The technology of filmmaking today is open to small- and nonprofessional film-makers, but using small-scale CG figures (whether you enjoy them or not) has always been limited to those who have substantial funding. Wonder Dynamics is striving to change that by introducing a platform that makes it easy for directors to place a CG character into any scene promptly and seamlessly, as if it had been done by an expert.
It does seem too good to be true, and that is understandable. From my perspective as a skeptic, however, the consideration given to Wonder Studio, the web-based editor produced by the startup, was simply remarkable. It is not a mere AR filter, but an effective and comprehensive tool. Nikola Todorovic and Tye Sheridan wanted it just as much as its developers wanted to build it. Above all, it is intended to help artists with their work, not wholly replace them.
Sheridan, who many saw in Spielberg’s film adaptation of Ready Player One, has always sought to create a tool for artists to use that will give them the power to achieve their aspirations, even without a lot of resources. Sheridan has a keen understanding of the intricacies of CGI-assisted production and motion capture from direct experience.
Todorovic and Sheridan are acquainted for a long time and have had the same problem often: “Tye and I would compose scripts that it was financially impossible for us to make,” Todorovic declared. Their brand, which has been rather low-key until this point, received a two-and-a-half million dollar seed round in early 2021 and an extra ten million dollar A round later on in the year.
Even though it’s now much simpler to acquire and utilize programs for designing 3D models, editing, compositing, and painting (in addition to other steps in movie production), putting a CG character in a shot is still quite intricate.
If you desire to have a robotic companion featured in your science-fiction film, the first thing to do is find an artist who can make a model as well as textures. If you don’t want to hand animate the robot, you need to make use of a motion capture studio and other pieces of equipment such as reflector balls, green screens, etc. Then, certain motions from these captured motions will be applied to the CG skeleton and the robotic character will be arranged in the place of the actor. The 3D model should have to correspond to the course and color of the lighting, the cast and texture of the movie, and more. Hopefully you employed people to record and define these elements as well.
Unless they are a specialist in all pre- and post-production steps and have loads of free time, it’s likely too expensive or time-consuming for most filmmakers. In the end, you may have to spend around $20,000 each second for considerable VFX work, for instance including a dragon or superhero. Hence, independent movies usually don’t feature prominent special effects and certainly no animated figures.
Wonder Studio is a platform that is similar to choosing a filter or brush in Photoshop, making the task simple. It is admittedly impressive, seeing how Sheridan and Todorovic have dedicated three years to this project and it evidently paid off. Sheridan commented: “Making it perfect and reliable took some time; that’s why it took so long.”
Todorovic said that they developed a tool that would streamline the entire process, generating animations in real-time, frame by frame, without the use of mocap technology. This tool can even distinguish between different actors in the scene just with a single camera. It also takes care of the camera motion, lighting and color, and it can substitute the actors with CG assets.
However, it’s not just the feature of superimposing output live in camera like on Tiktok. It produces an actual final product and still produces all the elements VFX artists would traditionally work with. What’s more, none of the process is based on the existing work of any given artist.
He further went on to explain that it includes animation and motion data, such as of hands and face, as well as outlines of characters and objects which are frame-by-frame. Additionally, a 3D representation of the environment, with features such as terrain, is generated too and all of this is tracked automatically and matched to the shots of a scene with multiple angles.
This is an example of how the process functions.
Further examples and details can be accessed on the company’s website.
Many of the VFX processes involve tedious, repetitive jobs that are done repeatedly in the same manner. These “objective non-creative” activities, tasks that must be conducted for practical purposes instead of artistic expressions, are classified under the three D’s of automation, “Dirty, Dull, and Dangerous.”
Todorovic stated that AI does not take away from the work of artists, instead it aids them by automating the more objective bits of their work. The intent is to make their work easier and more efficient and it is by taking tedious tasks and simplifying them that technology offers a real benefit.
Do not be concerned that this may lead to many people losing their jobs, it is improbable. The VFX industry is very busy, particularly because Marvel and Netflix require frequent production of very complex computer graphics, which must be created by multiple independent VFX companies. One specializes in capes, another in explosions, one more in digital makeup, and a further one in deformable surfaces. All the available slots have been filled up for many years. Of course, these jobs enable them to make money, but if they could accept twice as many because they don’t need to spend as much time outlining the desired actor in each frame, they would happily accept them.
The end product relies heavily on the outcome, and that is where automation of these procedures start to be tedious. It is possible to find a tool that can recognize movement in the chosen actor and generate a basic movement cycle for a model, yet you have to instruct it at the start of each scene. But even with that, you still don’t have any magical CGI characters; the next team must take control of the coordinates and Bezier curves to finish things up.
Sheridan and Todorovic strived for Wonder Studio to be easy for a child to handle, yet still effective enough to be used by a visual effects expert â thus, it offers direct data access if preferred, but also comes with drag-and-drop capabilities ready for use.
Wonder Studio provides a variety of sample models when you obtain the program, which serve as CG character templates. These include a Pixar-like father and daughter duo, various robots, and a “Sam” figure reminiscent of Gollum. You are not meant to simply use these models though, they are simply examples.
Todorovic voiced that they hope creators will build their own assets and items utilizing their FBX and textures. These could then be imported into software packages like Blender or Unreal, and also be put up for sale on the platform.
It would be beneficial to get an idea of what a superhero costume or an alien creature in a fight scene you are describing would look like, other than what’s on the storyboard. It could be more realistic with stunt professionals and visual effects. Wouldn’t it be great to be able to view a magical village with real bird people instead of cheap makeup? Including a robotic cashier or mutant street sweeper in a sci-fi film can give it a modern futuristic feel, however such low cost CG characters are currently not available. With the introduction of such characters, genres that were once off-limits due to their large productions costs can now be unlocked.
Additional functions are in the making, such as CG environments for compositing characters and mechanisms for registering the motion of any media so that it can be mimicked, studied, customized and recycled.
Sheridan stated that they were aiming to create a platform where youngsters can learn how to direct films using only a computer. Furthermore, a free tier would be available for anyone curious enough to try it out and more comprehensive features can be accessed through paid plans. The featured content will be facilitated through partnerships with different Visual Effects (VFX) houses, which are expected to enhance the integrations and operations.
They are striving to link the creative freedom of films with a large budget to those that have a more limited budget. They want filmmakers to be able to obtain the same level of creativity for their films as James Cameron would have with his resources.
The beta version of the platform is currently being employed by the Russo Brothers, renowned action directors, for an upcoming Netflix movie starring Millie Bobby Brown and Chris Pratt. No one knows which actor has taken the place of another, but it is an evident show of support.
Sheridan stated in a statement regarding Wonder Studio’s launch that they think filmmaking is one of the greatest occupations a person could have. Their team are storytellers in their core, and they are designing technological advancements solely to assist them in constructing even more remarkable plots. AI has introduced the potential for a large number of films to be produced, furthermore multiple voices to be heard.