Despite having sold its SkyBox technology suite to Adobe last month, Mettle is coming on strong at SIGGRAPH with its new Mantra VR software for stylizing 360-degree experiences.
Mettle’s Chris Bobotis left the company to help integrate SkyBox with After Effects and Premiere Pro, taking the new title of director of immersive at Adobe. But co-founder Nancy Eperjesy says it’s been business as usual since then, with the company working to get Mantra VR ready for prime time at SIGGRAPH.
“Our plan with SkyBox was to complete the suite with seven plug-ins that really laid the foundation for 360 in After Effects and Premiere, but it didn’t include any kind of advanced effects,” Eperjesy told StudioDaily. “About a year ago, we started working on a parallel project, Mantra VR. And, by coincidence, we’re almost ready to launch that.”
Mettle has planned a Mantra VR tech demo for August 1 at SIGGRAPH, including a 1 p.m. presentation by DJ Mix Master Mike, who will be launching a remix of his “Moonbase Invasion” VR experience along with hands-on demos by Jonathan Winbush showing how Winbush Design & Animation Studio used a beta version of Mantra VR (along with SkyBox Suite and Mettle’s FreeForm Pro) on the project. The release of the finished version of Mantra VR should come about a month after the show, Eperjesy said.
Mettle has also discounted its existing products, lowering the price of its FreeForm Pro mesh warp plug-in for After Effects from $299 to $199, and cutting the price of its ShapeShifter AE text and logo plug-in for After Effects from $249 to $149. Both of them work well with SkyBox suite, Eperjesy said.
Mantra VR at work.
Stylization and VFX for 360
The upcoming Mantra VR is all about stylization and special visual effects in After Effects and Premiere, Eperjesy said — an expanded toolkit for adventurous VR and AR creators. “About a year ago, we were thinking of technical challenges for content creators, and one of the first ideas we had was, how do people do a dolly-in in post?” Eperjesy recalls. “That got us thinking. We figured out a way to do a push-in, and that was the birth of Mantra.”
As it nears release, Mantra has grown into a series of 15 stylization and effects filters designed for 360 VR work in After Effects and Premiere. They can be used with both AE and Premiere at the same time, and will be accessible through a new Node Panel, which will eliminate the need for users to write scripts in order to use the effects in sophisticated ways.
The Mantra VR effects are mathematically complex, including both traditional effects translated to 360 space as well as new effects that only make sense in immersive environments. “We had a full-time Ph.D. in math working with our engineering team just on the mathematical part of the effects,” she said. “One of them is called Escher Droste, so it uses repetition and recursive repetition. We have hyperbolics, kaleidoscopic effects. We’ve introduced a way to do seamless little planet and wormhole. And everything is keyframeable.”
Eperjesy believes 360 content creation needs new tools and a new visual vocabulary that takes the best possible advantage of immersive environments. “Our feeling is that 360 is more akin to a dream than traditional cinema,” she said. “When you dream, a story can be nonlinear — and you dream in 360. The experience can be more compelling and emotional than real life.”
Image created with Mantra VR.
Courtesy Matt Givot, Givot Media
The Deep End
Another area of development for Mettle is a collaboration with Facebook on plug-ins to help add depth effects to 360-degree scenes. “If you look at 360 video, the footage is all shot to be sharp, at a pretty high f-stop,” Eperjesy said. “If you have to stitch together footage and you vary the depth of field, it won’t stitch together properly, so cameras are set to shoot in focus. And that’s not very cinematic. In traditional cinema, we’re used to the director guiding the viewer’s gaze through stylized focus. So the idea for us was that if you could actually add depth in post-production realistically, that would be another great tool for helping experienced filmmakers tell their story.”
Adobe saw those depth plug-ins as an important component of the 360 video toolkit, so they are part of the SkyBox deal and will be integrated with Adobe products when complete, Eperjesy said.
“When Adobe approached us, we had to ask, ‘What does this mean for our customers?'” she recalled. “For me, it had to make sense. And, in a way, the integration with Adobe gives us what we want: for every Adobe customer to have their hands on the SkyBox suite. And we saw SkyBox as a first step in VR and AR before going farther down the road.”