From walking on water to killer drones: improved cinematic effects inspire a new generation

The Games and Visual Effects Research Lab at the University of Hertfordshire investigates new and novel applications for the techniques and technologies of Visual Effects and Games. Research led by Professor Peter Richardson has developed and deployed new, more economical and accessible methodologies for the production of complex cinematic visual effects.

Two of Richardson’s own creative works demonstrate the vast potential of the new techniques:

‘Aarhus Walks On Water’ (2017) Richardson was invited to participate in the flagship cultural event Aarhus Walks On Water as co-creative director. He contributed the overarching immersive concept and the opening film: ‘Stereo-Lith-Hydro-D.98.’ The film tells the story of a group of women who take a journey through a dystopian modernist city; as the women each arrive at a high tower, they signal to a lone high board diver. The diver performs the perfect dive; as she hits the water she enters a surreal underwater landscape. As she emerges from the water a live immersive fashion/tech show begins, where models walk on a specially engineered catwalk, giving the effect of literally walking on water.

In 2017, Richardson co-produced the film ‘Slaughterbots’ (2017), commissioned by the Future of Life Institute (funded by Elon Musk and Professor Stephen Hawking) to increase public understanding of the threat posed by the weaponisation of artificial intelligence (AI) technology. Filmed at the University of Hertfordshire, Slaughterbots portrays a near-future scenario where swarms of autonomous drones use AI and facial recognition to assassinate political opponents, and utilises cinematic tropes closely associated with Hollywood disaster films. By the end of 2020 the film had over four million views on YouTube and was featured on BBC, CNN, South China Morning Post, Fox News and The Economist to name a small selection. Science Alert (November 2017) called it “the best warning against autonomous weapons”.

Further reading