Last year I discovered a company called Depthkit through a kickstartercampaign they were running for their project “Blackout”. The project was interesting because they were experimenting with narrative in VR by allowing the viewer to walk through a subway car and when they looked over at person sitting on the car, they would hear their voice. The technology they were using for the performance capture of the actors was a mixture of their own custom software, an Xbox Kinect, and a DSLR camera. The campaign was also interesting because if you donated to it, they would give you a copy of their software so you could create your own film. As intrigued I was by the perk, I didn’t have the money and waited to see if they would release it to the public.
In the spring, I ran into Ben Unsworth from Globacore and talked to him about Depthkit and how interested I was to start working with it. It turns out that he had backed their Kickstarter campaign and was generous enough to lend me the hardware and software to try it out.
During the summer, I met with director Pierre Friquet who was interested in using Depthkit for his next VR project, Patterns. I was so excited that another filmmaker was interested in using the technique that I pushed hard to allow me to help him on the project. In a matter of a week I learned how to calibrate the camera with the Kinect and their software and went off to help shoot their film in Montreal.
The hardest part of the process was calibrating Kinect and the camera. It took quite a few hours and a bit of trial error to figure it out. Luckily the developers are available over Slack and support you through the process, so it’s just a matter of sticking with it and over coming the learning curve. The shoot ultimately went well and it was good to get my feet wet with using the technology before I went out and made something for myself. I learned on Patterns the entire workflow of shooting with Depthkit, which is always the best way to learn anything — through a project. Shortly after the Patterns shoot wrapped, I flew to Berlin to do a month long storytelling workshop. I knew from the outset that I was going to use Depthkit for my new VR film and I just had to get the right actor and location to make the project work.
It took a lot of hard work and frustration to get the camera and Kinect calibrated with the minimal gear that I had access to over there, but I managed to make it work and ended up finishing my new VR project in 3 weeks. In September when I returned to Toronto, I was lucky enough for the film to premiere The Key at FIVARS. What I discovered from the screenings of the film that I did in Berlin and Toronto were that people really liked the performance capture. I was a bit surprised as people didn’t focus on the imperfections but rather were taken by the ability to walk around and participate in the narrative.
Convinced by the results that The Key generated, I was dead set on finding a way to integrate Depthkit in my next VR project, Circuit Rider. The way I would describe Circuit Rider is a mix between a traditional game and a cinematic narrative. You are playing the game Circuit Rider and when you die in the game you get sent to a room to undercover the mystery of why you are actually playing it, as there is certainly something much more sinister happening. While in the room you must unlock certain clues, that will trigger Depthkit characters to appear with you and lead you to the next step.
This past week we held our auditions for the experience and used Depthkit to capture their performances. It was great to be able to watch their performances back in VR and really changed how I made my decisions about who to cast.
Depthkit or volumetric video really feel like the future of VR filmmaking. The ability to see characters in a 3D volume and be able to move around them creates all different possibilities for narratives in VR and I’m excited to continue manifesting these stories using these techniques. If you are interested in trying out Depthkit, they have a reduced rate if you are an artist.