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“You’ve Taken Your First Step Into A Larger World”

Industrial Light & Magic has opened a virtual-reality development studio called “ILMxLAB” in an effort to expand VR’s reach beyond gaming.

“You’ve Taken Your First Step Into A Larger World”

When Oculus took the stage in San Francisco yesterday to present their Rift VR headset to the public, they stayed exclusively within the confines of the gaming world. They showed off the compatible Xbox controller. They demoed an immersive flight-simulator game. The move made sense, what with the Electronic Entertainment Expo kicking off in SoCal next week, but the focus on gaming alone seemed to reinforce a major issue for the technology–how does it excite non-gamers?

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Enter Industrial Light & Magic.

The visual effects giant synonymous with the Star Wars universe just announced the formation of a new division called ILMxLAB, which will be dedicated exclusively to developing (according to the official press release), “Virtual reality, augmented reality, real-time cinema, theme-park entertainment, and narrative-based experiences for future platforms.”

“We already partner with some of the best game makers in the world, like Electronic Arts, and they are making a ton of amazing games,” Rob Bredow, Lucasfilm vice president of new media, told Fast Company. “So that freed up xLAB to focus more on experiences.”

Greg Grusby, head of PR for ILM, added, “We’re focusing on story. How can we let storytellers and filmmakers tell stories they couldn’t in a 2-D, passive environment?”

Bringing the VR experience to movies, theme parks, and even to retail outlets (ILMxLAB just unveiled the Jurassic World Experience at some Best Buy locations this past week, a project done in collaboration with Felix & Paul Studios and Universal Studios) with the release of the film) is seen as the best–and in some ways most challenging–way to smooth the acceptance of VR into living rooms and lifestyles. To this end, ILMxLAB is remaining, as Grusby put it, “Technologically agnostic.”

“We’re very interested in both VR and augmented-reality experiences,” says Bredow. “One of the great things about working with intellectual property like Star Wars and Jurassic World is that when we call up people who are working on technology that has been announced and technology that hasn’t yet been announced, we always get a warm welcome. So we’re working with the best of the best.” Bredow added that, just as ILM does the occasional freelance gig outside the Disney/Lucasfilm realm, ILMxLAB is open to playing well with others.

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Bredow also doesn’t sound too concerned about the adoption of VR or AR tech because, well, like anything–content is king, right?

“If we can tell compelling stories, and reach people on a deep emotional level, I’m not worried about the availability of the technology,” says Bredow. “Those are the kinds of experiences we’re exploring now. If we can make the stories emotional and relevant to them, or if we are able to connect people socially–If we do that, people will buy the headsets.”

About the author

Eric is Fast Company's Entertainment Editor. He's been a writer and editor with NBC, Premiere, Mental Floss, Maxim, the G4 Network's Attack of the Show and others.

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