Inside Limitless and Lytro’s quest for the next evolution in VR characters

In the past few months I’ve seen some really impressive stuff in VR. From standing atop the mountains of Skyrim, gazing down at a seemingly endless landscape, to the subtle nuances of the little girl in Wolves in the Walls, VR is really starting to hit its stride lately, especially with character interactions. Now with light field company Lytro’s acquisition of VR animation studio Limitless, we’re inching closer to a world where the virtual is nearly indistinguishable from reality.

And in a way, it all started with a little cartoon seagull.

Gary the Gull was one of the first really impressive VR demos I tried that made me feel like the virtual character in front of me was actually aware of my presence. And then once the company released its animation toolset, the democratization of VR innovation was underway.

It’s been a long road for Limitless already in our young industry, but teaming up with Lytro marks a new beginning, even if the partnership doesn’t seem to immediately make a ton of sense.

“I know Tim [Milliron], who runs Engineering at Lytro, very, very well. We’ve known each other for a long time and both worked at Pixar on projects like Cars and Brave. In fact, we were college roommates,” explained Tom Sanocki, CEO and Founder of Limitless, during an interview with UploadVR. “When Lytro was getting into VR we had already been talking so when we had an opportunity to think about being acquired, we started asking a lot of other people in the space and of course Tim was on that list. There was a lot of strategic alignment and seemed like a good fit.”

They released the above teaser video as a glimpse into the types of things this partnership might be capable of. Imagine being able to capture the real world using light fields at super high resolution with crystal clear fidelity and then marry that with Limitless’ artificial intelligence characters and you can achieve something shockingly realistic.

“We released a video with Hallelujah integrated with CG objects to toss beach balls around, or take other pieces from CG and add on real-time effects like fog or smoke, pulling lightfields into game engines,” said Sanocki. “We also believe that interactivity is important so we are looking to do future projects that have interactivity and game engine support at the core. Game engines are a good vehicle for that, but it’s new territory. I appreciate that the customers that Lytro works with are excited about the future of interactivity in game engines.”

We still don’t know exactly which projects Limitless and Lytro are working on together, but hopefully more details will be revealed in March at 2018’s GDC in San Francisco.