Laura Rizzotto at Metastage in Los Angeles, CA
Volumetric capture studio launches augmented reality app with two holographic performances from Eurovision artist Laura Rizzotto, including a historic debut.
Last August, volumetric capture production company Metastage opened its doors on Stage 8 of the historic Culver Studios lot. A year later, with holographic runway debuts with The New York Times and Sundance debuts with Poppy under its belt, the studio is taking its first consumer-facing step with the launch of its augmented reality app, letting Android and iOS users bring holograms wherever they are.
“The Metastage app is an easily accessible, widely available tool to share volumetric technology with the masses,” Metastage CEO Christina Heller said in an interview with the author. “What really matters, and why we’re most excited about it, is the content that it showcases and the experiences it makes possible.”
Volumetric capture—so called because it records video that has volume—is a means of recording fully three-dimensional holograms. At Metastage, this is conducted on a light stage with more than 100 cameras mounted all around the capture area, ultimately producing video content that is stitched together to form holograms. This has made it a natural format for virtual reality because it lets creators capture real-life subjects in full 3D.
But where the VR consumer market is still relatively small, there are billions of smartphones that can run AR. Metastage’s app, developed in partnership with Magnopus (the company behind immersive experiences for Pixar’s Coco and Blade Runner: 2049) allows anyone to incorporate these holograms into their daily lives.
Heller acknowledges that Metastage is certainly not the first company to launch an AR app—but it is the first with its launch titles: two holographic performances from Laura Rizzotto, an internationally renowned Brazilian/Latvian singer and songwriter. Rizzotto has worked with Demi Lovato, Rosanne Cash, Eumir Deodato and Jennifer Lopez, and garnered international attention for representing Latvia in the 2018 Eurovision Song Contest, the longest-running annual music competition in the world. The song she performed, “Funny Girl,” is one of the two performances to debut on the Metastage app.
“An augmented reality app in and of itself is not groundbreaking, but the holographic performance we are premiering with Laura Rizzotto absolutely is,” Heller said. “This is a new way to experience music and your favorite performers.”
For Heller, part of launching this app is as a scout mission—a vehicle to experiment and test hypotheses. When she set out to launch the AR companion to the studio, she wanted to go big—something that showcased the strengths of the medium and simultaneously caught people’s attention to drive conversation.
And with her background in film and VR—she formerly ran VR Playhouse—Heller was keenly aware that storytelling and creativity are key for sparking ideas around new technologies. So when she found Rizzotto, she knew she’d found an artist who hit all the marks.
Cover art for Laura Rizzotto's "One More Night"
“Her voice is incredible, she’s a great dancer, and her songs are incredibly catchy—she is Pop at its best,” Heller said. “When we approached her to do this with us, we wanted to launch with a full unreleased song, and we wanted to go big with it. Because she is independent, she can call her own shots, and we were lucky enough to get the ‘One More Night’ premiere as a hologram on the Metastage app.
As a brand new single, “One More Night,” is the world’s first commercial single to launch with a corresponding holographic debut.
“I believe the evolution of the entertainment industry relies on finding new interactive mediums to showcase your content and engage with your audience,” Rizzotto said in an interview with the author. “As as songwriter and performing artist, I’m a storyteller. I was inspired by how the volumetric capture technology allowed me to tell my story in an even more personal, intimate manner: by performing right in front of my audience.”
Volumetric capture has been making headlines in 2019, notably with the recent scaling of 1RIC studio, whose recent and forthcoming projects were produced at Metastage. But as a form that has only just recently become accessible to creators, even all this innovation we’ve begun to see is just the beginning.
Laura Rizzotto created two holographic performances, now available on the Metastage app.
Heller explains that artists like Rizzotto are pioneers, taking creative risks by inviting audiences to participate with them in novel ways. These performances, paired with a mainstream delivery vehicle like a mobile AR app, not only showcase how far volumetric capture has progressed, but help those outside the community learn how they might incorporate into their respective industry.
“Pretty much anything that is compelling in real life is compelling in volumetric—a song, a dance, a speech, or a sentimental moment,” Heller said. “What’s fun about taking these captures and publishing them through AR is that is allows the viewer to place them in their personal reality. It’s close and it’s intimate.”
AR inherently puts the final decisions in the hands of the individual user—there’s a collaborative aspect here that can’t be matched in traditional delivery formats.
