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Moviestorm’s previsualisation software FirstStage set for release

Moviestorm, the pioneer developers of 3D animated content creation tools, is set to release FirstStage, a virtual studio for creatives to simply visualise, test and plan production ideas.

Moviestorm CEO Andrew Kennedy with CTO and co-founder Dave Lloyd, with a scene from ‘FirstSight’. Picture: Richard Marsham
Moviestorm CEO Andrew Kennedy with CTO and co-founder Dave Lloyd, with a scene from ‘FirstSight’. Picture: Richard Marsham

FirstStage goes on sale on May 2. It’s an easy-to-use, low-cost way to plan and storyboard anything from film, TV and video, through to VR experiences, theatre and immersive learning. It’s an intuitive user experience – it takes less than half an hour to start creating something interesting – and enables users of any technical ability to fully explore ideas without costly external dependencies.

The onboard 3D assets and sketch tool allows you to make ‘sets’ and include the human activity which allows a narrative arc to be portrayed. The software is more than a visual notebook or guide for a project: the resulting settings and sequences can also be outputted as video or VR experiences for sharing among the production and even acting crews.

The VR headset is easy enough to put on, as CEO Andrew Kennedy showed during a demo at Moviestorm’s HQ, a standalone workspace in the garden of his Great Shelford home.

Once the software is loaded you grab a pair of wireless controllers. On-screen is the set you want to work on – initial choices include a residential street, an old town, an office and a police station – and you choose options from a carousel to add assets to the scene. For instance, you might want to involve a car or a helicopter, even a street light or wheelie bin.

Moviestorm’s Andrew Kennedy demonstrates ‘FirstSight’ at Great Shelford studio. Picture: Richard Marsham
Moviestorm’s Andrew Kennedy demonstrates ‘FirstSight’ at Great Shelford studio. Picture: Richard Marsham

FirstStage also allows the scene to be viewed from any angle including from the air. Each experience is immersive, for instance in the air you’re controlling your own jet pack – lean forward and you descend, lean back and you’re gaining altitude. Moviestorm calls this ‘God mode’, and who am I to argue.

Moviestorm was incorporated in 2003. For a couple of years it was researching new media and then, in 2006, Andrew Kennedy joined as the company evolved into the games market. Co-founder Dave Lloyd, who is now CTO, says generously “effectively he’s the founder” at the duo’s garden lair.

During the company’s games developer era Moviestorm raised £5m, including £1m from IQ Capital. In 2005 the company had launched Moviestorm the programme, since relabelled Filmmaker. This desktop 3D movie-making app is still available and has had over 500k global users who have posted tens of thousands of movies.

However, the company’s finances were caught up in the global financial crisis of 2008, and the team had to regroup.

“The company employed 25 people at that point, so the job was to slow the beast down and get control,” explains Andrew. “We changed the model to selling perpetual licenses and we bottomed out with three or four people.”

Dave Lloyd tests the VR capabilities of ‘FirstSight’. Picture: Richard Marsham
Dave Lloyd tests the VR capabilities of ‘FirstSight’. Picture: Richard Marsham

He continues: “In 2015, we’d been approached to do natural user interfaces for previsualisation of creative production as part of a Horizon2020 project.”

The new direction brought further opportunities for previsualisation tools. The process that has now resulted in FirstStage included rewriting and rebuilding the software for different markets including film, theatre, and educational settings. Over the past year the beta test received scrutiny, and now the software is officially launching on May 2, and will be available for a free trial or $10 a month for personal users, and $100 a month for professional use, as well as discounted seats for educational use.

All these options include cloud hosting, a full suite of tools, unlimited projects and scenes, real time collaboration with other FirstStage users, and full commercial rights on your output. There are further options for multiple sites, also for custom support, and self-hosting.

“You can derisk the whole production set,” says Andrew to game developer Jeremy Cooke and Benjamin Johns, a BAFTA-nominated producer and director at Eye-Cue Films, during the demo. “As much as it might look complicated, it’s actually very simple to use.”

Andrew Kennedy generating ‘FirstSight’ assets. Picture: Richard Marsham
Andrew Kennedy generating ‘FirstSight’ assets. Picture: Richard Marsham

“After half an hour of basic instruction,” adds Dave Lloyd, “you’d be surprised how far you can get. It’s like a video game.”

Andrew says: “We can do a collaborative service with people who are on-set. We can do one-to-one training on-set without having to leave our offices.

“We also have help pages and videos to use, which are also available on wristwatches including AppleWatch.”

You can see some initial results on the company’s website. One video is a Super Bowl advert for General Motors featuring Dr Evil: the chuckle-inducing Austin Powers sequence was remotely visualised in FirstStage by Moviestorm.

Greg Jordan is executive producer and founder of Bootleg Films, the production company for the advert which, as everyone knows, receives massive exposure in a Super Bowl slot.

Greg said: “My priorities were to use Moviestorm, to let Tim [director] and Ira [line producer] visualise the impact of the script changes on existing production ideas as well as explore any new opportunities that might emerge.

“These insights usually only really come from being on set, but a virtual set is not much different. In fact, in many ways it’s better, as you can make superhuman changes in the blink of an eye, to the set construction, the scene action and the camera direction. And with only small windows to hook up we actually ended up doing those reviews on Zoom in the back of a taxi on the way into the studio each morning.”

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