Doc Brown’s lab in “Back to the Future” is movie magic, but the next best thing may be at Technicolor’s Rennes Research & Innovation Lab.
The virtual reality room, where work around visual effects is done, has that crazy-scientists-at-work feel. Among the advanced tech tools developed there is Interactive on-set PreviZ, a prototype augmented-reality plug-in for Maya delivering real-time image compositing and rendering during shooting, haptic feedback for actors, depth-maps for 3D and more, all in a single software package.
The Rennes lab is working on tech for consumers, too. One eye-opening experiment: The Immersive Experience, used to enhance movies, combines 360-degree stereoscopic video, 3D audio (sounds that seem to emanate from specific points in space, no matter how they’re played back), haptic feedback (which engages the sense of touch) and augmented reality.
“End users today have a real appetite to get effects and augmented reality into the content they consume, so we are going to see more and more professional and consumer technology blending together,” says Cristina Gomila, head of the Rennes hub.
Under Gomila’s leadership, the Rennes lab specializes in high-definition content tech, from production through transmission and protection. As Gomila says, it’s hard to draw a line between pro and consumer tech for Rennes projects like Instant Lighting, which was built to help visual-effects artists see lighting effects in minutes instead of waiting hours for rendering; and lightfield capture tech, which would let users adjust depth-of-field, focus and even viewing angle in post-production.
Located in the heart of Rennes’ Via Silva eco-city, France’s answer to Silicon Valley, the glass-clad 193,750-sq.-ft. facility is filled with open spaces. It was launched by CEO Frederic Rose in 2012, when the company emerged from bankruptcy protection, to regroup in one site all the staff — colorists, researchers and engineers — who had previously been split among three other centers in Rennes.
“The idea is to get everyone interacting and mingling to enrich the research process,” says Gomila.
The Rennes lab is also been focusing on “the Internet of things” — specifically, connected home services. Among its innovations: Ultra HD 4K set-top boxes which deliver more pixels, a high-dynamic range (HDR) and 3D audio technology simulating a 5.1 sound ambiance with a simple pair of speakers Although basic HDR is already available on iPhones, Rahier said the HDR technology which will soon be standardized will better handle contrast and will be combined with 4K.
The company has also developed a tool to connect and inter-operate different devices in the home and in the car. The concept is scheduled for commercial launch in 18 months. It has also developed the “digital home butler.” “Basically, we’re having different machines communicate inside the home,” says Michel Rahier, prexy of Technicolor’s connected home division, “so your fridge for instance will be able to communicate with the gateway to let you know you don’t have any more beer, and so it will order it automatically.”
“Technicolor has formed a big alliance with 60 different tech companies, to ensure the inter-operability of all those devices in different parts of the home and make that digital lifestyle a reality,” Rahier says.
“All products and solutions we’re working on now,” he says, “will be released in the next couple years and are defined as services for the end users. And that’s a major shift for us: previously the connected home division at Technicolor was a box industry — we sold boxes by millions, but now we have the end users in mind.”