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.
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.
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.
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.
Select Press Links:
- Virtual Production Ready For Its Moment In The Spotlight
- How Ollie Rankin Went From Fighting Virtual Battles in The Lord of the Rings to Fighting Real Injustice in Virtual Reality
- This VR Storyteller Was Writing VR Films Even Before The Technology Existed, Here Is How He Got To Premiere At The Venice Biennale 2019
- How Ollie Rankin’s Passion For New Technologies And Social Justice Has Established Him As A Thought Leader In The Virtual Reality Industry
- With Lost Horizon Festival, Ollie Rankin Offers Us A Portal Into The Future of Live Events
- From VFX to VR: Ollie Rankin’s Downloaded