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Metaverse November 29, 2022

TV Shows and Movies Increasingly Powered by Metaverse Technology



Hollywood special effects teams are increasingly using metaverse-related technologies to bring fantasy worlds to life.

Industrial Light and Magic (ILM), the special effects firm founded by George Lucas in 1975, is among a host of firms pioneering ‘StageCraft’ technology to design and create virtual reality (VR) sets. The technology has roots in gaming design and the creation of virtual worlds.

The technology has been used in hit Disney+ shows such as The Mandalorian and Obi-Wan Kenobi, as well as big-budget feature movies including Matt Reeves’ The Batman, starring Robert Pattinson.

An LED stage employed for The Mandalorian.

Melinda Sue Gordon/Lucasfilm/Disney+.

How it works

Stagecraft sets are similar to virtual reality headsets that render images in real-time. The key difference is that instead of rendering images on a headset viewer that is just a few inches across, virtual sets use hundreds of connected LED screens to create a c-shaped wall of virtual imagery 20 feet high, 75 feet across, and 270 degrees around.

Virtual sets are dynamic, able to shift and move as the camera’s point of view shifts. The camera becomes a VR headset and camera in one. The director can point the camera wherever they choose, capturing the real and virtual environment in a single shot.

“I’m able to put actors and cameras in this environment and we can see it and play in it and live in it,” explained Rick Famuyiwa, Executive Producer and Director of The Mandalorian.

ILM initially powered its virtual reality sets with the Unreal Engine – an off-the-shelf software solution for building game titles. The Unreal Engine powers Fortnite, Batman: Arkham City (Return To Arkham), Ark: Survival Evolved, and Conan Exiles, as well as virtual reality titles including Robo Recall, and The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners.

ILM now uses a bespoke rendering engine, in keeping with their overall philosophy of developing technologies and processes in-house.

TV Shows and Movies Increasingly Powered by Metaverse Technology

A future movie set as imagined with the help of AI generators.

Too much of a good thing?

Hollywood is swiftly becoming a testing ground for metaverse technologies as the industry throws significant money at virtual stages.

Miles Perkins, industry manager of film and TV for Epic Games (Unreal Engine), recently spoke about the rapid proliferation of the technology.

“We are tracking roughly 300 stages, up from only three in 2019,” he told the Hollywood Reporter last month.

Such rapid adoption can create as many problems as it solves.

If industry insiders struggle to learn the language of VR and how to get the best from it, the result could negatively impact public perception in the longer term. Both The Book of Boba Fett and Obi-Wan Kenobi took criticism for their over-reliance on LED stages. The more recently produced series Andor has avoided the same trap with more on-location filming.

Director-producer Jay Holben remains optimistic about virtual sets even if the technology can catch unwary filmmakers off-guard. 

“A lot of people are walking in thinking they can just turn on the camera and shoot,” Holben continued. “But if the light is not correct and the color balance isn’t set up properly – these things can look bad.”

Pixar also involved

Live-action studios are not the only Hollywood big hitters employing or developing metaverse technologies. Animation giant Pixar is also contributing to the field, albeit in a different arena.

In 2003 the studio developed Universal Scene Description (USD), a platform-agnostic software allowing animators in different studios and often using different software to communicate and collaborate effectively. The software was first used to create the hit movie Finding Nemo and continues to be used by the studio to this day.

In 2016 Pixar made USD open-source. Now USD is being touted as the HTML of 3D, with applications in visual effects, architecture, design, robotics, CAD and the metaverse.

Nvidia picks up the torch

Nvidia is one of the companies betting big on USD. It will employ the software within its Omniverse, a metaverse geared to corporate applications.

“USD should serve as the HTML of the metaverse”

According to Nvidia, “what will make the entire metaverse a success will be the same thing that has made the 2D web so successful: universal interoperability based on open standards and protocols.”

As Nvidia sees it that interoperability comes from USD. In August it stated outright that “NVIDIA believes that USD should serve as the HTML of the metaverse.”

To make Nvidia’s Omniverse dream a reality, USD will need to develop and change.

At present, there are a number of gaps in USD which limit its ability to fulfil its role as the HTML of the metaverse. The software does not even include full support in all international languages; a significant drawback for any system attempting to reach global appeal.

TV Shows and Movies Increasingly Powered by Metaverse Technology

Neither is USD fast enough to deal with high-speed incremental updates. This functionality is the key to creating “digital twin” environments, recreating the real world in the virtual.

Another issue that Nvidia will need to solve is representing virtual worlds in-browser since not everyone will have access to VR headsets during the earliest days of the metaverse. Nvidia says it is working with partners to find solutions to these issues. 

The future may be bright for USD and Nvidia’s Omniverse if these challenges can be met. There are already signs that other industries will find commercial applications for technology developed in Hollywood. 

Already Ericsson, Kroger, and Volvo are employing USD to enable the construction of 3D worlds including workspaces and factories. Last year Nvidia collaborated with BMW to build a virtual factory of the future, finding cost and efficiency savings in the process.

From the movie screen to the metaverse and back to the real world, techniques developed for TV shows and movies look set to increasingly become part of our everyday lives, blurring the lines between fantasy and reality.


