Virtual Reality is definitely real now that the tech has arrived, the investment is pouring in and the entertainment industry is jumping in. So VR was the hot topic this week at the 20th FMX confab in Stuttgart, Germany, following all the tech trade shows this year and Sundance, where young filmmakers admitted they were more interested in VR than in movies.
That’s because VR has the potential to transform storytelling into a more interactive experience for filmmaker and viewer alike. And nearly everyone from content providers to techies to animators to VFXers to academics at FMX agreed that the rules of narrative engagement are definitely going to change, not to mention social interaction. Welcome to the brave new world of VR (360-degree field of vision), AR (Augmented Reality, which adds socialization) and MR (Mixed Reality, which further embeds real space with holograms and graphics).
So it’s no longer going to be a fixed narrative experience: it’s going to be more active, more open and more spontaneous, not like film and not like gaming but a new hybrid with more layers, maybe like holographic theater or eventually the holodeck. That’s both exciting and scary because it means coming up with a new paradigm for storytelling as well as giving up control.
With the advent of better game engines, graphic cards, headgear and the new HoloLens holographic computing system from Microsoft, the entertainment potential is mind-blowing. Imagine turning your favorite movie, series or game franchise into your own virtual playground. We’re going to be part of the story without necessarily altering the outcome. Think of the advanced tech that’s going to be needed to drive this. No wonder the VFX industry and other digital filmmakers are giddy about the creative and financial possibilities. It’s the wild, wild west.
Fox Home Entertainment and Warner Digital are certainly experimenting. Fox Searchlight’s “Wild” has been turned into a VR proof-of-concept short by Montreal-based Felix & Paul, where you travel the Pacific Crest Trail in 360-degree space (with cameos by Reese Witherspoon and Laura Dern), And Warner and DC are developing “Batman: The Animated Series” as a Batcave VR experience. Felix & Paul have also been collaborating with ILM on the “Jurassic World” VR experience, overseen by Rob Bredow, ILM’s head of New Media.
Meanwhile, Weta Digital agreed to let Epic Games make a real-time demo of its “Hobbit” assets called “A Thief in the Shadows,” in which you try to steal Smaug’s Arkenstone from the gold chamber before the dragon kills you. (Watch the clip below for a sample of Epic’s Unreal Engine 4 in action.)
However, is there a business model for long-form entertainment?
Chris DeFaria, president of animation and VFX for Warner Bros. Pictures, is skeptical. “I’m on the lookout…but until we have compelling creative content, the math is never going to work. We have yet to prove that someone can be in a headset for an hour and a half.”
Until then, we’re going to be weened on a steady diet of short-form VR and AR to try and whet our appetites for our own personal IMAX.