,” so they could recreate this world with a high fidelity “that looks like you're inside of a film.”
Steven Spielberg got to come by to experience the fidelity. Although no official quotes were approved, "he had to give his stamp of approval, otherwise it wouldn't have shipped.” Additionally, Spielberg seems to be quite skilled in this type of tech experience “he picked it up really quickly, he's really good at VR.” Immediately, he was able to figure out the “flying mechanics” of the game and was able to use the grips buttons, as intended, to experience the game to the fullest extent by flying around.
The experience itself is a dance hall. It's like stepping into the film. Bright lights surround you there are objects to collect and add fun elements to the dance hall. The world is quite vivid and the animation is smoothly executed.
Who knows if the OASIS will be real in the future? For now, TheWave has created a fun experience to show people another view of a creative vision.