Virtual reality has been a hot topic in entertainment and technology for the last couple years, with most experts predicting that it will be the “next big thing” in both industries. What is clear today is that VR is already penetrating markets, and due to anticipated quick adoption, will soon influence consumer expectation in terms of their educational and entertainment material.
The giant screen industry stands poised to once again be at the forefront of technological advances. For some, the adoption of VR into storytelling is a natural progression. For others, it is still a confusing and very young platform for which financial and exhibition benefits remain unproven.
To address some common questions, I spoke with Dave Georgeson, Virtual Worlds Architect at VR Worlds and long-time director and producer in the gaming entertainment industry.
1. What is virtual reality?
Virtual reality (VR) is a cinematic experience created in a 360-sphere environment, in which your story is completely wrapped visually around the viewer, so that no matter where they look, they remain immersed in that reality. The closest comparison of a VR experience to that of a giant screen movie is the dome experience—but with VR your range is more than half sphere. With VR, you are 100% surrounded by the story, and this means there are no longer any borders to the experiences you can create.
There are many types of VR experiences. The most familiar and easiest kind of virtual reality to create is a 360-movie. For this you use a 360-camera rig to capture footage in a sphere around you, and then position the viewer in the center of that sphere, allowing them to look in any direction, at any time.
Many VR creators then go a step further, combining code with the visuals they’ve created, allowing viewers to be interactive with the environments they see, either by moving from place to place within a scene, reaching out to touch elements and have them react, or escalating to action-style environments which allow the viewer to talk to or even alter elements in the scene.
2. How do you tell a story in VR?
One of the most common questions I’m asked is, “How do you tell a story in VR when you can’t tell where a viewer is looking?” Simply put, you use movement and sound to direct your audience.
The human eye naturally tracks and follows any movement you provide. So when there is something important that you want the viewer to see, you can provide movement in the sphere that naturally draws their eye toward the location where your event is going to occur. Then, when the viewer “arrives” at that spot, it doesn’t feel forced or unnatural—and you can trigger the event you want them to see.
You can—and should—also use sound cues. 3D sound is making huge advances right now, and with the more advanced tech, you can create superior crossfades to really clue a viewer in to where the sounds are coming from and direct them to a desired location. There are also cutting-edge sound techniques (galvanic vestibular stimulation) that let you create a sense of motion within the inner ear of a viewer, immersing them even further into the realities of the story you’re sharing.
3. I’m a giant screen filmmaker. How does virtual reality fit into my world?
Giant screen films have been the most visually awing and dimensionally immersive storytelling medium available. 360-movies can transport you into that same space in a way the viewer can literally feel they are part of the story. Virtual reality gives you the option of making immersive content without visual borders.
4. Can I pair VR with my giant screen movie?
Yes! In fact, it’s the perfect companion tool for promotion (ahead of a film’s release) or ancillary storytelling (maximizing the life of an existing film by creating hands-on learning and exploratory experiences).
5. How can my institution utilize VR?
The easiest way to present VR to the largest number of people is by creating a 360-degree movie that can be viewed on any user’s mobile device (iPhone, Android, etc.). There are many such applications that let you distribute content freely, including YouTube, and VR Worlds will soon have a gated application that acts as a hub for such content so that you can more easily generate revenue and gather metrics through their portal. There are also “phone holder” headsets that can use that same application. An example of this is the Samsung Gear VR, which is worn like a high-end VR visor but slots the user’s phone in place as the viewscreen. Google has just announced that it’s getting into the mobile VR space, and Apple is expected to make a similar announcement soon. We expect this side of the industry to be highly competitive.
VR Worlds is also in the process of creating portable presentation platforms that can be moved to and from any venue in the world. It’s a great way for you to allow visitors a range of experiences, from passive viewing to fully interactive.
Submitted by Amy Hedrick, co-founder and creative director of VR Worlds, a virtual reality production and distribution company, with a focus on creating co-branded content and first-of-their-kind venue models. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Have more questions about VR? Email Kelly@giantscreencinema.com or post your question in the comments below. We will have follow-up blogs answering your VR questions leading up to GSCA’s International Conference and Trade Show in Toronto on October 4-7, 2016, which will include the session “Virtual Reality: A Good Thing for the Giant Screen, or Should We Be Worried?” lead by Paul Fraser of Blaze Digital Cinema Works and co-developed by Daniel Ferguson of Cosmic Picture.