For more than 25 years, Morris May worked as a special effects expert in the motion picture industry, lending his unique abilities to over 30 Hollywood films. His credits include blockbusters such as From Dusk Till Dawn, Broken Arrow, Wild Wild West and Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones. He was the CG Supervisor for X-Men Origins: Wolverine and Fast & Furious, and two of his projects – Spider-Man 2 and Happy Feet – won Academy Awards.
In 2013, May founded Specular Theory to break new ground in the realm of virtual reality. As the CEO of the company, May researches, develops and deploys the tools needed to bring stories to life using virtual reality technology. May’s ground-breaking work has garnered him coverage in dozens of publications including Time, Variety, PC World, Forbes and the Wall Street Journal.
Specular Theory’s recent projects include a 360-degree video experience for Terminator: Genisys and a promotional video for Jeep® that provides viewers with a first-person glimpse into the world of surfing, as seen through the eyes of a surfer off the coast of Malibu, California.
To learn more about May and Specular Theory, visit speculartheory.com.
How did you initially get involved in working on digital effects for Hollywood films?
I saw Star Wars for the first time and I was completely enamored with the visual aspect of it. From that moment on, I was determined to figure the ins and outs of the digital effects industry and start working on movies of that visual level.
Who were your biggest influences or role models when you were first starting out in the film industry?
George Lucas, of course, he is a legend. Also, Ridley Scott and Dennis Muren were big role models for me.
As the CG Supervisor, what were your day-to-day responsibilities on Fast & Furious and X-Men Origins: Wolverine?
As the CG Supervisor, I would oversee the creation of the effects sequences from creation until final output, working closely with the director throughout the entire process. I sourced and hired carefully curated teams and oversaw the team both technically and creatively for a given project. In addition to managing a team of digital artists, I also developed custom technology for each project to ensure the story was being told properly and the director was happy with the effects sequences.
When and how did you first become interested in virtual reality?
I saw some of VPL Research’s early work, then grew really interested when I heard Jaron Lanier speak at SIGGRAPH and was able to try some of the technologies hands on. Around that same time, I started taking notice of the virtual reality research that Mark Bolas was doing as well through Fakespace Inc.
What sort of challenges have you faced in starting Specular Theory and bringing aboard clients?
People still don’t truly understand what VR is, how to use it and who is watching it. Also, there are major misconceptions about what goes into making a VR film. A lot of people think that it is something that you just go out and shoot like a standard film, but what many do not understand is what a massive post production undertaking it is. Each different type of VR requires a new way of thinking and a new approach to the technology. We are constantly developing and fine-tuning more immersive and efficient ways of creating these kinds of experiences.
How did the opportunity to do the 360-degree Terminator: Genisys video come about?
The opportunity to do the 360-degree Terminator: Genisys video came through YouTube reaching out to us after seeing our work.
What effect did Mark Zuckerberg’s investment in Oculus Rift have on the VR industry?
Quite huge. After that investment, we started to see a major spike in the interest of VR and the industry really took off from there. I think that it really opened people’s eyes to see that it was not just a tool for gamers, but that it could apply to all different types of media and industries. It brought light on the endless possibilities of VR, and brands/companies really started to take notice.
What does a typical day for you look like?
I spend a lot of time doing extensive research and development to brainstorm new ways to tell immersive VR stories. We create a lot of our own VR experiences to experiment with new techniques and wrap our heads around creating VR storytelling that is not only fitting to the medium, but enhanced by it. There is also a great deal of time spent mapping out future projects with our team and improving existing technology.
How would you rank the five Terminator films, in order of best to worst?
1) Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991)
2) The Terminator (1984)
3) Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003)
4) Terminator Genisys (2015)
5) Terminator Salvation (2009)
What’s the best meal you’ve had recently?
I had Baby Blues BBQ ribs recently… DELICIOUS.