Image credits: Shutterstock, CC images, Midjourney.


Meta Reportedly Defeats FTC to Receive Court Approval to Acquire Within



Meta Reportedly Defeats FTC to Receive Court Approval to Acquire Within

Meta, Facebook and Instagram’s parent company, has reportedly won court approval for the acquisition of VR fitness app Supernatural’s maker, Within, after the Federal Trade Commission attempted to block the deal.

Also read: Lawsuit Filed Against Meta, Snap, TikTok for Mental Health Crisis

A US district judge, Edward Davila in San Jose California, “denied the FTC’s request for a preliminary injunction to block the proposed transaction” in a sealed decision on Wednesday, reported Bloomberg, citing a source familiar with the ruling.

Meta’s plan was to acquire Within and Supernatural back in October 2021, but it was blocked by the FTC’s complaint file to stop the deal. The FTC’s complaint was justified by saying Meta already owns a “virtual reality empire.”

Following the news, shares of Meta were slightly positive on Wednesday afternoon.

Facebook and The FTC also declined to comment with Bloomberg’s query citing the sealed nature of Davila’s decisions.

Push for Metaverse

The reported victory in this case may boost Mark Zuckerberg’s push towards the Metaverse. Zuckerberg’s Meta Quest 2 is arguably the best VR headset, even after a massive hike in its price last year.

Meta Quest Pro for $1500 and Meta Quest 3 are also in the company’s VR line-up, which has already developed VR spaces for work and play.

The Supernatural, developed by Within, was one of the first subscription-based services on the original Meta Quest.

Supernatural, a fitness app that features video instructors and motion-tracked workout routines, carries similarities to Meta’s successful fitness VR music game Beat Saber. Beat Saber was also acquired by Meta in 2019.

 Meta’s Dominance

A trial before the FTC’s administrative judge will start on Feb. 13. The FTC will also decide if it will continue with the case. Lina Khan, the chair of the FTC, was appointed by US President Joe Biden to bolster antitrust enforcement as a key principle of his administration’s economic policy. Hence, if this order stands, this loss to Meta will be a significant setback for Khan.

The FTC sued Meta back in July, arguing this acquisition would expand its dominance in the consumer VR market, highlighting its purchase of Beat Saber three years ago. The agency even emphasized that the addition of Within would even eliminate a “beneficial rivalry” between the two companies.

At the time, “the case was) based on ideology and speculation, not evidence, the idea that this acquisition would lead to anticompetitive outcomes in a dynamic space with as much entry and growth as online and connected fitness is simply not credible,” said a Meta spokesperson in a statement.

It’s still to be decided whether this will be the end of this story or not, as the FTC has declined to comment.

“Out of respect for the court’s orders, the FTC is not in a position to comment at this time,” FTC director of public affairs Douglas Farrar told The Verge.

Within would be the third start-up acquired by social media giants over the last decade if this case ends here and Meta purchases one more VR start-up. Previously, Meta acquired Oculus in 2014 before purchasing Beat Saber in 2019.



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How AI Can Accelerate Metaverse Development



How AI Can Accelerate Metaverse Development

Artificial intelligence (AI) is poised to accelerate the creation and development of the metaverse, with multiple companies including Nvidia, Google, and OpenAI creating AI-powered 3D tools.

The public is already familiar with chatbots and AI-image generators, both of which can be leveraged to speed up development cycles for the metaverse. Text-to-3D generators, among other type of 3D generators, accelerate that process still further, and empower enthusiasts to channel their creative urges in new arenas. 

The filling the metaverse problem

In the earliest days of the internet most users passively consumed the world wide web as they surfed from site to site. The emergence of social media empowered users to share their own content, and the internet experienced a cambrian explosion of information. 

Filling the metaverse means learning the lessons of the early internet all over again argues Rev Lebaredian, VP for omniverse and simulation technology at Nvidia. This time, however, ordinary people will need greater levels of assistance to create the content.

“We’re able to fill the internet with interesting stuff because everybody is capable of taking a picture, recording a video, or writing words,” said Lebaredian on January 27. “If we are going to create a 3D internet, then you absolutely have to have the people who are participating in it creating content as well, and the only hope we have of making that happen is if AI can help us.”

Nvidia holds the belief that AI and the metaverse are intrinsically linked, and that both rely heavily upon each other.

“Just as AI is crucial to the expansion of the metaverse, so too is the metaverse to the expansion of AI,” explains Gavriel State, director of the system software team at NVIDIA.

“Digital twins in the metaverse are providing physically accurate virtual environments that allow developers to simulate and test AI,” says State before concluding, “Generative AI is key to scaling these digital twins and virtual environments that will usher in a new era of AI and the metaverse.”

The here and now

Sean Ellul, co-founder of the 3D development studio Metaverse Architects, is a big believer in transformative potential of AI-generated content.

In a recent interview with TIME Ellul revealed how his own firm has incorporated ChatGPT into a multitude of everyday tasks including brainstorming creative ideas, writing code and composing texts for decks and emails. 

