I know it’s super early in the morning for most of you, so you might not have noticed that a brand-new Red vs. Blue 360 episode hit YouTube a few minutes ago. Looks like Christmas came a little early for you all – and the residents of Blood Gulch. Check it out!
Now that we have a couple of these special episodes under our belts, it seems like the perfect time to tell the story of how they came to be. Several months ago, the animation team was presented with a unique project: create a series of Red vs. Blue episodes… in VR. Immediately we said, "Of course! Sure!" Almost immediately after that, we said, "Wait… how?"
We started right away with a crash course in VR content: what's been made, how it's been made, how to view it, what kind of challenges this format presents. I hadn’t played with VR since trying an Oculus Rift in 2013, so I checked out some of the next-gen VR headsets we have lying around the studio. I realized right away it was a whole new ball game.
We got writers busy on scripts while a small team worked on figuring out how to make the actual video. Part of it was easy – we've been making Red vs. Blue for many years, so the motion capture and animation part was a breeze, and we could just reuse 3D assets we already had. However, getting it into the VR format proved to be more challenging. After we'd been working on it for a bit, we realized we didn't just need to make a 360-degree short – it needed to be in 3D! That took a while for us to wrap our heads around.
Probably the biggest breakthrough in the entire project came when Tech Director Eric Turman pointed out that we could render the VR content directly from Maya, the 3D modeling and animation tool we are using on several of our shows. Without going too far down the rabbit hole, 3D VR works by having two images or sequences either side-by-side, or in a top/bottom layout. To get the 360 effect, the images are distorted and stretched as they get higher or lower on the image, much like a world map is stretched near the poles.
Once we figured out how to make it work, it was just a matter of setting up the scene in Maya and letting it render. We discovered we could use some of the same compositing tricks we use in RWBY to speed up rendering and make it more efficient. With a little bit of poaching resources and time on our render farm, we were able to create our first episode of Red vs. Blue 360 – A Day at the Base.
Though viewing these videos through a browser is cool, I highly recommend getting a proper VR viewer to get the full experience; Google's new Daydream system is ideal, but Google's Cardboard viewer is incredibly affordable and makes VR available to almost anyone. There's really no comparison between watching A Day at the Base on your computer monitor versus really feeling like you're in Blood Gulch with a VR viewer.
Figuring out how to adapt Red vs. Blue into VR has been a blast – technically challenging and fun, and the results are amazing. I love the reaction I get whenever I show someone our VR content for the first time, and I’m really looking forward to exploring more opportunities in VR in the future!