Are you ready to be swept into the Star Wars universe like never before? This Friday, George Lucas' Industrial Light and Magic VFX company will announce a new team dedicated to bringing virtual and augmented reality experiences to the movies, taking the notion of DVD extras to a whole other level. ILM's Experience Lab, also known as ILMxLab, is combining the technical assets of ILM, Skywalker Sound and Lucasfilm to immerse fans in the world of their favorite movies like never before. And we have a new video from ILM and Lucasfilm that teases how this will be achieved.

The ILM virtual reality experience is said to be non-competitive and will use photo-realism instead of animation. The first products to be released will be Star Wars-themed and will hit the retail market later this year in anticipation of Star Wars: The Force Awakens' December release date. The company will also bring in other filmmakers to utilize this new technology on their various projects. The results of this new virtual reality will also be used by Disney, who bought LucasFilm in 2013 for $3 billion, in everything from marketing their latest movies and TV shows to getting more visitors into their theme parks. Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy had this to say:

"ILMxLab is all about us leveraging our skills across all platforms. It's the Wild West out there with new frontiers, and we're all figuring out these new tools. Today, technology is in search of content. But we can bring an emotional experience to that technology."

ILMxLab's latest journey into virtual reality comes as Industrial Light & Magic is faced with strong competition from rival VFX houses in Europe and Asia, who benefit from tax incentives. The company is testing a variety of iPad and Oculus Rift-based technology that will allow movie fans to enter their favorite scenes and navigate through them in a 3D environment. While it has not been confirmed, the first wave of this virtual reality technology will most likely be tied-into Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and involve moments from this anticipated sequel directed by J.J. Abrams. ILMxLab's creative director John Gaeta goes onto explain more.

"What we're aiming for is to open the two-dimensional world of the movies and allow fans to walk into those worlds with the same visual fidelity. All that George begat caused a reassessment of innovation from movies to video games. The next 40 years of ILM is about exploding that universe with tech once again. xLab is as attuned to Silicon Valley as it is to Hollywood."

You can see one of the scenes come to life in the video below, which was previewed for USA Today. It features R2D2 and C-3PO hiding from a Stormtrooper on Tatooine. Interacting with the scene, a user can use their iPad to survey the environment at 360-degrees. Doing this, they can see the characters' entire world. An X-Wing fighter jet simulation was also previewed via Oculus Rift virtual-reality goggles, which allow the user to fly around a village but also respond to banking commands with a tilt of the head. Unlike a video game, the goal here is to be placed directly into the world of the movie, where the user can further explore the storyline and characters. There is no rival to beat or goal to meet. The image quality will rival film, and will transport participants into a true virtual reality plain of existence.

The technology to make this Star Wars interactive landscape a reality wasn't possible just a few years ago. But the advent of tablets and VR goggles has changed that considerably. What do you think? Are you ready to dive into the Star Wars universe like never before? Or is this the next step to human devolution?

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B. Alan Orange