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Bring on the Holodeck! Here’s the Top 7 VR Insights from the VES Summit

Virtual reality and augmented reality were the twin obsessions at the eighth annual meeting of the VFX society, but sometimes you can't fool mother nature.

Westworld Evan Rachel Wood

Evan Rachel Wood as Dolores Abernathy in “Westworld”

John P. Johnson/HBO


October 29 was the eighth annual VES Summit (at the Sofitel Hotel in Beverly Hills), where Visual Effects Society members discuss the tech and business elements of their craft — but this year, the obsession was virtual. Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality dominated the discussions, including two panels: “Cinematography and VFX: What Constitutes ‘Real’?” and “Visual Effects in the Wild.” However, at VES, the untamed landscape was the one between our ears. Here’s our top takeaways.

Expect your amusement park attractions to become increasingly virtual. Sam Richards, visual effects design manager at Walt Disney Imagineering, said they’re trying to figure out how to put VR into an attraction, given the cost of headgear, and are currently experimenting with pre-show usage.

VR will be the new VIP ticket.  “Artists want to sell a premium ticket to incorporate holographic elements on stage,” said technologist Dan Hammond. VR is also driving sports venues; for instance, viewers can potentially can be inside a World Series dugout.

Museums provide a particularly warm VR environment. Media producer Beth Smith said museums provide an excellent opportunity to explore VR and AR, “creating an environment, teaching a lesson, bringing in a new dimension to learning about art and objects.”

The Holodeck is real. Well, getting there. Scientist Jacki Morie said MIT is developing molecular displays for a Holodeck-like experience — but it’s still decades away.

Sometimes, the real thing can’t be beaten. Cinematographer Paul Cameron said he shot the HBO “Westworld” pilot on 35mm film for director Jonathan Nolan. “We wanted to get as real as possible with trains on flatbeds and step walls for reverse angles,” he said.

Technology still demands craft. Cameron, who also shot the upcoming “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales,” built a drone to circle a pirate ship — but first, he had to train the operator in composition basics.

Even more than tech advancements, VR needs creative leadership. “The challenges are daunting to me because it’s such a different set of decisions. We need leaders of content,” Cameron said. Oscar winner Wally Pfister (“Inception”) added, “When somebody like Danny Boyle cracks it with emotional content, it will be cool.”

The day concluded with the VES Founders/Fellows Awards Presentation, which honored VFX producer Kim Lavery (“King Kong”) with its Founder Award, and granted Fellowship status to Lavery, cinematographer and VFX supervisor Peter Anderson and Pixar president Jim Morris. “Cinefex” founder Don Shay became a Lifetime member and comedian/writer Patton Oswalt became an Honorary member of the VES.

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