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The Future of Extended Reality. Shot on MARS.

Europe’s new state-of-the-art Mixed Augmented Reality Studio offers a ‘technology canvas’ for the filmmakers, entertainers, content designers and event organisers of tomorrow

MARS Studios, Europe’s most ambitious purpose-built Mixed Augmented Reality Studio, opens its doors to the global creative industries this month. On MARS, virtual 3D environments are mapped onto an LED stage, enabling performers, actors, presenters and products to be blended into a photo-real or imaginary virtual environment in real time.

Created by visual pioneers Bild Studios, MARS combines state-of-the-art video game engines, camera-tracking technology, xR workflows powered by disguise and LED screens to create a versatile and immersive performance stage and studio. The benefits of the natural lighting provided by the LED and the director’s ability to update any scene on the fly in real-time also help to give performers a visual reference and the means to easily orient themselves, in contrast to a traditional green screen, where visual elements are added in post-production.

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MARS is the perfect environment to offer filmmakers, broadcasters, event and brand experience designers, games developers and others unparalleled access to the highest quality, state-of-the-art Extended Reality (xR), Mixed Reality (MR), Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Production studio facilities. A unique fusion of art and cutting-edge technologies, MARS provides a ‘technology canvas’ that revolutionises the way the creative industries can develop their craft.

To provide a taster of the kind of immersive art events of the future that will be shot on MARS, British art historian, BBC presenter and BAFTA nominated broadcaster, Dr James Fox worked closely with the creative team at The Experience Machine and the technical and production teams at Bild Studios. The piece, named “Masterpiece: Nighthawks” places James Fox within Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks, his famous 1942 oil on canvas painting that portrays four people in a downtown diner late at night as viewed through the diner’s window. In Masterpiece the 3D representation of Hopper’s painting was created as carefully extracted 3D geometry with detailed layers of texturing added; partly handmade, partly AI-generated, that would resemble the brush strokes and fine crafting of Edward Hopper’s unique painting style. Finally, the 3D scene was imported into the game engine Unreal Engine and rendered in real-time based on the position of the physical film camera on the MARS stage.

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Commenting on “Masterpiece”, Christopher Pearson, founder and director of The Experience Machine (TEM) says: “Access to high-end xR platforms such as MARS alongside advances in game engine software has opened the opportunity to craft narrative journeys from an entirely new perspective; the inside of an artwork. Considering the painted canvas as an environment that a viewer can walk into has never been more possible. Working closely with Dr James Fox we have been able to reimagine how a painting could exist as a 3-dimensional world. This process has allowed the technology to reveal insights into the painting that have never been considered before.

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“Our working practice focuses on the conception and creation of genuine digital and physical experiences. We approach this by merging real world phenomena with their digital counterparts, while engaging the participant within an immersive narrative journey. MARS supports this approach with the integration of real-world effects within the virtual world of Masterpiece, combining virtual and physical camera depth of field, dynamic environmental lighting and live properties controlled by the director via a mobile tablet. This unique stage allows us a more tactile connection with the scene and has given us a new perspective on directing within a virtual set.”

MARS is the creation of renowned media technologists Bild Studios. Bild Studios co-founder, David Bajt explains: “Over the last two decades, the Bild team has collectively worked on live experiences and high end productions for some of the world’s leading artists and brands, including Beyoncé, Lady Gaga, Cirque du Soleil, Dubai Expo 2020, Ralph Lauren, Ferrari, Volvo, Samsung, BMW, Ed Sheeran, Nokia, Red Hot Chilli Peppers and many more. Since then we have been working hard behind the scenes to develop the world’s leading xR production technologies and know-how, working with globally renowned musicians, entertainers and presenters to break beyond the physical dimensions of the traditional film location, event venue or broadcast studio, through realising the full potential of xR”.

Furthermore, the technology on MARS is ideally suited to the COVID-19 era. Visual content can be produced without the need to travel to exotic locations and our work can be carried out while maintaining the social distancing practices that have become so important in recent months, not to mention the environmental benefits of dramatically reducing the need for power which large-scale onsite productions always consume.

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