‘The Hobbit’ Breathes Fire into Virtual Reality Expansion


Visual effects studio WETA and Epic Games produced the VR experience unveiled at the Game Developers Conference

Hobbit fans are about to embark on a different kind of journey, this time in virtual reality.

The hero of Peter Jackson’s “Hobbit” will be facing the dragon “Smaug” once again in the “Thief in the Shadows,” in virtual reality experience created by Weta Digital.

Using the assets from “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug”, visual effects studio Weta Digital used Epic Games’ Unreal Engine 4 to develop the VR spinoff.

An Oculus Rift headset places the viewer in a mystical world as you make your way through a collection of gold coins confronted by Smaug, the guardian of the loot. Benedict Cumberbatch voices the dragon as he did in the films.

The head of the research and development at Weta Digital, Alasdair Coull stated,

“When you come face-to-face with an enormous dragon that experience has to be believable, visceral and emotional.”

Running at a smooth 90 frames per second speed, Weta Digital and Epic Games unveiled the VR experience at the Game Developers Conference, taking place this week in San Francisco.

While there are no plans to release the demo commercially, the partnership between Weta and Epic, alongside graphics chip maker Nvidia shows a fast growing interest by content makers to produce immersive storytelling promotions for the latest VR headsets.

Fox Searchlight debuted “Wild”, starring Reese Witherspoon and Laura Dern, accompanied with a virtual reality experience. Using a Samsung Gear VR headset, viewers rest on a tree in the same forest where the Witherspoon’s character continues to walk on the trail and later engages in a discussion with the ghost of her mother played by Laura Dern.

The entertainment industry continues to drive momentum into the VR cinema space. Fox’s Innovation Lab initiative is already exploring other films to introduce companion pieces, including “The Martian,” and future “X-Men” films.

Sundance saw several VR films as well. “Birdly” let viewers view San Francisco as a bird flying above the city, and “Project Syria” puts the audience in the middle of a rocket attack in the war-torn nation.

Oculus, meanwhile, has also launched an internal team, Story Studio, focused on creating virtual reality cinema — recently debuting “Lost,” an animated feature by former Pixar animator Saschka Unseld. It has plans to release four additional VR cinema shorts this year.

About the Scout

Jonathan Nafarrete

Jonathan Nafarrete is the co-founder of VRScout.

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