Worlds collide in the latest work by Framestore for Sky. A new immersive VR experience, found at the heart of London’s Westfield White City mall, gives a dazzling look into the breadth of content provided by the media giant, using a heady mix of sports and drama, real time virtual reality, and a rumble-pack or two to transport users to alternate realms.
Framestore worked with Sky and creative agency SapientRazorfish to craft a dual-pronged virtual reality encounter that would span Sports and Entertainment content, branching from the sleek white living room setting of recent Sky campaigns.
Early concept work by Framestore artist Paul O’Brien kickstarted the creative journey. The virtual drama unfolds in parallel kitchen and dungeon environments, starring fast-paced Formula 1 cars and a fire-breathing creature respectively. Kitchen-side, users are surrounded by revving engines built from CAD data from the F1 teams, before engaging in a football mini-game that sees controller turn to goalkeeper’s gloves in a dramatic shoot-out. Taking the Drama path lands users in a howling forest under the watchful eye of zombie-esque figures, before falling into the path of a mighty dragon.
The team set to work on the logistics of the piece - plotting out the key areas of action within the spaces, and determining ‘true north’ in each scene to inform the placement of the experience’s 4D elements. Asset creation swiftly followed, in a process led by CG Lead Taekyu Yang. Framestore’s experience across campaigns for Sky Q and Sky Sports informed the style and set-ups in the white kitchen space; meanwhile on the ‘dramatic’ side, imagination was able to run wild in the crafting of the suspenseful forest and dungeon scenes.
Framestore’s team of developers, led by Alex Perry, built the Sky experience in Unreal game engine, using Vertex texture animations in Houdini to great effect within the environment. Though typically employed for heavy cinematic work, the skilled team was able to adapt the software for a gaming context drawing on a wealth of heavyweight VFX experience. The project was also an opportunity to use Sequencer in Unreal, another new technology more frequently used for cinematic imagery.
Framestore worked in tandem with Grand Central Recording Studios (GCRS) throughout the experience build, weaving spatialised sound throughout to deeply immerse users in their virtual surroundings. Sound would prove key in giving the directional prompts needed to ‘frame’ the action hotspots within the two environments - the Framestore team carried out extensive user-testing, to ensure every user soaked up as much of the action on offer as possible.
One big challenge for GCRS was to create fully reactive audio for the flaming torch within the Drama world. As the sound of the flames needed to match the visuals, it was key to ensure it would realistically react when the user moved the controller. As VR is still a relatively new medium, not many (if any) examples of this kind of reactivity existed. GCRS therefore created a physics-based model to determine speed and distance, triggering the sound to react according to the user’s movement.
Framestore’s agile production team and smartly adapted pipeline brought with it efficiencies that would make for a smooth and collaborative process. Feedback was given in real time, direct from viewing in headset, and adapted on the spot using both Sequencer and the VR editor; and in working directly with GCRS, visual and audio work came together seamlessly within a single virtual environment.
The results show in a drama-packed delivery, available to thrill-seeking Westfield White City visitors. For Framestore, the project proved a fine opportunity to showcase the studio’s abilities in VR, harnessing valuable insights from a longstanding client relationship with Sky to entertain each and every viewer.