Director Portfolio: Ollie Rankin

Ollie Rankin is an award-winning director, writer, creative technologist and futurist. Originally from New Zealand, Rankin has spent more than two decades pioneering new technology and techniques in filmmaking and virtual reality. From the use of artificial intelligence to choreograph epic battle scenes in The Lord of the Rings and Matrix trilogies, to his recent induction into the Unreal Virtual Production Fellowship, Rankin has a proven ability to balance creativity with pragmatism in the service of highly engaging storytelling. 

After a short stint as an extra in several episodes of Xena: Warrior Princess, Rankin’s film career began in earnest with the start of principal photography for Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Jackson’s visual effects studio, Weta Digital, had hired Rankin for his artificial intelligence qualifications as much as his artistic ability, and tasked him with building AI “brains” for orcs and elves (and other creatures) and bringing to the screen the largest-scale battle scenes that had ever been attempted.

Rankin was part of a small team who pioneered the use of AI to choreograph epic on-screen battles, such as this one from The Fellowship of the Ring

The studio earned its first two visual effects Oscars while Rankin was part of the team and his skills were very much in demand thereafter. He applied them next to The Matrix Revolutions, working for the Wachowski Siblings in California, before relocating to London and working on a string of fantasy epics, including Wolfgang Peterson’s Troy, Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven, Yimou Zhang’s Curse of the Golden Flower and Andrew Adamson’s The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian.

By 2009, Rankin had been elevated to the role of visual effects supervisor and was working out of Vancouver, BC, Canada. Over the next decade, he tackled a series of increasingly complex visual effects productions, such as Roland Emmerich’s White House Down, Neil Blomkamp’s Elysium, Michael Bay’s Transformers: Age of Extinction, James Bobin’s Alice Through the Looking Glass and Tim Burton’s Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. Meanwhile Rankin still found time to demonstrate his technical and creative versatility through the production of live action short films, video games and music, as well as performing musical comedy, spoken word and storytelling. 

This helicopter action sequence was among the work that earned Rankin a Visual Effects Society Awards nomination for Outstanding Visual Effects

While heading up VR production for the innovative tech startup Uncorporeal Systems in New York City, Rankin wrote and directed a number of actor-driven interactive virtual reality and CG projects. He continues to do so now, through his own production company Pansensory Interactive. Rankin is equally at home writing and directing live action as he is with motion capture, animation and VR. 

Rankin’s ground-breaking interactive VR film Downloaded employed a unique hybrid live action and real-time approach to allow the viewer to become the protagonist, playing alongside a live action character performed by Tiera Skovbye (Riverdale, Nurses). Downloaded premiered in competition at the Venice Biennale in 2019 and was rated by Forbes among the top 50 XR works of the year. 

Once again proving the breadth of his technical and creative abilities in 2020, Rankin was the technical architect of Lost Horizon Festival, the world’s first multi-day, multi-stage music, art and culture festival to take place in virtual reality. Over the course of two days, 10,000 attendees poured into the virtual stages and dancefloors on the Sansar platform, via VR headsets as well as desktop and smartphone apps. The lineup of bands and DJs included such luminaries as Fatboy Slim, Carl Cox, Coldcut and Kittin and attracted more than 4.3 million streaming views. 

The virtual Lost Horizon Festival in July 2020 was another world first for Rankin

Leveraging that success, the promoters of Australia’s renowned Splendour in the Grass festival hired Rankin to help orchestrate the first ever Splendour XR, featuring headliners like The Killers, Khalid, CHVRCHES, Charli XCX, Avalanches and many more. Meanwhile in the real world, Rankin and his partners in Lost Horizon launched an IRL venue in Bristol, UK, in the summer of 2021, complete with a digital twin in virtual reality. This combination enables hybrid live events in which audiences in the physical venue can interact with virtual attendees from around the world as they enjoy the same live performances 3 nights a week.

Among these pandemic accomplishments, Rankin further demonstrated his skill in real-time filmmaking and the tools of virtual production by being selected for the Unreal Virtual Production Fellowship, where he single-handedly created the Sci-Fi/Fantasy animated short Orthogonal. This poignant, high concept story was named Best Animation at Hang Onto Your Shorts film festival, earned an Award of Merit at the Best Shorts Competition and has screened at a number of other festivals.

Orthogonal uses a light, poetic touch to address themes of tribalism and political polarization, while Downloaded serves as a subtle warning about the danger that technology for technology’s sake poses to humanity. Rankin has made no secret of his mission to help usher in a more diverse, fair and sustainable society and that mission informs all of his recent creative work.

Rankin has both New Zealand and Canadian citizenship and currently lives in Los Angeles.

The award-winning virtual production animated short, Orthogonal, written and directed by Ollie Rankin
Lip Smackin’ is a dark comedy directed by Rankin, that picked up 3 prizes in the 48 Hour Film Challenge
Rankin worked hand in glove with director James Bobin to choreograph and execute the thrilling ocean chase that opens Alice Through the Looking Glass
Director Wes Ball entrusted Rankin with post-visualizing and CG supervising this chaotic scene of danger and destruction in The Maze Runner
This is one of many epic scenes in The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, made possible by Rankin’s motion capture directing and digital battle expertise
When Ridley Scott wished to evoke the iconic Muslim crescent moon through the cavalry formation in this Kingdom of Heaven scene, he turned to Ollie Rankin
Rankin was tasked by the Wachowskis with choreographing the swarming “sentinels” in the final showdown between humans and machines in Matrix Revolutions
The Battle of Helm’s Deep in The Two Towers remains one of the most-loved scenes in Peter Jackson’s entire LOTR trilogy. Rankin was a key contributor
When Derek Franson wrote a moving tattoo into his debut feature, Comforting Skin, he turned to Ollie Rankin to execute—which involved developing custom software

Machine on a Mission is a spoken word piece that takes aim at the influence of television on our culture. It was written, directed and performed by Ollie Rankin

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