“I can’t stress how helpful this has been to us,” says Ellul who has gone all-in on AI, using it as regularly as most internet users use Google. 

Ellul also takes the process one step further by prompting MidJourney to create floor plans for buildings which he can then use a template for 3D models. It’s a process which would undoubtedly be a little too complex for the average person, but it’s a powerful time-saving technique for Ellul and his team.

Case in point, the following floor plan was created from the Ellul prompt: “create a floor plan sketch with measurements and dimensions of a house plan built on one floor including two bedrooms three bathrooms kitchen and living and a garden. Include furnishing.” 

AI floorplan

House floorplan created using MidJourney

Ellul also uses MidJourney to help him create virtual non-player characters (NPCs). In one example Ellul used 9 different female faces to create a composite image with MidJourney. The resulting image produced a fresh-faced nordic female with blonde hair.

Ellul then returns to ChatGPT to find out who this young woman is. Ellul prompts ChatGPT to “generate a backstory for a 24-year-old woman from a tiny village in a fantasy setting who works at an inn.”

ChatGPT suggests that the woman is named Elspeth, and that she, “worked as a farmhand, a blacksmith’s apprentice, and even as a barmaid in a bustling city town. But no matter where she went, she always felt like something was missing.”

Elspeth created by AI

Meet Elspeth

Tools to make it happen

The challenge for AI is to transform a character such as Elspeth from a 2D image and chatbot-inspired biography into a fully realized character in three dimensions

The field is not short of competitors who are creating tools to make that dream reality.

In November Nvidia announced Magic3D, a high-resolution text-to-3D image generator. According to Nvidia the tool is capable of transforming a text prompt into a fully-realized 3D model in 40 minutes.

In December OpenAI released its own 3D image generator called Point-E. Google also has its own text-to-3D tool, DreamFusion.

At the moment there remain limits to what these tools can accomplish on their own with significant human intervention and expertise in the fields of 3D modeling. The question, therefore, is how long until that is no longer true.

According to Nvidia’s Lebaredian a future in which every person can create their own virtual worlds with the help of AI assistants is not too far away.

“I would say ten years from now, I’m fairly certain that most people are going to be able to create high quality 3D content just by talking to the computer,” says Lebaredian. “And I’m bullish that it’s going to happen much earlier.”

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Hiroshima Adopts Metaverse in Education



Hiroshima Adopts Metaverse in Education
Whether you like it or not, it's happening.

The use of the metaverse is continuously increasing in different sectors, and now it has become a part of university classes in the city of Hiroshima, Japan. The universities of Hiroshima are using this technology as extracurricular activities and part of the classes as well, Japan Times reported.

Also read: Jobs In The Metaverse, Now and Tomorrow

The metaverse allows its users to create avatars to represent themselves while communicating with people from all around the world. Metaverse makes the user feel as if they are talking by looking into each other’s eyes, unlike Zoom and Teams.

Solving Absence Problem

Having such unique features, it has also become the solution for students who are absent from school but still want to attend classes.

“I was feeling distressed and depressed as I only had the chance to speak with my family during my absence from school,” said Noa, a 16-year-old first-year high school student from Hiroshima.

But the time has changed, she was able to participate in a program even while being absent from school through the use of a virtual setup.

“I could spend quality time while feeling relaxed,” she said after taking part in a program held last fall in a metaverse to support absentees from school.

Three people attended that program organized by a local group to make up for absent students.

Noa entered the metaverse as a female avatar with cat ears and travelled with other attendees to hear high school students share their experiences of being absent from school.

The virtual world, also offers a solution for those who hesitate to speak up in reality. It provides a platform where individuals can communicate without psychological barriers, as they feel more comfortable with others in the virtual world.

Hiroshima Adopts Metaverse in Education

“Students who were silent at first could make a presentation on a (virtual) stage in the end,” said Kenichi Okamura, 23, head of the group that organized the program. “I really felt the potential of the metaverse.”

The Hiroshima Prefecture board of education has partnered with the non-profit organization Katariba in Tokyo to offer metaverse-related activities as a learning option for students, per Japan Times.

University Classes in Metaverse

Not, just the bridge for the school absentees, metaverse has also became the topic of university classes in Japan.

“By looking ahead with neofuturistic perspectives, I wanted to try and see how the classes can be expanded,” said Hiroaki Kanoe, a professor of science education at Hijiyama University in Hiroshima, who taught parts of some classes in the metaverse last year.

Kanoe asked third-year students about how the metaverse can be utilized in education during his virtual seminar with them.

Kanoe was intrigued when his student became deeply involved in the discussion surrounding the use of metaverse in education. They even proposed having a virtual environment open during summer holidays, which could potentially reduce absenteeism.

“Compared with online classes, you can feel the presence of others as if you are in a classroom,” said Soko Hamaen, 21, a third-year student who attended a class in metaverse.

“I hope to explore the uses of the metaverse while making clear the purpose of what to do with the technology, instead of jumping at it only because it is new,” said Kanoe.

With the value of the industry estimated to be worth $13 trillion by 2030, the metaverse is being expanded into different areas of livelihood.

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