One of the more interesting developers at MIGS 2017 was Framstore VR. Framestore is a major name in Hollywood having performed CG work on many films such as Thor: Ragnarok, Blade Runner 2049 and Alien: Covenant to name a few. Framestore is active in the film industry and leverages their experience with their VR division creating a variety of experiences. They have worked on partnerships with the Smithsonian American Art Museum to create VR experiences and mainstream projects such as a Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them VR experience.
Framestore VR is investing heavily in this industry and has distributed groups in all of their offices with a prominent group in the Montreal location. They create many types of experiences, some are permanent installations at museums or schools, others are promotional experiences as movie tie-ins or games. The studio has been an early innovator in the VR ecosystem starting back in 2013 with the Oculus DK1 unit.
Since then Framestore VR has become a huge name in the Virtual Reality space and is now developing more and more games for the ecosystem. They are generally agnostic to hardware having created large scale projects for Vive and Mobile platforms. At MIGS this year I had a chance to sit down with Julien Charlebois and Johannes Saam from Framestore VR to get some details on their studios history, their personal path in the industry and what they are working on.
Julien Charlebois – Head of Production Framestore VR Montreal
In speaking to Julien I dug into his progression in the industry. He started out as a software engineer and got an internship at EA’s mobile studio in Montreal. While there he was able to work on emerging technologies and practices as smartphones were in their infancy when he started there. He mentioned that he finds it similar to the VR industry, the technology is known and out there but we have not figured out everything we can accomplish with it yet.
During his time at EA Julien realized he wanted to go into a more production focused role so he started a second degree in business as he worked with EA. After a few years he was getting known within the Montreal developer community and was approached by Framestore to join their newly formed VR group in the Montreal office. VR is not new to the company as they have been working in that space since 2013 at their other offices in New York, London, and Los Angeles. The Montreal office is to be games focused and Julien is working on their current projects as Head of Production.
While Julien could not tell me any details about their upcoming project due out in January, he did say it is a known IP and will be pretty amazing. They have other projects in the pipeline as well, one of which is a theme park VR experience. What he appreciates about Framestore is that they work on small and large projects as well as experimental ones. This allows his team to try new ideas and concepts and grow their expertise in the VR space.
Please listen to the full interview below to hear Julien discuss his path to VR, the team makeup of Framestore’s international organization, and many tricks of the trade when working as a VR developer.
Johannes Saam – Senior Creative Developer Framestore VR Montreal
One of the things that struck me about Johannes when chatting with him is his infectious interest in 3d modelling and its technology. He knew at a young age he wanted to learn 3d art and started teaching himself at 14 years old how to work within that environment. His determination never faltered as he continued studying techniques in school and then headed to Australia to learn and work in the industry. Once he had some experience, Johannes headed to Los Angeles to work in the movie industry.
One of the really interesting things Johannes discussed was his technical Academy Award he won with his team at Framestore. I don’t pretend to understand what they developed, but essentially he explained that it is a process called Deep Image Compositing. This allows per pixel color depth which can greatly speed up production time as images can be layered more effectively. This achievement was a crowning moment for Johannes, but he is a very modest guy and he still feels there is much more he can learn and accomplish.
He also gave me some history on Framestore; they have been working on movies and television for many years with some huge movies under their belt. What really surprised me is when he told me that one of their first projects was Aha’s Take on Me video. They have been innovating for years and have their eyes keenly focused on VR with Johannes specifically looking at ways to use procedurally generated worlds to improve what we see and do in VR experiences.
He is also looking at Fractal engines and mining techniques to help populate these procedurally generated spaces. With Fractal mining you can search for a keyword and generate shapes made of fractals to add to a database. So if you need a bunch of chairs use the Fractal system to generate a database of chairs and when the world is being generated it will add chairs as they are needed. Again the conversation veered to a point that my limited knowledge was stretched but it was fascinating to hear the process he was discussing.
Please listen to the full interview below to hear Johannes describe the procdural systems and his academy award winning technical achievement in greater detail.