August 14, 2018

Technicolor premieres HP Mars Home Planet: The VR Experience at SIGGRAPH 2018, a Peek into Life on the Red Planet

The Technicolor Experience Center’s year-long multi-faceted project with HP, Nvidia and Launch Forth culminates with the exclusive release of the VR component.

The Experience

The year is 2176, and you are the newest resident of the thriving Martian community.

The planet is still hostile to human life, yet we have carved out a habitable section of the red planet, finally transforming ourselves into a multi-planetary species. You made the bold choice to embark on the adventure of a lifetime, and today is your first day as a Martian citizen.

"Please keep all personal belonging secure until shuttle landing is complete," you hear in your ears, but never have the words caused such a leap in your chest.

Your rocket touches down, and the journey begins!

A friendly AI assistant, ALICE, introduces herself as your liaison. As you tour the Visitor Center, you behold the wondrous technical innovations that brought us to Mars -- models of vehicles and architectural designs that demonstrate the genius of humanity’s smartest designers and engineers. The designs on display have solved problems of expandability, material use, functionality and durability on the red planet.

As you see the remarkable innovations that led to interplanetary colonization, it becomes clear that building life on Mars was a design challenge unlike any other...


The TEC’s Role

Imagine there is a community of nearly 90,000 architects, artists, scientists, student and engineers interested in exploring life on Mars. From that brilliant community you receive over 1,000 design submissions (with very few creative parameters) as 3D models of all varieties and formats.

And then imagine that you have to come up with a cohesive design and story using the winning efforts, convert the heavy models into assets optimized for VR in a real-time game engine, and create a 14-minute VR experience… in just three months!

That was the challenge the TEC faced in creating HP Mars Home Planet: The VR Experience.  Beyond the dedicated community and project manager who helped shepherd the year-long crowd-sourced design competition, our team of 15 artists, modelers and animators had to push the boundaries of today’s real-time technology to create the first ever 6 degree of freedom VR experience launched for the Positron Voyager motion chairs.

"We were really excited to begin this adventure with HP and NVIDIA to understand how a community of engineers, scientist and students would approach life on Mars. And ultimately how this could influence a VR experience. What we discovered is that when taking a diverse community and having that community come together and get behind a passionate topic, anything is possible. This project has been the epitome of a collaborative experience as we all challenged the established creative, production and post production norms. Technicolor is so proud of this piece and hopes that while lucky attendees at SIGGRAPH will get to experience it first hand, that HP Mars Home Planet: A VR Experience will ultimately live on around the world at museum and science centers, as we feel that immersive media can become a strong tool for audiences to better connect to the educational and social aspects of these important stories."

The team at the TEC, led by VFX Supervisor David Witters, Experience Producer Brian Frager and Technical Producer David Kern and the Immersive Media artists and developers in Bangalore were then turned loose to build the world of the Martian community. This included an original environment design of the Martian Community Welcome Center, the story of your arrival on Mars, and extensive optimization and polish of many community-generated assets. . The challenges were very real as the team focused their energies on creating a sense of grand scale to put the thought of space travel in the minds of the viewers, while recognizing NASA for their missions and discoveries. We wanted to make sure all of the models were seen in the best possible light and that the efforts of the community were recognized in the experience. Above all else we wanted the experience to look amazing!

To help build context for this speculative future, the TEC hosted a World Building Day at our Los Angeles office in May, bringing together some of the foremost thinkers in the emerging field of World Building to craft a wide spectrum of narratives as to why people would leave the comfort of Earth for the adventures of Mars.

“The Mars Home Planet contest provided an incredible opportunity to support a vibrant community of architects, engineers, designers and more to focus their energies on the future we collectively want to build for humanity. Many of today’s visionary thinkers understand the importance of humanity evolving into an interplanetary species, and we wanted to inspire the next generations to heed the call to action. We also wanted to honor the imagination of the Launchforth contest submissions by painting an upbeat and inspiring picture of humanity’s future on Mars, as a stark contrast to the often lonely, isolated and dystopian sci-fi futures depicted in film and television.

We were honored to be a part of shaping the story of the Martian community and leaned into the crowd-sourced nature of this entire contest by hosting a day-long world-building session with luminaries from a diverse array of backgrounds. This group brainstorm set the context for this possible future both technologically, sociologically, and politically. The final challenge for us was to distill this richly imagined future in an experience that was cinematic, thrilling, and hopefully uplifting.”

Once the story began to take shape, Technicolor used its Unreal game engine expertise to optimize the wide variety of submissions into real-time assets, including decimating the meshes, converting CAD files to FBX and OBJ files, lightmapping the environments for performance and aesthetic quality, and creating custom loading scripts for individual rooms to maintain framerate.

With the story in place and the development underway, Technicolor brought its partnership with Positron to bear as it tackled the consumers experience with the piece. In addition to dedicating 5 Voyager® chairs to create a synchronous VR theater at SIGGRAPH 2018, Positron’s team of expert engineers supported the integration and designed the motion track to make this thrilling experience come to life. 

While Technicolor has empowered storytelling for over 100 years, this was an exciting time for us to become the storytellers -- to take a diverse pool of crowd-sourced concepts and designs and create a cohesive VR experience. The result is HP Mars Home Planet: The VR Experience.

"As a VFX Supervisor you are accustomed to working with a creative to bring their vision to life. This time I was the creative - complex models and the need for high frame rate in stereo for VR. The real challenge was ultimately how to design a building rich visual story arc with complex models from a diverse community and software suite while recognizing NASA with a fun, somewhat educational, moving VR experience.”