Some Questions VR Filmmakers Need To Answer
While it’s obvious that virtual reality has massive implications for film, and despite the excitement surrounding the epic, livable experiences that will be offered, there’s more than a little uncertainty surrounding how exactly the industry gets itself to that point.
VR is currently in that odd, early adopter phase where it’s really difficult to judge the stickiness of certain ideas because people with VR headsets are more willing than most to give apps and pieces of content the benefit of the doubt. This makes it a great place for developers to experiment but in the same vein, makes certain strategies misleadingly viable as people are willing to prioritize notoriety over genuine utility early-on.
Well-made virtual reality content is undoubtedly powerful and will, as most filmmakers’ have said, dominate the future of the immersive video content that consumers absorb. There are however a lot of roadblocks on the way to what many see as the cosmic inevitability of this platform dominating film.
Here are some of the questions that need to be answered.
What exactly does reality look like in a VR film/documentary?
True virtual reality filmmaking is divided into categories which differ depending on the role being assumed by the viewer. The questions being asked of filmmakers are: will viewers be active participants or merely passive observers? Can viewers influence the outcome of the experience or are they effectively just along for the ride? More broadly, what constraints are the viewer faced with within this reality?
Game engines such as Unreal and Unity may eventually play just as important a role in VR filmmaking as high-end cameras do. As technology evolves, 360-degree light field cameras could be able to construct navigable real world environments and allow game engines to fill in the textured details, allowing us to be on set and walk behind characters or through doorways to explore realistic representations. In the meantime though, filmmakers and documentarians are left to determine what makes sense and what’s too much to ask for on the part of the user.
Where does one focus?
Immersion as it pertains to virtual reality heavily necessitates recreating the five senses and mastering motion to direct our attention. While the major headsets out right now from Oculus, HTC and Samsung/Oculus only rely on motion tracking, sight and hearing, there are companies already working on full body suits that allow you to “feel” reality and smell sensors that let you sniff your surroundings. Eye-tracking will soon give us the opportunity to attract eye-contact from AI participants, and eventually, expression-tracking will give us the ablity to convey emotions to those around us as well.
The extent to which these sensors could take us is only bound by the sophistication of the human mind. Even though some of the stuff is wacky, one thing that’s clear is that there’s still a long road ahead in learning how to direct attention in VR.
Is humanity too lazy for active VR storytelling?
This question is a little broader across VR, but no easier to answer. People are often craving entertainment when they’re back from work and are a little physically drained, the beauty of VR is, however, most obvious when people are transposing high physical activity into wild virtual scenarios, physical activity ranging from moving around and reaching for things with their hands, or standing and spinning around to observe virtual environments.
As of now, VR film is in the same kind of “neato” phase where the people who try it are deeply impressed mostly because virtual reality is new and fresh. After a a number of lengthy pieces of content are experienced and the neck pain sets in, the notoriety wears off a bit though, and it becomes clear that while there’s undoubtedly massive potential, stories aren’t exactly being well optimized for VR at the moment.
Is this all too much too soon?
A common refrain for VR skeptics is that VR is stupid and bulky at the moment and even though the underlying tenets of VR/AR/MR may hold true, it’s just too early for us to be getting this riled up about it. They’ll point out the fervent conversations regarding Google Glass from five years ago and suggest that this is all just another case of Silicon Valley folks getting too absorbed by their own soothsayer senses of futurism.
A fact that is undeniable, however, is that virtual reality is currently being shoved down the throats of a lot of people that haven’t even had the chance to try it. Many of those who ordered an Oculus Rift or HTC Vive headset still haven’t even tried it.
Even then, virtual reality is exciting to many people right now because it really represents what many see as the next shift in computing. While augmented reality has the potential to usher in a true quantum leap in productivity, VR gives us an avenue to achieve next-gen entertainment and the ability to transport ourselves into different modes of thought and environment— a couple of things that are pretty fundamental to modern film.