“For the first time ever, users can tailor the artist’s performance to their own taste and comfort,” said Carolina Rizzotto, who co-produced Laura Rizzotto’s Metastage Experience. “You can take Laura and choose where she’ll perform and even change her capture size. You can make her twice her normal size...or you can even make her the size of an ant and have her perform in your own hand.”
Screen captures from the Metastage app
What’s more, the logistics of capturing a holographic performance is also a new language that performers have to learn—one that they have few examples to learn from. New considerations for what will work in this context are discovered on the fly by artists like Rizzotto.
“Usually, whether it is performing for a camera or on stage, there is a specific direction I am performing to, a focus,” Rizzotto said. “For the hologram experience, I was on a green screen stage surrounded by 106 cameras, which were capturing me from every possible angle. I had to keep in mind a specific radius boundary for my movements, in order to make sure my body was fully captured, as well as how my performance would look from various angles.”
Unlike with traditional video, performers can’t rely on a final edit or cutaways to massage flubs they might make; Rizzotto had to get the entire choreography right in full, uninterrupted takes.
“The volumetric performance of ‘One More Night’ includes an original choreography made for the song,” Rizzotto said. “There is no editing to the performance, as it has to be in one take only, which makes it even more raw.”
Rizzotto at Metastage in Los Angeles, CA
Fortunately, she viewed this as an opportunity to lean into the medium as a means of amplifying the song’s theme and emotional register.
“‘One More Night’ is a playful narrative about someone who realized their relationship is bound to fall apart, but keeps postponing the breakup. It’s bittersweet in some ways, but definitely lighthearted,” Rizzotto said. “The unique thing about this experience is how up-close and personal you can get to the artist during their live performance. You [can] either join me on stage and record yourself singing and dancing right by my side, or just watch the show from any angle you’d like.”
And Rizzotto confirmed that seeing yourself as a hologram is about as wild as you might initially expect it would be.
“It was surreal; I couldn’t believe how accurate it looked,” Rizzotto said. “The technology is incredible.”
Rizzotto getting ready for her holographic performance backstage.
From an audience standpoint, Rizzotto is excited that this type of capture allows her audience to learn choreographies in a more complete way than they can with 2D video.
“I [am] also excited about how the AR medium gives people an opportunity to visualize the choreography of the song in the most complete way possible, due to the variety of angles,” Rizzottto said. “That facilitates the process of learning the song’s choreography immensely, for those who want to dance along.”
To ensure that the final product would live up to creative team’s ambitions, they conducted rehearsals to test different options.
“Before the actual shoot, we had a separate test day when I rehearsed on the stage and experimented with different wardrobe and hairstyle options,” Rizzotto said. “It was important to see how various colors and textures were captured with this new technology beforehand, to make the best choice for the final project. We did a ‘behind the scenes’ video, which shows all of the steps and details of the making of my Metastage experience.”
For her part, Heller enjoys that these hard-won early insights allow the young industry to remain exploratory in nature, though she definitely has more ideas in mind for the type of work she’s like to see produced at Metastage.
“We’re still in the early stages of this medium so every idea, no matter how strange, is fair game.” Heller said. “So far we’ve done a lot in the areas of music, sports, and healthcare, but even there, just the tip of the iceberg. I personally am excited to do more projects for volumetric preservation of important public figures. We captured a holocaust survivor being interviewed by her son and that will always stand out as a Metastage highlight for me.”
She adds that there’s more on the way for the Metastage app.
“We’re about to launch a volumetric performance library of stock assets for game engine that we’re calling, simply, ‘Metastage Captures,’” Heller said. “The assets are regular people in regular clothes doing everyday actions like talking, listening, looking around, etc., on short loops.”
Whether somebody wants to use these for fun or functionality, Heller is excited that they will be in the world for herself and other creatives to progress the language around holograms and augmented reality.
“These assets can be integrated into architectural VR experiences for life and scale, or added to the background of scenes,” Heller said. “There isn’t really anything out there like them, so we are excited to launch this first batch of 50 unique captures, and get feedback on what else creators would benefit to have in the catalogue.”
For Rizzotto, the opportunity to capture these volumetric recordings was a chance to connect with her audience in a novel way—but she believes that it won’t be long before more artists start working in the medium.
“I love finding new ways to expand my creativity and connect with people through my craft,” Rizzotto said. “I’m looking forward to seeing artists get creative with these tools and find new ways to connect with their audience and also to present their content. This technology will reshape the entertainment industry, and this is just the beginning.”