(The following has been excerpted from "Virtual Reality Monthly: The
World Market's Window on VR
*Copyright 1995 Virtual Reality Monthly All rights reserved*)
VR IN HOLLYWOOD
Hollywood Heavyweights Discover VR
by Joe Dysart, Editor
Virtual Reality Monthly
More than a few *s are nudging junior away from the home
PC for a crack at today's 3D programs - including some of
Hollywood's top directors.
Sydney Pollack, John Badham and Brian De Palma are all
transforming their movie sets into 3D worlds with an off-the-shelf
program called "Virtus Walkthrough Pro 2.0." And they're finding
they work through decisions about lighting, camera angles, and actors'
movements - in a way they never could before.
No longer do cameramen need to go scurrying every which
way to capture countless shots the director may never use. No longer
do lighting people need spend most of a day working up an effect that
in the end, just does not work. And no longer do set builders have to
recraft or simply destroy lavish castles, futuristic spacecraft or western
saloons that a director ultimately judges as 'off the mark.'
Instead, all the *, sweat and tears associated with those
false starts and ill-fated creations can be played out in the director's
*space, where it belongs.
"It gives me an enormous advantage to get a feeling of
movement and a visual perspective before going onto a set to shoot,"
says Pollack, who used Virtus software to help create the movie "The
Firm." "With Virtus "Walkthrough," I can use my computer to easily
assign any focal length for the camera. I can put people where I want
them to be - I can preview and record angles and shots."
Brian De Palma, another "Walkthrough Pro" fan, first used the
software to help put together "Carlito's Way." He says the software
has quite simply changed the way he makes film. Camera angles that
he might have never imagined suddenly occur to him as he works
through Virtus' worlds. And storyboarding - the scene by scene
sketches of the way images will unfold - has literally taken on another
dimension. Says De Palma: "It's been invaluable."
Granted, "Walkthrough Pro" is only one of a number of 3D
world creation programs on the market. And company representatives
freely admit that higher end packages offer richer textures and more
But apparently, directors like Pollack and De Palma keep
coming back to "Walkthrough Pro for one simple reason: it's easy to
use. "With some of the higher end programs, it can take hours - even
days - to render the images you want," says Gilbert B. Hammer, a
director of photography and president of ImageWorks. "But if you're
an experienced Virtus user, you can put together those same animated
models in a few hours.
"And if you don't like what you see, you can make changes
on-the-fly, in real time."
Virtus got its first big break in the movies back in 1989, when
filmmakers Michael Backes and James Cameron were having trouble
visualizing underwater sets for the film "The Abyss." David Smith -
now president of Virtus - got wind of the creators' problem, and used
actual blueprints of the movie sets to create 3D versions that Backes
and Cameron could view from any angle.
The result: after toying with Smith's worlds, the two concluded
that only four of the five sets they were planning needed to be built -
an insight that saved them approximately $3 million.
"Whether it's for episodic TV, features, or commercials, there's
a tremendous need in the industry to cut costs," says ImageWorks'
Hammer, who also serves as a consultant on the film industry to
Virtus. "And if you can find a tool to previsualize what you're going
to be filming, you're going to have a better sense of what your options
Agrees Pollack: "By trying the mechanics of the set before it's
built, I can go back to the production designer and say, 'I need an
L-shape there.' Obviously, if I can do that before the set is built, I save
Of course, "Walkthrough Pro" also works perfectly fine for
those of us who are not juggling $80-$100 million budgets per project.
Hammer says he recently used the software to create a trade show
fly-through demonstration for a fragrance company. Curious
navigated to any location in the 3D room - a carpet, a flower vase, a
closet - and then received a complementary whoosh of fragrance
associated with the object or location.
Says Steve Katz, a writer/director who turns film students on to
"Walkthrough Pro" at the American Film Institute, where he is also a
guest instructor: "You really can't understand the appeal of this
program until you actually use it," "It's a quantitative difference so
great that it launches you into a whole new way of thinking. "
Contact: Ashley Sharpe, Spokeswoman, Virtus
Voice: (800) 847-8871
Fax: (919) 460-4530
(For a free email sample of VR Monthly, contact the editor at: