Visual effects studios are increasingly expanding the kinds of projects they work on, in addition to the traditional film, TV or TVC work. VR is one such area, and so is installation work. Animal Logic recently orchestrated a 360 degree video piece to highlight the capabilities of the University of Technology Sydney’s (UTS) new Data Arena.

The Data Arena is a three-dimensional panorama cinema made possible by six 3D stereo projectors, edge blended to produce an image that is 20,000 x 1200 pixels. The Arena is intended to showcase interactive data explorations, virtual reality experiences, 3D data viz applications and more. Ben Simons, who has worked at facilities such as Mr. X, C.O.R.E. and Dr. D Studios, is the lead developer at UTS on the Data Arena.

A full panoramic image from the Animal Logic video. Click to enlarge.
A full panoramic image from the Animal Logic video. Click to enlarge.

UTS engaged Animal Logic to produce a 360 experience as part of the launch of the Data Arena. What they came up with was a journey from the actual UTS building itself around the planet and through the universe - a piece that required extensive design work and some compositing tricks to make possible.

“I was thinking about the journey of a student,” Animal Logic art director Toby Grime told fxguide. “So I thought about the exterior of this new building at UTS and placing the piece in that space. I started there and went more on a journey - not so much literal but a little less crazy.”

The journey, of course, was realized in 360 degrees, requiring a new way of planning and working for Animal Logic. “Obviously at Animal we’re used to dealing with 2:3:5 ration boxes and we put animation and visual effects in there,” says Grime. “I initially started with storyboards in 8:1 ratio frames, just visualizing what would look good.”

As design and animation continued, artists at Animal relied on two Oculus Rift headsets to previs the piece. “We basically re-built the Data Arena space with an Oculus, so we could then put our animations in there,” explains Grime. “They were quite low-res but it was the best way to previsualize the experience of being in the data room and moving around and watching animation. The tempo and cadence of watching things in 360 is very different from a film screening. We also did a few visits to a different 360 cinema but in a sense we were flying blind until we saw the final piece!”

Maya and NUKE were the key tools utilized. The NUKE approach was somewhat similar to what is required to produce a VR video and solve stitching issues, although here it was stereo and cylindrical.

Another image from the video.
Another image from the installation.

While this Animal Logic video is a cinema experience and manages to immerse the audience - who can stand up watching the piece in 3D glasses and turn to see any part of it - the ultimate plan for the Data Arena is to have share datavis experience, perhaps offering even more opportunities for visual effects researchers and artists to work in.

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