The Frisco headquarters of Captured Dimensions is a dark, windowless room with a virtual reality (VR) setup on one side, four desks crammed with computers and a staff of millennials in all their techy glory, many of them Univeristy of Texas Dallas graduates. There’s also a portable studio in a trailer. This is where the magic happens.
“If you’re going to blow up an actor in a movie, you don’t want to do it with the real thing,” Jordan Williams, CEO of Captured Dimensions, says. Instead, at an ever growing rate, movie studios are coming to businesses like Frisco-based Captured Dimensions for hyperreal virtual 3D models. “We make and work with digital versions. We’ll capture a static version and they can animate it to do whatever they need it to. We’ll get an actor in here and get a bunch of expressions, for instance, so that if the studio needs to do facial animation, they need them to talk, or explode, they have the visuals.”
Captured Dimensions got their start at the North Texas Enterprise Center (NTEC), one of the largest startup incubators in Texas, which exists to help high-potential new businesses grow. NTEC only takes on the most promising new businesses into their 50,000 square foot resource center, businesses which, like Captured Dimensions, have the potential to become significant contributors to Frisco’s community.
Jordan first shows me the mobile studio parked in NTEC’s lot, where 130 cameras are set up on a cage-like structure, all pointing in at different angles, ready to snap at once. It is in a trailer so it can be driven to sets across the country for use on movies and television shows. I want to know if, say, Hugh Jackman has been here, in the eye of a hundred cameras, his chiseled Australian features captured from every possible angle.
“Yeah, definitely,” Jordan says like it’s no big deal. “We capture actors, props and scenes, whatever we need to.” With that many cameras and inscrutable angles, it can take days to take down and reassemble, but this mobile version lets them cart it on-site fully intact and ready to go. They spend anywhere from a couple of days to a couple of months at a time shooting on location in L.A. or Atlanta, for example. Captured Dimensions has worked on movies such as Logan (2017), Wonderstruck (2017), Granite Mountain (2017), God Particle (2017), Passengers (2016) and more. Individual members of the team have worked on Blockbuster titles including The Hunger Games Trilogy (2012-2015), Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014), Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016), Fear the Walking Dead (2015), and Independence Day: Resurgence (2016).
Among the renderings is a gray digital model of a scowling Jennifer Lawrence who looks like she’s been sculpted out of clay. Movie studios can utilize this virtual data in all sorts of interesting ways, but it’s up to Captured Dimensions to produce such a clean and vivid digital model that we, the audience, might never know what’s real and what was made by a programmer in Frisco. We’ve come to expect it in sci-fi flicks; the Jennifer Lawrence renderings are actually for Passengers. Though it wasn’t Captured Dimensions’ work, Star Wars fans might have recognized the striking digital re-creations of Carrie Fisher and Peter Cushing as the 1977 versions of their characters Princess Leia and Grand Moff Tarkin in Rogue One. This technology has the power to alter filmmaking in a transcendent way; potentially actors of today who are digitally rendered could come to life onscreen long after their deaths.
The team can shoot and re-create everything from celebrities, to vast mountain scenescapes with the help of aerial drones and LIDAR teleflight lasers (a method which captures one million points of visual data in a second). Even then, sometimes the chase for absolute realism still requires a human to get down in the nitty gritty with a camera in hand to snap photographs the old fashioned way.
It’s a moneymaker in a growing market—plus there’s the occasional chance to hang out with Chris Pratt—so there’s practically no downside. Already, VR technology is evolving beyond the big screen and will soon end up where Jordan has always wanted it to be: in the hands of everyday consumers.
“In the long term, there will be a lot more applications for the consumer realm,” Jordan admits. “The initial thought [when we opened] was that we could do [3D printing for regular people].” 3D model figurines left over from their beginnings litter the offices. Everyone from Lord of the Rings-style orcs to the Captured Dimensions CEO, Jordan Williams himself, is represented here, shrunk down to the size of my hand.
However, the long-term vision for the consumer side of highly realistic 3D digital images goes far beyond individualized paperweights. The potential will be endless as VR and augmented reality (AR) are developed and perfected. Everything from video games to 3D photo albums is possible—and probable. “If we take a 3D image of your daughter when she’s maybe 4-years-old,” Jordan explains. “It’ll be a lot more meaningful in 10 years or so when you’ve got your personal holodeck and you can actually see her there in real space.” One can already buy VR goggles along with an iPhone or Samsung Galaxy. As the technology gets lighter, brighter and better, it’ll be easier and easier to incorporate into daily life.
“Companies are starting to really put some money in it,” Jordan says. “It’ll take a while. It’s a pretty big paradigm shift in entertainment. It’s a chicken and the egg scenario. There’s got to be a lot of consumer adoption for the hardware for the developers to put a lot of budget into developing really good VR experiences…and it has to be a really good VR experience for consumers to invest in the hardware. The main goal for us in that arena is to be the concept providers for the people making the games. If they want a really realistic scene, if they want photoreal characters or props, we want to be their go-to for providing that. We want [the DFW metroplex] to be on the map for VR in a big way.”
Picture giant organized games of Capture the Flag or multi-player video games like Halo projected over the grounds of local parks. Picture a visit to a museum complete with a lifesize digital rendering of Notre Dame mid-construction. The world of VR begins and ends with realism. Realism starts with a few good pictures, what Captured Dimensions does best.
Originally published in Plano Profile‘s March 2017 issue