Zoic Studios ships $10 iPad app for viewing virtual sets
Zoic Studios has released ZEUS:Scout, a unique new $9.99 iPad app that enables users to create and navigate virtual sets, helping plan camera positions and camera moves and generate storyboard frames.
So what is ZEUS?
We’ve written about ZEUS – Zoic Environmental Unification System, the studio’s in-house real-time virtual production toolset – in the past, when co-founder Loni Peristere discussed it in a presentation at FMX 2012.
The full ZEUS toolset takes previz models, renders them in real time, and drops the results into greenscreen footage live on set to enable the crew to see the actors against the virtual backgrounds.
In that session, Peristere noted that the studio was working on “a tool that directors can use directly with ZEUS on iOS devices”, describing directors being given “an iPad with all the virtual sets stored on it”.
ZEUS:Scout would seem to be a commercial release of that tool – or at least, a simplified version of it.
How does the app work?
Before you can navigate your virtual set, you’ll need to build it. The app comes with four free readymade sets – all urban interiors or exteriors – that can be supplemented by models bought through in-app purchases.
Realistically, though, unless your shot takes place entirely in a generic office, cafe or street environment, you’re going to need to create your own custom assets.
That means Unity Pro and “custom transcoding tools” – apparently available via the app’s website, although we couldn’t see a download link when we visited.
Once you’ve created your set, you can move the camera around it using a series of virtual joystick controls in order to scout camera positions or plan camera moves.
According to the press release, the app also mimics a “wide variety of [real-world] lenses”.
So what does that mean in the real world?
Once a shot is planned, users can take snapshots to use in storyboards, or record previs animation clips – the UI screenshots show an option to email animations to collaborators, although there’s no info on file formats.
Users can also measure distances on the virtual set to hand over to the real-world crane and dolly operators.
More interestingly, the app has a tracking mode that lets you use the iPad itself as a virtual camera, enabling a director to hold up their tablet and see a view of the virtual set matching the angle of the device.
You can even shoot greenscreen video with the iPad and see the actors integrated into the CG set in real time.
Exciting stuff – but is there a mass market for it yet?
All in all, ZEUS:Scout is an interesting proposition: it takes virtual set technology – previously very much the preserve of big studios – and puts it in a form that any indie film-maker can afford.
For us, the big questions would be whether it does so in a way user-friendly enough for users outside established studios – despite the relatively simple UI, there’s clearly going to be quite a lot of set-up involved – and whether this market is currently large enough for Zoic to justify significant future development.
But still: a tool to watch. And at under $10, one you can try out without putting a hole in your budget. ZEUS:Scout is available now for iPads running iOS 6.0 and above.