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Disney’s Latest Research Project Can Turn Scripts Into Virtual Reality

Disney Research has been working on a way to turn natural language scripts into virtual reality (VR) pre-visualizations. While currently focusing on VR story creation, the tool could ultimately be used for traditional filmmaking as well, said Disney Research digital platforms group lead Sasha Schriber during a talk at the Virtual Reality Developers Conference (VRDC) in San Francisco Monday.

Pre-visualizations, rough draft animations that give directors an idea of how their characters behave in a space, and how changes to the script might affect the scene, are a key step in movie-making. But previs, as it’s also called in the industry, can take time. “This is a very lengthy process,” said Schriber about both previs and storyboarding. “Some animation films take sometimes up to two years to finalize the story.”

Disney Research’s Project Cardinal wants to speed up that process by automatically turning scripts into storyboards and then previs films. “It goes from script to storyboard to animation in real-time,” said Schriber.

Disney Research VR Previz

Project Cardinal’s software can ingest scripts and turn them into simple animations, which can then be manually manipulated by filmmakers. Creatives can also integrate voice recordings on the spot, and then preview scenes directly in VR while wearing a headset, giving a vantage point that’s similar to being on scene with the actors of a movie.

Characters can even be moved around from within a headset, and Disney’s researchers ultimately want to add the ability to do more advanced editing directly in VR as well.

Cardinal is currently being tested with a handful of VR filmmakers, but Schriber readily admitted that there is still a lot of work to be done. For one thing, natural language processing has proven to be challenging. “Each script writer writes in his or her own way,” she said.

That’s why Disney Research has developed a simplified markup language for scripts, and is currently advising writers to streamline their work to make it easier for computers to understand, for example by sticking to the present tense.

However, Schriber said that ultimately, Disney Research was looking to turn Cardinal into a more potent tool, which also includes potentially making it available outside of the world of VR filmmakers. Her group had already shown Cardinal to traditional filmmakers, she said: “They asked us: what about us?”

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