John Gaeta is an Academy Award-winning innovator known for his visual effects work on The Matrix trilogy. Having co-founded ILMxLAB, he is now senior vice president of creative strategy at Magic Leap. On Friday 26 October, the final day of VIEW Conference 2018, he will deliver the event’s penultimate address: a keynote presentation on nothing less than the future of immersive media, entitled What is the Magicverse? Cinefex sat down with John before his presentation to discuss what this question means, and why he’s asking it.
CINEFEX: So, John, what exactly is the Magicverse?
JOHN GAETA: First, what we’re talking about is an emerging, mixed reality platform. That means being able to walk around in the real world, and have any form of experience you can imagine existing right there with you in the real world. This is the conversation we want to have – when, and in what way, will we be able to do that?
Now, I’m not a computer graphics engineer. I’m closer to the creative side, a person who thinks about form and moments. But I’ve always got along well with the engineers because they can get you to a certain place that expresses a moment powerfully. This has always been the nature of computer graphics in relation to cinema – getting us to places we haven’t been to before. But, the language of engineers tends to be a little bit antiseptic. We have terms like “spatial computing,” which really means interactive applications that exist in space. Another term that’s being thrown around is “AR cloud,” because if you have a room filled with visual effects that are dynamically changing all the time, you have to hold all that somewhere, and the place where we hold it is in the cloud.
CINEFEX: So you want to call it something different?
JOHN GAETA: Right, because if you say “spatial computing” or “AR cloud” to the everyday person, they’ll be like, “I don’t know what that is, and I don’t really care.” What makes this compelling for people is that it’s an experience. So we’re calling it the “Magicverse,” which is a really simple way of making it human. The term describes this new, hybrid between the real and digital worlds, where wondrous things can be found.
CINEFEX: Are you talking primarily about entertainment?
JOHN GAETA: Absolutely not. We have to decouple from the idea that this is about games and entertainment, because it’s about all things. These interactive applications can be about anything – education, transportation, healthcare, government, economics and, yes, entertainment as well. We’re talking about applications in every form of business, not just on a device, but overlaid like visual effects on top of real things, and involving groups of people interacting together, some of them not necessarily physically there.
CINEFEX: When you apply the word “Magicverse” to that concept, it brings to mind the famous quote by Arthur C. Clarke, that goes something like: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
JOHN GAETA: Yes, and that’s important, because what this does is it sparks human imagination. But there’s a reason why we’re posing this as a question: “What is the Magicverse?” It’s because we don’t have the answer, entirely. There’s no one company that can monolithically make such a thing, just like no one company made the internet. The term is a focusing tool. We can have a conversation around it, so that people can try to describe what they think are the right attributes, both conceptually and architecturally.
CINEFEX: The terminology is critical, isn’t it? You say “virtual reality” and everybody immediately thinks of great big headsets. Or you say “mixed reality” and people say, “What’s that?”
JOHN GAETA: Right, because it’s the destination and the experience that people care about, in all cases. And again, forget entertainment. Let’s say I was able to perform an open heart surgery because the world’s greatest expert was able to join me via this application that allowed some level of participation from afar. That co-presence has enabled someone’s life to be saved.
CINEFEX: Historians love to label eras. You’ve got the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution, the Digital Age … do you think that this world you’re describing is the next age in history?
JOHN GAETA: Yeah, I do, for sure. There’s already evidence of it happening everywhere. You can train with it, design with it, you can show a simulation of your new building in situ. It’s technically challenged in certain ways right now, but that will improve when we can wirelessly broadcast high bandwidth. The turning point in that respect will be 5G, I think.
CINEFEX: They say you can’t tell the time by looking at the second hand. Well, you’re looking at the whole clock here. Looking at the big picture.
JOHN GAETA: Yeah, that’s where I’m at now. You just have to get old! Look, I started working in film with stop-motion, did motion control programming, figured out how miniatures could be rapid-prototyped with machines, worked with the people who were figuring out how computer graphics could be used to visualize, and to control cameras. At that point we suddenly had to work out how to align computer graphics with real world things, understand light, track people … all these things that were seminal bits of understanding. When you do that enough years in a row, and see it become this amazing innovation in cinema, well, then you want to do all of those same things in real time, in the real world.
CINEFEX: So all these things that we’re going to see in the Magicverse, they’ll be at the same quality level as cinema visual effects?
JOHN GAETA: Yes, that’s going to happen, and it won’t be too long. If we were to do a service to the visual effects industry, we would make them aware that their work is going to start spilling out into the real world. Except we’ll be making those visual effects dynamic and adaptive to the places where we’re positioning them. We’re going to be adding virtual components to the real world, and it will be flawlessly real. The artisans who create these expressive, compelling things are going to be vital to make that a joyful, wondrous thing. Or a crazy, dark, insane adventure!
CINEFEX: When you talk about the artisans who are going to make these visions possible, you’re talking about visual effects artists, right?
JOHN GAETA: Well, the tech industry is getting ready for high fidelity graphics, and there are brilliant people in the visual effects industry who can cross over. In the last four or five years, I’ve seen computer graphics people who have adapted to real-time. I’ve seen visual effects being plucked. The studio system had better get wise to the fact that their core talent for visual effects is getting drawn away by these groups that are going to not only make it more difficult to make these big movies, they’re probably going to buy the studios themselves!
CINEFEX: So, the Magicverse is coming. Where will it materialize first?
JOHN GAETA: The cities are going to get this first, because that’s where you’ll get 5G. Cities are going to start getting populated with cinematic worlds. The thing that always slows down the pace is markets, but certain markets exist already, like theme parks. Imagine turning a castle in Edinburgh into a Harry Potter immersive experience. You could adjust the appearance of the real physical spaces with the fantasy elements, with the magic. People would love that, and it would work as a business concept. If Walt Disney were alive today, do you think he would take the components of his films and transfer them over to his physical lands? Absolutely he would.
VIEW Conference 2018 takes place at the Officine Grandi Riparazioni (OGR) in Torino, Italy, October 22 to 26, 2018. Check out the full program of talks, workshops, panels, and masterclasses at the VIEW Conference website.