Peter Jackson’s New Studio is All About AR Storytelling

The Lord of the Rings auteur is using Apple’s ARkit to unlock new levels of storytelling immersion in augmented reality.

In the world of modern cinema, there are few names as recognizable as Peter Jackson. The New Zealand native is responsible for some of the medium’s most technologically groundbreaking work, including the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit franchises. A director/producer/writer known for envelope-pushing work in visual and special effects, it should come as no surprise that he has jumped headfirst into the world of immersive technology with a brand new studio dedicated to augmented reality storytelling.

Over the past year Jackson and his team at Wingnut AR, a subdivision of Wingnut Films, have been utilizing Apple’s ARkit to experiment with various types of AR experiences. Wingnut presented a glimpse of their work at Apple’s WWDC keynote last month, but this week BBC posted footage giving us our first look at one of the studio’s first demos, and the results are nothing short of spectacular.

On stage demo at Apple’s WWDC.

In the video we get an in-depth look at an intense sci-fi scene projected onto a tabletop surface using an iPad Pro. The scene includes a stunning set piece as well as smooth, lag-free animations of alien gunships raining down fire onto a group of unlucky civilians.

“Peter Jackson and his partner Fran Walsh, they’d seen some AR demos of some new hardware and were really excited about the creative possibilities,” said Wingnut Creative Director Alasdair Coull, speaking to BBC Click. “They’re amazing storytellers and they wanted to take their experience and use their skills and take them into this new medium.”

The 1:30 minute demo apparently operates on a specialized version of ARKit that runs a plugin, which easily integrates the software into Unreal Engine 4. In addition, Jackson had actual actors act out the scenes and then use motion capture technology to record their performances.

The result is a visually impressive and beautifully choreographed experience running at 60 frames per second. At one point in the video provided (1:08 minutes to be exact) you can even catch a glimpse of one character jumping off the physical table in a desperate attempt to avoid gunfire. If that isn’t the coolest thing you’ve seen all day I don’t know what is.

“Our developers Dan Smith and Andy Styles built a plugin to hook up ARKit and UE4 that let us use the power of ARKit quite easily within UE4,” said Coull. “During the project, Epic Games got very involved and they’ve now taken ownership of the plugin, tidied it up, and have released it to the world, so anyone can use UE4 [with ARKit].”

It’s thrilling to have a creative force as talented as Peter Jackson so involved in the budding technology. In order for augmented reality storytelling to evolve, it will require the attention and interest of both the general public as well as veteran film buffs. What better way to drum up support than to have one of modern cinema’s most influential figures backing you up. Hopefully other ambitious storytellers begin to recognize the potential augmented reality can have on the future of entertainment.

About the Scout

Kyle Melnick

Kyle is a writer for VRScout also working in new media production. He's also a part-time bounty hunter.

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