Want to visit the Tuscan seaside without ever leaving Vancouver?
A new virtual reality studio tucked away in Vancouver’s industrial south side is making that – and lots of other virtual experiences – possible. Sawmill studio is bringing high-end virtual technology to the masses, all inside a former sawmill perched on the edge of the Fraser River.
The heart of the unique space is its motion-capture capabilities – i.e. the ability to turn actual people and objects into digital equivalents. For instance, thanks to an iPad equipped with a special sensor at the studio, virtually any object can be scanned in 3D and dropped into a virtual environment (even lifelike avatars of people can be made in a flash). Users experience this virtual world by putting on a special headset.
Unlike the boxy (and sometimes motion-sickness-inducing) consumer headsets soon to be on the market, Sawmill’s special headset is open-sided. Its movements are picked up by 14 different cameras positioned around the airy studio. Special software then transposes the user’s physical movements into the virtual world. The result is less like watching a screen than actually “being there.” Stepping to the edge of a virtual reality cliff is almost as frightening as stepping to the edge of a real one.
The studio itself is equipped with a 3D projection system and state-of-the-art sound system. It’s also outfitted with physical workshops and a battery of digital equipment. It’s meant to be useful for everyone from professional developers seeking new applications for virtual reality to ordinary people seeking to dip their toes into virtual possibilities.
The uses for virtual reality are … well … virtually limitless. One of the studio’s founders uses the space for developing technology for medical training. Architects can use virtual reality to physically walk through designs for homes and other spaces. Travel agents can use the tools to offer virtual tours of exotic destinations.
The studio, located at 8938 Shaughnessy St., is open to the public, though it’s geared toward users with some background in virtual reality technology. Half-day drop-in rates are $40 ($25 for students). Monthly passes are also available.
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