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Metaverse November 29, 2022

TV Shows and Movies Increasingly Powered by Metaverse Technology

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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.

/MetaNews.

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Image credits: Shutterstock, CC images, Midjourney.

Business

Quest 3 Headset Will Have Better Mixed Reality Tech

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Quest 3 Headset Will Have Better Mixed Reality Tech, says Zuckerberg
Artist's rendering.

Meta, keen to be a Metaverse giant, plans to launch virtual reality headset Quest 3 later this year, with better mixed reality technology, said CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

Meta confirmed that the release should be called Meta Quest 3. It’s expected to cost between US$300 and US$500, which is about a third of the Quest Pro (the Quest Pro is currently priced at $1,499.99).

Also read: Meta Employees Undermine Zuckerberg’s Metaverse Strategy

The new headset will provide support for Meta Reality, which is technology that enables virtual reality headsets to also be used for augmented reality. This technology allows devices to create mixed reality experiences.

Meta Reality in Next-Gen Consumer Headset

The mixed reality ecosystem is relatively new, but Zuckerberg thinks it’s going to grow a lot in the next few years.

“Later this year, we’re going to launch our next generation consumer headset, which will feature Meta Reality as well, and I expect that this is going to establish this technology as the baseline for all headsets going forward, and eventually of course for AR glasses as well,” said Zuckerberg.

Beyond MR, the broader VR ecosystem continues growing. There are now over 200 apps on Meta’s VR devices that have made more than $1 million in revenue, Zuckerberg said.

How Meta Reality will look in more affordable headsets is yet to be clear.

Meta’s Reported Win over FTC will be Crucial

Meta has reportedly won court approval earlier this week to acquire VR fitness app Supernatural’s maker, Within, which will be a huge boost for Zuckerberg’s ambitious metaverse project.

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.”

Zuckerberg’s Meta Quest 2 is arguably the best VR headset, even after a massive hike in its price last year.

“There is a lot of work there that we haven’t actually shipped the product yet. VR, which is starting to ramp, right, Quest 2, I think, did quite well. We have multiple product lines there with the Quest Pro,” said Zuckerberg about Quest 3.

When Meta shipped Quest Pro at the end of last year, it was something their CEO was “really proud of” and believed it was the first mainstream mixed reality device to set the standard for the industry with Meta Reality.

“As always, the reason why we’re focused on building these platforms is to deliver better social experiences than what’s possible today on phones,” said Zuckerberg.

The possible benefit could be expected in Quest 3 through the acquisition of Within.

 

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Metaverse

Interpol Wants to Police Metaverse Crime. But That May Not Be Easy

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Interpol Wants to Police Metaverse Crime. But That May Not Be Easy

The International Criminal Police Organization, or Interpol, is looking at ways to police crime in the metaverse, according to secretary general Jurgen Stock. However, the agency may find that to be hard in the absence of a universally agreed definition of the “metaverse,” let alone of metaverse crime.

Stock said, “criminals are sophisticated and professional in very quickly adapting to any new technological tool that is available to commit crime. We need to sufficiently respond to that. Sometimes lawmakers, police, and our societies are running a little bit behind.”

“We have seen if we are doing it too late, it already impacts trust in the tools we are using, and therefore the metaverse. In similar platforms that already exist, criminals are using it,” he added, according to the BBC.

Defining the metaverse

The metaverse may be thought of as the idea of a post-physical world in which life is lived virtually on the Internet: “a single, shared, immersive, persistent, 3D virtual space” where humans experience life in ways they could not in the real world.

Also read: Is the World Ready for Music Concerts in the Metaverse?

American author Neal Stephenson is credited with coining the term “metaverse” in his 1992 sci-fi novel Snow Crash. He referred to the metaverse as an all-encompassing digital world that exists parallel to the real world.

However, the word gained significance when Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg changed the name of the social media company to “Meta” in 2021, a rebrand that focused on building the metaverse.

While at this point users are already utilizing a range of hardware such as headsets to gain access to the immersive experiences of the metaverse, there’s still no universally agreed definition of the metaverse. Much less of metaverse crime.

What does metaverse crime look like for Interpol?

The building blocks of the new form of communication are still being laid down. Anyone can build their own metaverse and define how that specific digital world works. Interpol has now built its own virtual reality (VR) space in order to catch up with criminals operating in the metaverse.

The VR unit is aimed at helping its officers with training for virtual interactions. Announcing the launch of the virtual reality metaverse last October, Interpol said:

“As the number of metaverse users grows and the technology further develops, the list of possible crimes will only expand to potentially include crimes against children, data theft, money laundering, financial fraud, counterfeiting, ransomware, phishing, and sexual assault and harassment.”

Interpol is still having a hard time defining metaverse crime. Madan Oberoi, the executive director of technology and innovation at Interpol, admitted to the BBC that “there are crimes where I don’t know whether it can still be called a crime or not.”

“For example, there have been reported cases of sexual harassment,” he said. “If you look at the definitions of these crimes in physical space, and you try to apply it in the metaverse, there is a difficulty.”

“We don’t know whether we can call them a crime or not, but those threats are definitely there, so those issues are yet to be resolved,” he added.

Oberoi said law enforcement needed to “know about the metaverse” in order to “help people who have been hurt in the metaverse.” It is one of Interpol’s objectives, he explained, “to make sure law enforcement personnel start using the metaverse and they become aware.”

Uphill task

Alex Kim, chief monetization officer at XR platform Sensorium Galaxy, said while discussions around metaverse regulation may help create “safe digital environments” for users, there is still need to strike a balance in implementation.

“The metaverse is being envisioned as a decentralized platform over which no central authority has control over,” Kim told MetaNews.

“This begs the question of who exactly should be tasked with monitoring the metaverse and what powers can this entity potentially have, and over what and whom.” Continuing, Kim added:

“It’s clear that policing the metaverse won’t be as straightforward as some might be hoping, but it’s very positive that the conversation surrounding the topic is moving forward, especially given the rapid pace of current technological developments.”

Software engineer Brandon Church laughed at the idea that the global police agency wanted to play guard to the metaverse.

“[The metaverse] is just an idea at the moment. The problem with ideas is that sometimes they never see the light of day. So these guys [Interpol] are working on policing an idea? I’m seriously wondering [where they are going with this],” Church told MetaNews.

Arseny Myakotnikov, cofounder and CMO of drive-to-earn Metadrive, believes the Interpol initiative goes against the ethos of decentralization, a key foundational principle of the Bitcoin cryptocurrency, and Web3.

“Each metaverse must exist as a separate digital universe, where investors would be able to set their own rules and regulations based on the weight of their votes through decentralized voting within the project’s DAO,” he says

“It’s important to stress that most of the violations mentioned by the Interpol cannot be committed at the current stage of metaverse technology development.”

Interpol is an international organization that facilitates worldwide police cooperation and crime control. It was created 100 years ago and is made of 195 member countries.

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Business

Meta Reportedly Defeats FTC to Receive Court Approval to Acquire Within

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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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