A funny thing happened on the way to the release of the virtual reality epic Ready Player One — augmented reality grabbed a major piece of the spotlight. Specifically, Microsoft's HoloLens.
It all started last week when the film's director, Steven Spielberg, was quoted in an interview saying that the Oculus Rift had been used in the production of the film. Sounds fairly unremarkable, until you remember that the film's producers have struck an official marketing partnership with Oculus' chief rival, the HTC Vive.
The revelation raised quite a few eyebrows in the competitive VR space, prompting Warner Bros., the film's studio, to reach out to Slashfilm, the site that published the quote. After the studio's contact with Slashfilm, the article was updated to note that the Vive was used in the film's production (without initially clarifying the apparent contradiction with Spielberg's quote). There was quite a bit of confusion surrounding the story until one of the film's production team members decided to step forward on Twitter and reveal what was and wasn't used on the set.
"Just to clarify, we used Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and HoloLens during the filming of Ready Player One, not just one headset. Each one was used at a different stage of production," said Girish Balakrishnan, a lead virtual production developer at Moving Picture Company (MPC), an effects studio that has worked on major films including Blade Runner 2049, Ghost in the Shell, Alien: Covenant, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, Wonder Woman, and others. "When shooting mocap [motion capture], Rift. When scouting virtual cameras, Vive. When on the practical set, HoloLens."
And while that removed any doubt about which VR headset was involved in the production (apparently, both), the real surprise was the presence of the HoloLens in a film focused on VR. Increasingly, we're getting looks at how the HoloLens is helping architects, doctors, and manufacturers in various ways, but its inclusion in a major film production was something of a surprise.
But how exactly did the Ready Player One team use the device?
"HoloLens came out during the early days of filming so our use cases were pretty rudimentary," said Balakrishnan in a followup tweet when asked what part the HoloLens played in the production. "Actors, costume designer, and production designer used HoloLens to see their Avatar in context on-set. Tap-to-spawn Avatar basically. Also used it to export rough OBJ scans of environment."
If you're unfamiliar with the premise of Ready Player One, it involves a world in which VR has gone totally mainstream and people live most of their day as avatars in a virtual environment called the OASIS. The specifics of how this looks in terms of the HoloLens in use on the film's set have yet to be detailed, but we may get a look soon.
"Warner Bros. has footage showing the film makers using Vive in the production process," said Alvin Wang Graylin, the China president of Vive, via Twitter responses to some of the questions surrounding what devices were used on set. "I believe they are compiling some footage for release soon."
Whether that footage will include images of the HoloLens in action is unclear, but now that there's confirmation that it was a part of the production, it opens up the possibility of more filmmakers, inspired by Spielberg's example, tapping the device as a means to realize special effects-driven scenes. Behind the scenes footage is usually revealed soon after a film's release, so we should get some answers soon, as Ready Player One will hit theaters on March 29.