Söhnke Christiansen: building compelling new realities

We have the technology now to create compelling, immersive digital worlds. But how do you do it right? Here's three lessons from market leaders Mackevision.

Söhnke Christiansen is Client Service Director at Mackevision Medien Design. He spoke during the afternoon session of NEXT19 on 19th September 2019. These are my liveblogged notes from the session. 

Mackevision is a CGI and visual effects company. Their mission: to create reality. They do this for both pure entertainment — like Game of Thrones — and for brands.

In essence, they create worlds for their clients. But, before you can create and enter these digital worlds, you need to clarify a couple of things:

  • The technology is just a tool to serve us - why do you want to use it? Is it the right tool for the job?
  • Start with an idea and connect the concept with the tool. Don't start with the tool and then com up with a concept.

Here's three examples of those principles in action:

Oris

Mackevision did a project for Oris, a Swiss watch company. The company weas launching a new, transparent watch. It made sense for the potential customer to be able to "dive" into it using an extended reality experience. The team started by building a simplified version of the experience, resisting the urge to put in more detail than was needed for an XR experience.

People were handed the physical watch as soon as they finished the digital experience - and that led to very positive feedback.

They then went on to create a higher quality version of the model to create a film for more traditional marketing consumption.

Holoride

Holoride - allows you to experience VR in a car. It uses navigation and vehicle data and links them to a virtual world experienced by the passenger. This significantly reduces the effects of motion sickness sometimes seen with VR.

The project started at the end of last year. They had to decide on the kind of world that they wanted to build. To hit deadlines, they built on the Unreal Engine, and had an open communication with the client to make quick decisions. Once they settled on the range of worlds they would build - different worlds for different passengers - they started building out the assets that would be used to create the reality. They needed to be more complex the closer they are to the viewer - and high complexity worlds need more complex assets than simplified, cartoonish worlds.

They’ve now moved from a trailer of the experience to actual demonstration holorides.

Humpbacks of Hawaii

Can you generate a photorealistic whale? And then put it in a 180 degree stereoscopic world for a dome cinema?  That was the challenge in front of the team. The director had tried shooting it live, but using stereoscopic cameras in underwater environments proved to give low quality results - the debris in the water degraded the experience. VR seemed like the perfect way to get this done.

Initially, the team were travelling 90 minutes each way to a dome cinemas for approval screenings of their early work - but that was taking far too long, so they built a VR experience instead, that the clients could use remotely.

This was a big project. They needed a huge amount of reference material to recreate the whale and environment. They've ended up with 6Tb of data - it would take 6 years to render on a single computer. They used 40 computers, and it still took months.

Building new world is no small task, creatively or technologically.