You are in a barren room, unsure of the voyage you are about to undertake. Glimpses of your surroundings and the road ahead heighten your anxiety, yet the unknown is full of surprises. An adventure awaits.
Sitting in a vast concrete room in the Swinburne University campus is a compact room in Italy. Stay with me. This is a virtual room, sitting inside HTC Vive goggles, staged in the AMDC Factory of the Future.
Lucas Licata teaches 3D and digital design at the Swinburne University of Technology to students in game production, animation, and design. As a Lecturer in Digital Media Design, his installation, ‘Italian Room’ is part of Melbourne Knowledge Week.
This production evolved from teaching students how to build a CG room, chair, table and make it an acceptable 3D, virtual space. “There was an opportunity to create a VR project for Smart Story-Telling,” explains Licata. “This was part of the International Mobile Story-Telling Conference (IMSC). This presentation tells the migrant story, as seen through the eyes of an Italian about to leave their country, onwards to Australia, post WW2.”
The VR experience is an immersive trip provoking the drama, empathy and a rich feeling of being in that precarious situation. Leaving the country of your birth, launching yourself into the unknown, with minimal luggage. There is understandable apprehension. Some may have had the stoic resolve to move but there were some still unsure.
Lucas Licata is researching CG fidelity and how that impacts the feeling of presence in Virtual Reality. Measuring that sense of presence through motion capture, Licata is also researching the qualitative data and biomechanics through gait analysis. He is studying how that changes under different conditions of CG fidelity.
Using an historic time frame allows the participants to reflect on the positive outcomes that migrants have brought to Australia. “The time period is pretty loose ‘post-war’, because so many Europeans made the voyage from Italy in 1945, right through to the early sixties”, explains Licata. “The box in the centre of the room is filled with positive iconic images from the land across the ocean, sent to encourage the immigrant to come.”
The Italian Room assets were all modeled in Maya, with shader development in Maya with Arnold, using both image-based and procedural textures. The room is image-based and the chair is procedural. Licata baked out different image maps in Maya including diffuse, specular roughness and normal. Everything in the room was set up in Maya and exported to Unity using the .fbx (Filmbox) format.
The single bare lightbulb hanging from the ceiling in the room is so real, I was tempted to reach out and touch it. “The glass itself is a transparent material in a sphere with a reflection map, all rebuilt inside of Unity,” Licata reveals. “Because this is real-time, there’s no ray-tracing but it’s thin enough that it fools you.”
After importing the objects into Unity, Licata recreated all the materials using new Unity’s Shader Graph, based on the exported maps from Maya. The lighting was also in Unity. He baked out lightmaps using the Lightweight Render Pipeline. The VR setup was very straight forward, using an HTC Vive and Unity’s Virtual Reality Support for OpenVR.
“Unity took care of all VR integration with the HTC Vive, like the camera setup, head tracking, and movement,” explains Licata. “Unity’s new Shader Graph work-flow and baked lighting make it flexible to achieve high CG fidelity in VR. Working with Unity’s Lightweight Render Pipeline means that you can hit optimal frame rates improving the immersive experience.”
While nothing moves in this immersive presentation, the viewer is able to walk around the room, look through windows and doors, turn 360-degrees and explore those props in the box from Australia. Thousands from Italy and surrounds immigrated to Australia, much like Lucas’s father from Turin, and my father-in-law, from Trieste. The reaction from those of that demographic has been eye-opening, healing and positive.
I invite you to read more about Lucas Licata’s CG fidelity research and projects in the links below.
Swinburne University of Technology