Ready Player One is set in 2045, the planet is on the brink of chaos and collapse, but people find salvation in the OASIS: an expansive virtual reality universe that filmmaker Steven Spielberg challenged ILM to bring to life. Production Visual Effects Supervisor Roger Guyett, Animation Supervisor David Shirk, and the ILM visual effects teams in San Francisco, Singapore, Vancouver, and London consisting of some 2,000 artists ultimately created over 90 minutes of almost entirely digital VFX work to bring the immersive world of the OASIS to the screen. The visual effects work would receive nominations for Best Visual Effects from both The Academy and BAFTA, in addition to four Visual Effects Society Award nominations and two wins.
The challenge began with the vibrant multi-dimensional world that would carry much of the story environments that make up the OASIS but equally challenging was designing and creating performances for the film’s five lead characters, the ‘High Five’ as they are known and the primary antagonists Nolan Sorrento and “I-r0K”. Under the watchful eye of Production Designer, Adam Stockhausen and ILM Visual Effects Art Director Alex Jaeger, those characters and the likes of the sixers, King Kong, Chucky, and many others were all visualized and brought to life.
Perhaps the single most daunting challenge was how to populate the OASIS. Aside from the huge range of 1980s characters, gaming characters, cartoon characters, and heroes we knew we had to build, the team also needed thousands upon thousands of other background characters. To achieve this a new crowd system called ARCADE was developed. The system was both highly directable when necessary but also leveraged a layer of artificial intelligence making it indispensable. The system not only designed and created characters of all types – based on predetermined design specifications and artistic choices – but it also created behaviors appropriate to the sequence including fighting and interaction in the battles and using all sorts of weapons depending on the unique characteristics of the character. Perhaps the best example of the system in action is the scene in the third act where more than half a million Gunter characters attack the castle in the end battle.