x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Dubai-based filmmaker Clyde DeSouza sets the pace for virtual reality movies

Clyde DeSouza is pioneering the world of 360-degree, virtual reality movies

Clyde DeSouza wearing an Oculus. Courtesy Clyde DeSouza
Clyde DeSouza wearing an Oculus. Courtesy Clyde DeSouza

Clyde DeSouza, an author and filmmaker in Dubai, is already a well-known face on the local film and television scene, particularly for his 3D expertise.

He set up and ran twofour54 Abu Dhabi’s 3D lab, his book Think in 3D has been well received in Hollywood and throughout the global film industry, and he has given workshops based on it as far afield as Estonia and Singapore. The terminology he uses in the book has even made it into the 3D Encyclopedic Dictionary.

Not content with writing technical tomes, DeSouza has now branched out into fiction.

His debut sci-fi novel, Memories With Maya, has been picked up by Penguin/Random House for publication in March next year following a successful self-published run on Amazon.

The book initially explores the use of technology to hold down long-distance relationships and then, following the death of the protaganist’s partner, Maya, the possibilities of using it to digitally recreate people and continue relationships using digital surrogates – or “dirrogates” as the author christens them. Think Transcendence, but based on actual existing Virtual Reality technologies including one called Blue Force that is already being used by the US military.

Impressively, particularly for a first-time novelist, DeSouza has successfully retained movie and related rights as part of the publishing deal. He has already written a screenplay that he has sent to studios and agents in the hope of a movie adaptation, but in the meantime he’s trying something a little different.

He has launched a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo to raise the money to adapt his book into what he calls a “motion novel” for the latest virtual-reality devices, such as the Oculus Rift and Sony Morpheus.

These so-new-they’re-still-only-available-in-developer-form VR headsets will allow gamers and movie fans to immerse themselves in full, 360-degree 3D worlds of their choosing. DeSouza notes that the Oculus Rift was itself a crowdfunding project originally, although his own ambitions are a little less lofty than the US$2billion (Dh7.34bn) that Facebook ended up paying for the emergent Oculus technology.

“These devices look like a gaming device, but once you put it on it’s like you’re basically inside an Imax screen,” he says. “By moving your head while wearing the headset you can view the whole 360-degree vista the director has captured, in 3D. They’ll definitely be used for both games and movies and they need a whole new cinematic language.

“This is one of the first movies made specifically for the devices that I’m aware of. The only other people I know who are making a 360-film are Los Angeles-based Jaunt VR. They’re working with New Deal Studios, the people who did the visual effects for Martin Scorsese’s Hugo, on a $6 million project, The Mission VR.”

So what does a “360-motion novel” look like?

Maya: The Motion Novel will be a hybrid of live action and CGI adapted from my own screenplay,” De­Souza explains. “I’ll use 360 cameras to capture whole scenes and vistas in Dubai, Singapore and India, the book’s main locations, then the characters moving through the sets will be CGI-animated. There will also be a score, much like in a traditional movie.”

It all sounds remarkably simple, but on closer questioning it transpires that “using 360-cameras” actually means using no fewer than 14 cameras, in seven pairs, to capture 3D images of a 360-degree shot, then stitching the images together in post-production. It sounds seriously labour intensive.

“It’s not as hard as it sounds,” says De Souza. “This is a motion novel, so the scenery is basically a big still and the characters move through it, so that’s the only part that needs animating and I have a really efficient game engine for that. The hardest part is getting the characters’ look right.”

Like the technology in the book, which is based on military technology, VR technology such as the Oculus Rift also has innumerable other uses such as oil-and-gas exploration, town planning and ­security.

DeSouza is already in talks with a number of organisations about the commercial use of his VR technology, but right now he’s focusing on his film.

With the first consumer devices from Oculus expected at Christmas or early in the new year, this could be your chance to be part of history as a backer of one of the first examples of a whole new form of movie.

• Check a demo clip of Memories With Maya on the Indiegogo page at www.indiegogo.com/projects/maya-a-360-transmedia-motion-comic, where you can also contribute towards the film’s production costs and learn more about the ­technology and the story

cnewbould@thenational.ae