When I was a kid, I wanted to meet the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. This finally came true at San Diego Comic-Con earlier this month, but not in the way I expected when I was young.
Nickelodeon invited reporters to meet two of the Ninja Turtles who will be part of the network's upcoming animated series, Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which gives them new magic weapons and features the first African-American version of Turtles human ally April O'Neil.
My meeting began like any other Comic-Con appointment: Ito get into the Hard Rock Hotel conference room that Nickelodeon had taken over. But that's where the appointment took a turn. Instead of sitting down at tables with talent, I was escorted into a green screen cube and put on a virtual reality headset.
A few moments later, I was transported into an animated version of New York, where I met with Ninja Turtle Mikey (Brandon Mychal Smith) and brother Donnie (Josh Brener) -- both of whom were voiced live by the actors on the other side of a curtain. You can see my body in the video, but my head was replaced with the Nickelodeon character of my choice. I picked Invader Zim.
The experience was what I imagine it would be like to interview Yoda or Kermit the Frog. I was told by a Nickelodeon rep that any question in and out of universe would be fine, but both actors made a point of keeping the focus on the Ninja Turtles.
I first asked Mikey and Donnie if they'd like to fight alongside any of the teams from previous Ninja Turtle shows or movies. They told me they'd like to work with any team that involves Rob Paulsen, the legendary voice actor who's been involved in classic cartoons, including various Ninja Turtles shows, dating all the way back to 1987.
Smith and Brener were more tight-lipped when I tried to stray off topic. They evaded me when I asked them about Game of Thrones (but did mention that GoT star Lena Headey voices a villain on the show) and totally dodged a Star Wars-related question about whether they'd like to be on the light or dark side of the Force.
Hey, it was Comic-Con, I had to try.
Our short interview concluded with a trailer for the new series. Then Nickelodeon reps took my headset off and walked me behind the scenes to show me how they put the interview together.
Smith and Brener were in separate areas, each wearing a headphone and microphone while responding in character. Meanwhile, a whole team managed the Ninja Turtles' movements and expressions during the interview.
The experience itself was constructed with a combination of Adobe Character Animator, Epic's Unreal Engine and NewTek NDI to trigger live animations and ultimately produce and edit the video of the interview as it was happening.
Sure enough, a Nickelodeon rep handed me a USB stick with all the video files for the interview just a few minutes after we wrapped. Then I was on my way back into the chaos of Comic-Con.
This interview was just for fun, but virtual reality meetings and interviews are slowly becoming more common. Facebook has been developing its, where friends can meet up in virtual spaces to play games or chat. Meanwhile Oculus, also owned by Facebook, is that use live actors to create an immersive theater-like experience.
VR is also being combined with physical activities. A highlight of this year's Comic-Con was ain which attendees jumped out of a helicopter and flew down a very real zip-line while wearing headsets.
Maybe next time I interview Mikey and Donnie in VR, I can sit down with them and chat over a pizza. (And yes,.)
Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles premieres Sept. 17 on Nickelodeon.
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