With the help of Sansar and HTC Vive, Ready Player One’s future nostalgia becomes today’s reality in the VR experience, Aech’s Garage and Aech’s Basement.
Ready Player One, Ernest Cline’s bestselling sci-fi novel adapted for the big screen by Steven Spielberg, takes place in a future dystopia where characters interact in a virtual environment with a world of pop culture from the past. With the accelerating development of virtual reality (VR), these two worlds meet in the present reality with the help of Sansar Studios and HTC Vive.
Ready Player One follows the journey of Wade Watts, a teenager in 2044 who plugs into OASIS, a socially-connected VR universe where he can escape his troubled society. Here he searches for an Easter egg left behind by OASIS’s deceased creator, who had an affinity for ‘80s pop culture.
“I think it became required reading for anybody that was working on a VR product,” said Ryan Hoopingarner, executive director of VR marketing at HTC. The HTC Vive headset was used during the filming to help Spielberg, his team and the cast understand how the characters would engage with the scene.
Since OASIS serves as a virtual society in the Ready Player One world, it made sense for Intel to partner with Sansar — the VR extension of Linden Labs that created the game-changing platform Second Life — to deploy an immersive environment in the real world.
“When we took a look at how the space functioned as a Gunter hangout in the book and movie, we knew that building Aech’s Garage on the Sansar platform would bring it to life in a very compelling way,” said Lisa Watts, Intel’s Director of VR Marketing.
To build up excitement for the film, Sansar developed a VR experience exploring the virtual garage-meets-chat room of Watt’s best friend, Aech.
While the film’s aesthetic comes replete with dazzling colors and incredible computer-generated imagery (CGI) scenery, it’s Aech’s Garage that provides a social springboard and a relatable nerd paradise. Packed with nostalgic ephemera such as the EVA space pod from the film 2001: A Space Odyssey, the Iron Giant robot and even Cameron’s dad’s car from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off — this VR hangout connects OASIS with the real world.
Creating a Realistic World
For Aech’s Garage, Sansar took the actual elements built by Industrial Light and Magic — the vanguard of Hollywood visual effects. The Sansar team studied rendered frames of the finished film for lighting, clues to the actual layout of space, and general mood for mapping a room-scale VR experience that remained faithful to the film while allowing users to explore the rich environment.
“We challenged Sansar Studios to build out the garage in time to share it with the world at the 2018 Consumer Electronics Show,” said Watts, adding that the team leveraged the latest technologies to make it happen. “The amount of data that needed to be processed and rendered was significant and we gave the team only five weeks to complete the entire build.”
Since the shots of the garage serve a specific purpose for Ready Player One’s narrative, it was up to Sansar to develop a logical space that harmonized with CGI parts of the story while feeling natural to the user.
“[We had to] completely build it out 360 degrees, whereas in a film, they only dress it out and polish up to match the exact angle of the shot as it was set up by Spielberg and his team,” said Jason Gholston, head of Sansar Studios.
One way Sansar achieves this is through mimicking scale. Pee Wee Herman’s bicycle, for example, provides a reference point for size and dimension most people can understand.
“By making sure that the bicycle is really dialed in nicely, making sure that the height of the stair steps match what a typical human’s stair steps are setup for — all of a sudden you feel immediately like you’re in a space that is a realistic human scale. That really helps to sell the illusion that you’re in another place.”
Classic Film Memes
The garage itself bridges generation gaps, as players rifle through and talk about a wealth of classic cinematic references in a new medium that reflects the technology in Ready Player One’s imagined future.
“The fun thing to do is just to be in the space and revel in all of these cool classic sci-fi vehicles, with a premise of having them collected or recreated by this fictional character, Aech,” Gholston said.
He added that people often quiz each other to see if they can identify everything in the room while exploring a hyper-realistic cache of fictional totems. From the classic laser tag gun from the ‘80s to spare parts that have fallen off the Iron Giant robot to the clumsy ED-209 from RoboCop, the garage brings classic movies to life for fans.
“It’s a really great place to explore and hang out. That’s what it was designed for,” he said.
For HTC’s Hoopingarner, the movie is an opportunity to show a broader general audience what VR has in store for the future of technology and interactive communication. But it’s also a movie about fandom, he said.
“We’ve partnered to show people how the things that they already love exist in VR,” Hoopingarner said.
“Nobody is going to adopt a new technology just for the sake of new technology, but if they understand how VR can help them appreciate the things that they already appreciate in life, that’s really where that conversion point hits.”
Sansar and Vive’s Reader Player One experience is about taking people into spaces that they wouldn’t normally be able to go, whether real or imagined. Viewers don’t have to be an Ernest Cline or Steven Spielberg or video game fan to be intrigued by that idea.