Ninja Theory’s Senua Studio ‘Has the tech to drive live VR concerts and social experiences’

Virtual reality (VR) has been championed by videogames since the inception of the modern head-mounted displays (HMDs), however there’s much more to the medium than interactive experiences. Healthcare, education, industrial and enterprise sectors have all shown interest, but there’s also other areas of entertainment that could benefit; UK development studio Ninja Theory are clearly aware of this.

Ninja Theory recently announced the opening of a new studio specialising in the creation of virtual characters through real-time motion-capture and rendering services, known as Senua Studio. The first implementation of this technology was showcased with Unreal Engine 4’s Sequencer software at this year’s Game Developers Conference (GDC), San Francisco, and subsequently at SIGGRAPH, Anaheim, this summer. However, while the technology has been impressive for modern videogame experiences, that’s not where the upper limit lies.

Tameem Antoniades Chief Creative Director

“We wanted to find out [what the limitations are] for ourselves which is why we recreated the Senua GDC scene in VR,” stated Tameem Antoniades, co-founder of Ninja Theory. “We had it running at 90 frames per second back in the office and we released a 60 fps 360 video of it to the public. We also had Senua track your head position as you move around which gives you an amazing feeling of presence.”

Videogame engines, such as Unity and Ninja Theory’s collaborator, Unreal Engine, have struggled to categorise themselves in recent years. No longer are these development suites limited solely to videogame production, with partners such as McLaren Automotive, Audi, Airbus, IKEA and NASA all using the technology for showcase projects. Senua Studio’s performance capture technology can reach out beyond videogames, too.

“We also have the tech to live drive a performance and broadcast it into VR right now opening up possibilities for VR concerts or social experiences in the future,” added Antoniades.

“I can imagine concerts like those of Gorillaz or Hatsune Miku but where the digital avatars on stage are driven live by the performer instead of precanned videos. Or a theme park where actors play creatures that interactively chase around punters.”

Many VR pioneers have strived for live music performances in the medium, but these have mostly been limited to pre-recorded 360 degree videos, such as Jaunt’s Paul McCartney concert or Samsung’s Gear VR reveal featuring Coldplay. Bringing live performances streamed in real-time to VR HMDs would be a significant step forward, and doing so with virtual characters even more so.

Hellblade Senua's Sacrifice

“We’ve created demos for stage, VR and film but to really take it to the next level we want to work with visionary partners to bring it into a commercial setting and develop it further. I wouldn’t say it’s an off-the-shelf solution. Every step has to be perfect, from the actor scanning, to the art and modelling, shader work, facial rigs, facial solving, motion capturing, and so on and so on. It’s very complex and precise and so we set up Senua Studio to basically take that complexity away so that the focus is on the creative where the magic happens.”

Senua Studio is now open for business, but which clientele or projects the company is working on are not currently known. Ninja Theory has recently released its first VR videogame, DEXED, as a product of an internally hosted Game Jam and the 360 degree trailer for Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is available here. VRFocus will bring you the full interview with Antoniades soon, as well as keeping you updated with all the latest details on Ninja Theory and Senua Studios’ works in VR.