Kiwi company 8i puts viewer in movie

DAVE BURGESS
Last updated 10:06 05/05/2014
KENT BLECHYNDEN
STRAPPED IN: Reporter Dave Burgess rides a virtual rollercoaster using the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset.

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A new Wellington company has invented ground-breaking entertainment and movie-making technology that puts the viewer slap-bang in the middle of the action.

And the global film and technology startup 8i has confirmed it will base itself in the capital.

8i is using Oculus Rift virtual headset technology - designed for 3D gaming - to produce a new trademarked medium called Holographic Virtual Reality (HVR).

8i co-founder and chief executive Linc Gasking said HVR allows viewers to immerse themselves in recorded content at home using Oculus Rift.

"It's like stepping into a movie - it feels like magic."

Gasking said the technology is set to revolutionise movie-making and media-watching experiences.

"Over the last 100 years we've gone from images, to moving images, to sound, to colour to stereoscopic 3-D.

"8i's technology offers another major leap forward in the evolution of media."

A feature of HVR is that while viewing content via a headset you get a 360-degree view of the action depending on where you look. It essentially wraps the action around the viewer.

Gasking said the "deep technology" - the secret source of how HVR works - has been under development for the past couple of years.

New Zealand's leading early stage investor Sparkbox Ventures has confirmed its intention to invest, he said.

There has been substantial interest from foreign-based companies. Gasking said overseas expansion is already on the cards but withheld details until certain issues had been confirmed.

The company is assembling what Gasking called a "world class team in Wellington".

Gasking said the company's decision to have its headquarters in the capital is a reflection of the quality of talent and technology developed here over the past decade for the likes of the 3D Hobbit and Avatar movies.

"Wellington is the perfect place to scale this company. There are so many world leaders in visual effects and digital media here.

"Wellington is the 3D capital of the world . . . there is no other place in the world where we could have set up."

Gasking co-founded CountingDown.com in 1998. Two years later it was bought by Pop.com - its owners included Steven Spielberg, David Geffen and Ron Howard - for US$23 million.

Chief creative officer Sebastian Marino won an Oscar in 2002 for inventing software that simulates the motion of cloth, musculoskeletal structures, skin and hair.

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He has worked on some of the most successful film franchises including Avatar, Spiderman, Star Wars, Pirates of the Caribbean, Harry Potter and Jurassic Park.

Joshua Feast is New Zealand's first Fulbright Scholar in Entrepreneurship who launched Cogito, a thriving business delivering analytic software that continuously senses human behaviour and infers psychological state.

It was named a "Breakthrough idea" by the Harvard Business Review.

Chief scientist Eugene d'Eon is a world leader in rendering, primarily focused on developing accurate and efficient light transport and reflectance models for synthesising realistic imagery.

Recently he worked at Weta Digital.

TUMMY CHURNING ROLLER-COASTER RIDE ONLY TOO REAL

As I strapped on the headset, someone behind me said "I hope you like rollercoaster rides". I don't. Heights and I don't get on.

Next minute I was sitting in a rollercoaster car travelling up a steep, rickety-looking track heading to the top of a cartoon castle with panoramic views of other structures and the ocean. My simmering fear of heights started a gradual creep.

A few seconds later and I was whizzing down a track at what felt like 100kmh. All the twists and turns you expect on a rollercoaster, and a few you don't - such as flying through the air - then unfolded. I started sweating. My heart rate went to more than 100 beats per minute.

"If you don't like it you can always shut your eyes", somebody helpfully pointed out. Too late. They'd already been shut and even then I still felt as if I was on a rollercoaster. To cap it off, wherever I looked - up, down, sideways, even behind me - I was still on the rollercoaster but with a different view. Awesome is a much over-used word but in the case of my Holographic Virtual Reality ride it is a fitting description. I was definitely filled with awe.

- The Dominion Post

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