SIGGRAPH 2017: Inside the VR Film Jam

Last week, we published a review of the VR Film Jam at SIGGRAPH, published by Epic Games through their Unreal Engine news site. This week, we asked the team from USV to reflect on their experiences at the event. Rubbing shoulders with industry pros as part of a project team, they got to see the inside of an industry that is in its infancy. Here are their perspectives.

 Peter Mo: Director

The Siggraph 2017 VR Film Jam was a wonderful opportunity for myself and my team of three talented students to challenge ourselves in creating what was, for most of us, our very first Virtual Reality Experience. We had a chance to work alongside veteran industry professionals from Epic Games and were able to use the complete set of Oculus Rift gear and powerful Nvidia workstations to develop our final product. One of the challenges we faced was optimizing the dense geometry of existing 3D assets from the previous Project X film, Trouble Brewing, along with high-resolution textures, to perform well in a real-time environment. Frame rate is even more important in VR because sub-optimal FPS can lead to disorientation and nausea in players. We were ultimately able to reduce overall polygon count for our 3D assets down to 10% of the original number with negligible loss in visual quality. The performance gain was used for post-processing effects to make the final VR experience more cinematic.

Our concept evolved from one that was linear and story-driven, like the film itself, to one that was open-ended and dynamic to give the player greater interactivity and immersion. I had a lot of fun play-testing our VR experience on the last day of our 3-day work period and was amazed at what we had accomplished given the short amount of time and our limited experience in VR creation. I want to thank USV for its support, the expert team from Epic Games for helping us make everything work, and my team members for all their hard work before and during the event.

Kimberly Wong:  Project Manager/3D Animator

I’ve heard of SIGGRAPH but I’ve never actually gone before so this was my first time. I was expecting something overwhelming and huge, not that it wasn’t but, we were mainly in our work room for the three days, 9 am to 9 pm, so we didn’t get to see much of the event itself. However, it was still a great experience because we, as a team of four, got to work through the whole pipeline- with the help of two other EPIC guys, Wes and Luis- and complete a VR project, which I haven’t ever done before either.

It was really fulfilling to see the finished project and that we actually completed it in the three days that we had. When we presented it on the fourth day, one player really made the whole experience worth it. It was his very first time ever trying out VR and he was excited to try out ours. He was curiously looking through the whole environment and was surprised just by seeing the goat pop out at him. He was shouting out at everything he thought was cool and was very happy this was his first VR experience. I hope that whoever tries out the game will enjoy it as much as that kid did.

Jordan Boone: Sound Manager/Sound Designer

Siggraph was the first convention I’ve ever been to. This was also my first game jam, so I had little to no idea of what to expect. Each day we worked in a friendly and nearly casual environment despite the insane time crunch we were under. I had a really positive experience overall. Being able to dive into VR and help create something that made people happy or intrigued or even just ask questions was really, really cool. I liked being able to talk directly with the Epic Games devs while we were building, I definitely gleaned a lot of good information from them, as well as other individuals I met on the convention floor. The first three days of work were hard, but could’ve felt harder, and ultimately, seeing one person’s response (in particular) made it all worth it. As a bonus, I got some valuable networking practice while on the floor. This experience has piqued my interest in VR and its possibilities. Shoutout to the awesome team!

Scott Stewart: Lighting Artist/Look Development/Level Designer

The VR Film Jam experience at SIGGRAPH 2017 was fun, challenging, and rewarding. Since we only had three days to complete our virtual reality game, our focus had to be consistent at all times during production. In addition, Epic Games even provided their head of learning director and a professional game developer to assist us with our production. My first role on the team was to import the house interior and props from “Trouble Brewing” into the game engine, Unreal Engine. My second task was to then recreate the materials in Unreal Engine for the assets that had been brought in. Then, my third task was to light the scene while trying to match the mood of the initial film, with some adjustments and considerations for virtual reality gameplay. Lastly, my final task was to then adjust gameplay mechanics such as collision, boundaries, etc. Overall, I had a lot of fun working on the Trouble Brewing team for the VR Film Jam, and I am grateful for the opportunity to do so. This was an invaluable experience, and I learned a lot from the time we spent on making Trouble Brewing’s virtual reality game. 

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