Among the landmark science fiction films released in 1982 was Tron, where software engineer Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) gets transported into the mainframe of a computer and becomes an avatar interacting with and battling various programs that are personified. A decade later, the virtual world premise was further developed and christened the ‘Metaverse’ in the cyberpunk novel Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson, who imagined a digital realm where users in their CG personas socialize by hanging out, shopping and attending concerts. Theory became a reality in 2017 when Epic Games created the online video game Fortnite, which had players from around the world engaging in a Battle Royale competition with each other; the scope of activities was expanded in 2019 when DJ Marshmello performed the first in-game concert.
Banking on the Metaverse being the next big social media platform, in 2021 Facebook was rebranded as Meta to reflect its new corporate mandate and strategy. So where do things stand in 2023? Is there a role for the visual effects industry to play in the development and execution of the Metaverse? As platforms expand, so does the application of various computer assets, which raises concerns about intellectual property rights and social responsibility.
Fiction inspires reality. “Without movies and entertainment, some of these things we create wouldn’t even happen because they present ideas, then people try to figure out how to make that happen,” notes James DeFina, Co-founder of Astro Project LLC. “The Metaverse is an infinite number of digital worlds that will be interconnected by portals, and it’s also going to be a combination of AR, VR and AI. The Astro Project is going into the Web 3.0 space of NFTs [Non-Fungible Tokens]. A lot of people think that NFTs are scams, but in this digital world there has to be some kind of ownership. What we’re doing is creating content and giving people ownership of that content as well as the Unreal Engine assets and teaching them how they can be used. Everybody is going to be building the Metaverse in the future, so we want to inform them how to do it. NFTs are collectible but have to do something. From that [concept] we’re going to fund our next project. People come to us to make content, but we’re also bringing a community along for the ride that is investing in us. That’s how I see it making money. At the same time, there has to be a way for the masses to see stuff for free. We can put ads inside of our content if we want, like a logo on a building. There has to be a balance of both.”