ILM And Magic Leap Want To “Forge New Ground, Both Creatively And Technologically”

The future of storytelling is unwritten, but the partnership might give us a hint as to who its key authors could be.

There are a lot of technologies that are going to shape the way stories are told, people are entertained, and art is made in the years to come. We spend a lot of time talking about virtual reality, and the tech and media worlds are increasingly interested in exploring augmented reality. But “mixed reality,” where virtual reality and the corporeal, physical world in which we actually live intermingle, might be the ultimate new frontier. And if you needed further proof that that’s the case, the fact that Lucasfilm and ILMxLAB–Industrial Light and Magic’s cutting edge laboratory for new technologies–announced a partnership with mixed reality pioneers Magic Leap this week ought to make it clear.

Magic Leap Concept ImageryPhoto: courtesy of Magic Leap

ILMxLAB and Magic Leap have been flirting with some sort of collaboration for a while now. Vicki Dobbs Beck, the Executive in Charge at ILMxLAB first saw Magic Leap’s technology in early 2015 and, she says, her team was “incredibly excited by the possibilities.” ILMxLAB shared the kinds of experimentation and exploration that they’d been doing in VR, augmented reality, and mobile with Magic Leap, and they found a common ground in the idea of building site-specific experiences. “Both of us were interested not only in experiences for the home, but also for locations–whether that be theaters, theme parks, or public venues,” Beck says. “From those first visits, we felt a meeting of the hearts, minds, and imaginations.”

That ongoing meeting will be taking place in a collaborative, shared space–“the foundation for an exciting future,” as Beck puts it–at the Lucasfilm campus in San Francisco, as the two develop a joint research lab. The high-level goal, ultimately, is for the collaboration to define what “state-of-the-art” means in Mixed Reality storytelling. “Our collaboration will continue as we forge new ground, both creatively and technologically.”

The two created a test video that taps Lucasfilm IP–specifically, C3PO and R2-D2–and places them in a virtual world created by Magic Leap technology. In a press release about the partnership, Magic Leap founder/President/CEO Rony Abovitz explained that opportunities like that are part of what drew his company to Lucasfilm. “Lucasfilm has created some of the most iconic characters of our time,” he said. “Ones that dare us to dream, unlock our imagination and excite us to go on a journey with them.”

From the Lucasfilm/ILMxLAB side of things, though, the chance to work with groundbreaking technology to find new ways to utilize those characters is the appeal. “What’s exciting about this collaboration is the way in which Magic Leap and ILMxLAB complement one another,” Beck says. “Lucasfilm has a legacy of great storytelling, that’s leveraged innovative technology in order to bring these worlds and stories to life. Magic Leap has developed technology that will become a platform for compelling entertainment. Together, we can experiment and evolve this new art form.”

If all of that sounds more on the vague side of things, well, there’s probably a reason–we’re still talking untested, new technology, and what the future holds for it has yet to be written. No one can authoritatively state what Mixed Reality or the ILMxLAB/Magic Leap partnership is going to be because no one can really even tell you what the potential for the technology is yet. But while the world waits to see, Beck is excited to have the chance to find out.

“We have similar aspirations and complementary cultures,” she says. “So we could truly create something special–something that would become a hallmark in this emerging world of immersive entertainment.” We’ll look forward to seeing that play out, whatever form it takes.

About the author

Dan Solomon lives in Austin with his wife and his dog. He's written about music for MTV and Spin, sports for Sports Illustrated, and pop culture for Vulture and the AV Club.