Step Into Sony Design’s New Virtual Reality

By Gianfranco Chicco

“Our role is not to create eccentric, one-off concepts just for the sake of it but, through the power of design, to envision new paradigms, give meaning to ideas and develop new standards”

Sony has always been at the forefront of design and became one of the first companies to create an in-house creative studio. Sony’s design division was established in 1961 and has since been generating new concepts and ideas to support the businesses of the Sony Group. Today their contribution has expanded beyond purely product design to a wide range of design activities, including user experience, communication, entertainment and more.

One of their latest areas of interest is virtual production, a cinematography solution enabled by super realistic virtual scenery using Sony’s Crystal LED display systems. It has become one of the most interesting developments in film production of the last few years, replacing green screen technology.

On a practical level, the advantages of virtual production are that it lowers costs and reduces CO2 emissions by removing the need to travel long-distance for filming. But, its benefits go far beyond that. For example, when using typical green screens, actors perform in front of a coloured background without knowing what’s really happening around them; the rest of the scene is completed later using computer-generated images. Virtual production creates a physical environment using Crystal LED displays to show digital backgrounds that the actors can actually see and react to. It could be the scenery of sand dunes in a desert, an alien planet – anything really. And, the actors would feel immersed in it, reacting to what’s happening in their physical space. 

“Using green screens can be challenging for actors when they can’t really see what's going on and need to rely on their imagination. Now, they can perform in a real environment that – even if it’s generated through a screen – they can interact with, see their own shadows on, and other things that until now would be done mostly in post-production. In a way, they can be better actors,” explains Hirotaka Tako, creative director and head of Design Centre Europe at Sony Europe.

This kind of experience is at the heart of INTO SIGHT, the bespoke installation that Sony’s Design team is showcasing at London Design Festival. The goal is to uncover new insights regarding the coexistence of physical and virtual realities.

INTO SIGHT is a life-sized media platform, consisting of a tunnel featuring a 220-inch Crystal LED screen, see-through glass walls, and mirrors on the floor and ceiling. Inside, designers transform the simple boundaries of the container into infinite vistas through shifting light, colour and sound. Stepping into the installation unveils multiple stories and transparent surprises, accompanied by a generative soundtrack. 

Creating such a unique sensorial experience requires a full spectrum of design disciplines coming together: product and spatial design, interaction and sound design, 3D CGI and graphic design. But, above all, it relies on the emotional connections that the designers create with their visitors. This is something that Sony has a consolidated track record of doing across the board, from its audio devices to game consoles, virtual fan experiences and even robot dogs. 

“Whether we’re creating a product like the WALKMAN® music player, a Handycam® camcorder or the UI, UX and motion of a robot, empathy is the most important thing for us,” says Daisuke Ishii, head of Creative Center at Sony Group Corporation in Japan. “[It’s always about] the emotional value created between our designs and the users.” 

Ishii sums up the mission of ‘Sony Design’ neatly: “Our role is not to create eccentric, one-off concepts just for the sake of it but, through the power of design, to envision new paradigms, give meaning to ideas, and engage with global audiences to develop new standards.”