Virtual reality software developed at the School of Computer Science has helped Hollywood automate post-production alterations in real-world film scenes. Warner Bros, 20th Century Fox and Paramount Pictures have all used the software in box office hits such as Watchmen and Battle Los Angeles, which grossed over $385 million combined.
The technique, known as 'camera tracking', is central to almost all modern film production. It allows directors to merge real life footage with computer-generated effects, creating scenes that have been altered in realistic and accurate ways.
The first software to combine automatic tracking with interactive construction, yielding accurate structured geometric models was developed by researchers at the School of Computer Science.
The software package, called ICARUS, first caught the eye of the research community in 2002 when we released a free, binary-only version of the software for non-commercial use, which accrued 10,000 downloads in its first three months.
The Pixel Farm
In 2003, The Pixel Farm purchased a licence for ICARUS covering its exclusive use in the film and video post-production industries.
Dr Simon Gibson, one of the original designers of ICARUS from the School of Computer Science, became Research Director at The Pixel Farm. His former colleague, Jon Cook, joined him at the same time as a software engineer. Both researchers still work for the company.
The Pixel Farm rebranded and further developed ICARUS as PFTrack, and has since become a leading global provider of camera tracking software within a highly competitive industry. It employs 10 staff and has a turnover of more than £1 million annually.
PFTrack enjoyed early use in the production of the award-winning Cold Mountain (2003) and the Marvel film, Fantastic Four (2005). It has since been used for many high grossing films including: Watchmen, the Harry Potter series, Battle Los Angeles, The Boat that Rocked and The Hunt for Gollum.
Several TV series and adverts have used PFTrack, including: Smallville, Doctor Who, Grandpa in my Pocket, The Wrong Door, and a TV commercial for Kia Motors.
Use of PFTrack is taught in the Digital Effects MSc course at the UK's National Film and Television School.