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Virtual Reality: Entertainment’s Next Frontier

Last night, I attended JHRTS’ Virtual Reality panel over at CAA.
The event was moderated by the great Reggie Watts, who is a fellow VR aficionado.
Panelists included: Ted Schilowitz (Futurist at 20th Century Fox), Nonny De La (CEO of Emblematic), Matthew Collado Pena (Co-Founder/CCO at Littlstar), Tom Vance (Head of Narrative at JauntVR), Jeffrey Greller (Digital/VR Agent at WME/IMG), and Ryan Horrigan (CCO at Felix & Paul Studios).

virtual reality panel stitchingThe panel (and terrible image stitching)

I’ve already been on the record saying how big a fan I am of this new medium.
Specifically, I’m a firm believer that the future of entertainment, whether it’d be in 100 or 500 years, is something similar to the Holodeck from Star Trek (and its famed holonovels).
It’s all about the convergence between passive entertainment (film/TV), active entertainment (gaming), and interactive/immersive technologies.

Empty HolodeckThe future of entertainment

As a side-note–
Although I have yet to talk on here about my NYTVF experience, I did attend back in October the StoryNext virtual reality conference (offered to us in conjunction with NYTVF). On top of panels with speakers from companies such as Google and LucasFilm, multiple VR demos were on display.
I was able to try out then HTC Vive, which is probably the best (and only?) kinematic VR experience available for purchase.

And speaking of kinematic experiences, let’s go back to last night…

The panel opened with a rundown of what people defined as “virtual reality”. Nonny pointed out the two major variations in VR: Cinematic versus Kinematic.
Cinematic being VR through a fixed point (arguably more passive), while kinematic VR has the ability to physically move within a space and interact with it.
Ted brought up that the initial Wii was akin to a VR experience, albeit through a flat screen.

A question was then asked about the reach of VR. Since the experience is about “being there”, such a powerful escapism tool can innately reach a wide audience. It’s about having the right tech with the right people. Tom revealed that their Paul McCartney concert video is their most successful VR video to date. Clearly, not a niche piece of entertainment.

The conversation then switched to creating content for virtual reality.
Consensus was formed around a first, simple question that should be asked by anyone thinking about creating for the new medium: Why does it have to be in VR?
Much like plays being “adapted” to television broadcast in its advent, some current VR content can be a bastardization of 2D/passive cinematic experiences merely transposed to a VR headset. In other words, these are not native experiences designed for virtual reality.
VR is inherently a “point of view experience”, which leads to multiple “issues” or “limitations” that need to be addressed to get a fully immersive experience. One is regarding the POV you create for your viewer. Then there are other narrative traits, such as cutting (or as I’d say “shifting”) between scenes without jarring transitions.

Well, these are merely challenges for the present, not the future.
Similar to the early days of film and television, I am curious to see how the language of virtual reality evolves. For one thing: how can you script a three-dimensional interactive environments while accounting for possible movements and audio cues? Is Final Draft working on a new version?
I should probably get started on a proprietary format…

Truth be told, as the technologies progress, so will the content, language, and workflow.
Volumetric capture is already on the rise (albeit with basic resolution), and with the advent of mass-market VR headsets, content will thrive. Ted predicts a “culling of the herd” within the next couple of years in terms of companies, technologies, and content.
Jeffrey did bring up the inevitable transition from VR content wrapped in an application, moving it into standard/open web (see: video or audio before it). There’s probably going to be some loss of revenue linked to that though. Since MKV and MP4 are the current defaults for sharing videos, what will the “open” VR container look like? (And how big will it be?)

In addition to volumetric capture, I’m personally excited for the progress of light-field technology. Lytro is coming out with their Lytro Immerge camera, which looks like it could transform the way live-action is captured, and how it renders in VR environments.
It will also be interesting to see the evolution of haptic feedback and ways to “physically” interact with these digital environments.

So, what about the not-too-distant future?
Occulus and HTC Vive are entering the market. The end of 2016 will see the launch of Sony’s own VR gear (known as Morpheus), which should push adoption to several millions of people.
Fox is releasing a VR experience for The Martian. Ted stated it would be roughly a 30-minute highly interactice experience, which is fairly ambitious for current projects.
Multiple recommendations for experiences and tools were mentioned. There’s Mixamo for done-for-you 3d characters, the game Esper2 for GearVR, and the VR experience of The Walk.

As you can surmise from this recap, virtual reality is still a whole lot of questioning with few answers.
But that’s really all you can expect from the infancy of a new medium.

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