According to producer/writer/director Paul W.S. Anderson, Resident Evil: The Final Chapter is the last film in Sony Pictures’ lucrative franchise. Based on Capcom’s bestselling game franchise, the new film hits theaters January 27 in tandem with Capcom’s Resident Evil 7 across gaming platforms on January 24.
Sony Pictures enlisted special effects house, Mr. X to create a 360-degree virtual reality experience set on the killing floor of The Hive—a setting first introduced in the original film and revisited in this sixth installment. The free experience is available now as a way to market the film beyond the traditional linear advertising campaign.
According to Aaron Weintraub, senior visual effects supervisor and director of the VR experience, the company used the same computer-generated (CG) pipeline as traditional visual effects for the film to model and animate this VR experience. The end result is a pre-rendered spherical experience where the user can control the camera to take in the assorted undead dogs and horrific creatures that inhabit every nook and cranny of the killing floor.
Available on Facebook 360 and YouTube 360, the VR experience features an introduction by Milla Jovovich, who has played Alice in all six movies.
Weintraub told [a]listdaily that since the idea to do the VR piece came up well after the practical shoot was completed, since they didn’t have the option to go back and shoot live-action.
“We had most of the assets already created for the film, so this project became an opportunity for us to dream up our own story that used them in a way that nobody had ever seen before,” Weintraub said. “Being entirely virtual gave us the ability to really plan it out and do whatever we wanted, as well as tweak any aspect at any point without being locked into something that we photographed. Furthermore, we could focus on the animation and overall look without devoting too much time to the less creative aspects of live-action VR production like stitching plates and painting out artifacts.”
The hanging undead scare in the opening of the VR experience was a moment taken right from the film, using the identical CG assets and animation. All of the CG assets, including the dogs and Bloodshot (humanoid monsters), were also reused from the film’s visual effects with new animation created specifically for the piece.
“The only area requiring a significant new build was the actual killing floor environment itself,” Weintraub said. “We had built pieces of it for the film, and had a LIDAR scan of the full set from the shoot, but had to actually create the full space for the way that we used it in 360.”
Mr. X came up with the treatment and ran a short two-page script by Anderson just to get his blessing for us to go ahead and he loved it. While he wasn’t looking at progress every day, Weintraub said Anderson’s aesthetic hangs heavy over the entire piece—something the artists at Mr. X have become very familiar with over the years.
The fact that the films are based on the video game franchise and feature characters from that universe also impacted this CG VR experience.
“We’re definitely aware who the fans are and what they are expecting, so everything we do in these movies plays into that,” Weintraub said. “Being a game player and fan himself, Paul really caters to that and is always making these films explicitly for them. Now that VR is coming into the games as well, it’s just another area where we can overlap for the fans to give them a single seamless Resident Evil experience, no matter what the medium: film, games, VR or some hybrid.”
Like games, virtual reality opens up a replay value for users since it’s impossible to look at every angle on the first, or even second, viewing.
“While there’s definitely a ‘hero’ way to watch most of it, we added action around the entire set to keep things interesting if the viewer decides to look somewhere else,” Weintraub said. “One of our favorite gags is the blood/slime dripping from the ceiling, since not a lot of 360 experiences have you looking straight up—usually because of live-action stitching problems.”
In the experience, once a Bloodshot runs away from the user after falling from the ceiling, there’s an option to try to follow him around the set, or stop to look at the dogs coming towards you. And once the dogs have surrounded the user, Weintraub said all bets are off and you can look anywhere.
“If you happen to miss being eaten the first time around, you can certainly come back and watch it again,” Weintraub said.
With Google Daydream available with a controller and platforms like PlayStation VR at retail, Weintraub hopes that interactive VR projects like this one will reach a larger audience, and thereby increase the demand for this type of content.
“Pre-rendered 360 experiences like this one that are available on YouTube can reach a staggering amount of people, which is what makes it so attractive,” Weintraub said. “Anyone with a computer can participate, and anyone with a smartphone and a Google Cardboard can experience it immersively. It would be great to reach the same size audience with an interactive project.”