If Lucasfilm and its visual effects division, Industrial Light & Magic, are known for anything, it’s for pushing the boundaries of cinematic possibility by creating fantastic universes and amazing special effects that revolutionize the way films are made. It all began in a galaxy far, far, away (otherwise known as California), and over the last 40 years, Lucasfilm and ILM have allowed us to see worlds that we could have only imagined. They’re at it again, but this time, the innovation is behind-the-scenes.

No Film School had the exciting opportunity to spend nearly three hours with developers from Lucasfilm & ILM at a special demo previewing their new Virtual Production toolset during New York Film Festival's Convergence. We got a hands-on demonstration of the new system that will allow filmmakers to don a VR headset, step into the virtual worlds of their fantastical sets, and do everything one might do on set in real life—from storyboarding shots, to picking up and moving set pieces, to blocking characters. This new VR workflow will speed up and, dare we say, revolutionize CGI filmmaking because filmmakers can interact with their CG content natively and in real time.

 Filmmakers can interact with their CG content natively and in real time.

While this amazing new technology is nascent and new workflow integrations are still being developed, there will come a day soon when directors, DPs, actors, and grips will carry out their duties inside of their CG worlds wearing VR headsets. Directors and DPs already have the ability to passively watch their CG worlds while filming live actors, as was done on films like Avatar and Kong: Skull Island. This allows them to get a sense of what  their shots will look like without needing to wait for renders and then possibly re-shoot.

ILM’s new VR toolkit takes that much further by allowing filmmakers to step into those worlds (wearing a VR headset) with six degrees of freedom and interact with them in real time. It’s intuitive, it’s fast, and it allows you to experience your fantasy world just as (if not better than) you can experience the real world. For example, in the real world, if you decide that you need to move a huge object (like a bus or a helicopter) it would take a lot of effort and time. Not with the VR toolkit. You can pick up and move objects with your hands simply by grabbing them and clicking a couple of buttons.

VR ToolkitA Convergence visitor tries out a demo of Lucasfilm's VR toolset.

The possibilities of this tech are many. During the demo, we heard about some forthcoming features like real-world sunlight simulations based on geolocation and time of day. With tools like this, you can quickly and accurately scout and pre-visualize shoot locations, saving a tremendous amount of time while gaining a ton of valuable information about the setting. On the flip side, if you don’t want to wait for the sunlight to be right for your shot, you no longer have to. Just Look up, find the sun, grab it with your hand and move it. Color temperature and shadows update in real time allowing you to create any type of sunlight your imagination can dream up for your shots.

Manipulating storyboards will also be simplified. You can grab characters (for example, a Stormtrooper) and pose him (by pulling on his arms, legs, head, etc.) just like you might with an action figure. Then, go grab your camera (from the menu that you can activate with a button click), choose a lens, set your exposure, and frame your shot. If you like the shot, you can save a thumbnail of that shot to a storyboard and move along to your next shot. It’s truly incredible.

For even more realism, we’re told that there are (and will be more) camera props in the system that simulate the size, weight, and ergonomics of real-world camera kits to make this virtual process feel even more natural for DPs. Future features also include the ability to create actual camera movements and takes all within the virtual world. Ultimately, this VR Toolkit will be an end-to-end production workflow wherein filmmakers will be able to do everything from pre-viz to shooting takes. It’s incredibly exciting and was a treat to have been able to get a glimpse into the future of filmmaking.