Have you ever stood inside a neon laser grid, floating in the loneliness of space? How about inside of a fiery nebula, surrounded by whirling embers of red and orange that leave silky light trails behind them? Thanks to the folks at Meptik, I can say that I have. I recently took a tour of the virtual and extended reality production specialist’s Atlanta office, which I happily found to be only a stone’s throw from my home. With no outdoor signage, you would pass right by Meptik’s headquarters none the wiser of the cutting-edge technology inside. After entering the building, I was greeted by Nick Rivero, Co-Founder and CTO of Meptik. Nick is a font of knowledge, and was eager to go over the foundations of his company’s technology with me. What’s more, he had me stand on their in-house virtual production stage so I could feel firsthand how easy it was to be transported to another world, all while explaining the many ways this emerging technology is a boon to so many industries.
Meptik is part of disguise, whose technology forms the backbone of the company’s services. From the production software visualizing and mapping the virtual experiences to the dedicated servers that run the show, disguise is the nuts and bolts that Meptik utilizes to bring clients’ vision to life. Nick explained to me that disguise’s technology takes advantage of extended reality (XR), the term used to describe the cutting edge experience that is created by combining virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and mixed reality (MR). “You have to remember,” Nick reminded me, “as recently as three or four years ago, the tech we are now using on a daily basis was discussed in terms of ‘maybe one day that could be possible?’ This industry has really become a reality in a very short amount of time.” I was floored, what could be the catalyst for such a rapid evolution of production tech? The answer, as it turns out, is a bit of a perfect storm.
“The pandemic certainly had a big effect on the timeline for these kinds of productions,” Nick mused. The types of things Meptik is making a reality were purely theoretical just a few years ago. Were they inevitable? Probably, Nick says, but the pandemic accelerated their debut. As work from home orders were in place, companies were needing new and imaginative solutions to not only communicate internally, but with their clientele. At the same time, the entertainment industry has, over the last decade, continued to look for ways to streamline their productions to save money and, even more importantly, time. These needs fostered an environment that allowed extended reality to really take shape. The Mandalorian, for example, took advantage of this technology last season to drastically reduce the time it took to shoot scenes that would have otherwise involved filming in harsh environments. Nick explained that they can simply put real snow or sand on the ground for actors to stand on, and let the infinitely scalable power of extended reality fill in the background and gaps. This seamless blending of mixed reality and virtual reality is what sets Meptik’s productions apart from other solutions. At their Nashville stage (in partnership with Gear Seven, Arc Studios), Meptik has supported shoots for a variety of use cases, including a commercial for Thomas Rhett on Apple Music, a Webby-nominated music video for Emily Rowed, and the TikTok World 2021: Global Product Keynote.
Talent benefits greatly from this new system as well. Instead of acting in front of giant green screens and made to imagine the environment, talent can actually see—and react to—the virtual world around them. Action doesn’t have to take place in some far away world for this to be a big advantage, either, as Nick referenced a recent production they had done with the NBA 2K League. “When referencing data or statistics that is displayed on the screen behind them, talent doesn’t have to worry about accounting for a green screen when they want to gesture. It isn’t a trick—the graphics are actually behind them, and they can interact in a way that is natural.”
These quality of life perks are part of the reason extended reality is becoming adopted across industries. From elevating the magic of a virtual music concert to revolutionizing internal and external corporate communications, this technology is being brought on board by businesses of all kinds. Extended reality productions are scalable and modular, meaning Meptik can offer services from virtual art creation, volume control & technical integration or full-service turnkey productions to setting up a client with their own in-house extended reality studio. This opens up corporations to endless possibilities: an internal town-hall where data and talking points can be displayed behind presenters and interacted with, a press release event from a gorgeous skyscraper view, or even a meeting with stockholders from the deepest reaches of outer space. Once the technology is available in-house, consider Zoom meetings a thing of the past. For some real-world examples, Meptik has integrated the xR workflow for xR stages at both Savannah College of Art and Design campuses (Savannah and Atlanta), as well as the studio systems for the NHL on TNT studio at Turner Studios.
As I took a few steps away from the swirling neon space-station I had been floating in, I could see it for what it really was: a large section of Planar LED flooring with accompanying LED wall panels. The illusion was momentarily broken, but as my eyes came to rest on the output monitor, I was astounded. As the camera pointed at the stage tracked back and forth, time and space seemed to be manipulated on the monitor, and I was once again not looking at an LED stage pretending to be a space station, but at the genuine article. What’s more, the camera continued panning, focusing past the edges of the stage and resting on the production team standing on the outskirts of the studio. What was displayed on the monitor, however, was something completely different. The space around the space station had been extrapolated, and I was now looking at a fictional world not confined to the stage. The many algorithms running to precisely calculate angles, shadows, even lens flare, had made it to where I genuinely felt like I was looking into a doorway somewhere else. I stood in awe, and thought to myself, if this technology had only become born the last couple of years, I am dizzy with anticipation of what the next few years hold. The applications for Meptik and companies like it, much like the fictional spaces they create, are nearly infinite.
Meptik’s in-office stage is open for demos, with open dates beginning in January 2023. For information contact [email protected]