February 15, 2016
Header Image by heiwa4126
The merging between cinema and virtual reality will change how we watch films, as well as how we make them.
Virtual reality filmmaking means a fundamental shift in the film-making process, from writing, planning and filming, to creating visual effects and working with sound and music. Here some thoughts on.
ON THE DIFFERENCE WITH TRADITIONAL FILM
1. Filmmaking in VR is different not just because of the content or the experience, but also because of the process. The fundamental basis of writing, filming, creating visual effects, and working with sound is shifting to being viewer-centric.
2. Without ever setting foot on the set or being in a single meeting, every step of the creative process you have to ask what the viewer is doing, seeing, feeling and thinking, and react to that.
3. It’s weird, there’s suddenly no ‘behind the camera’, the set is all around you, and there’s nowhere to put your crew, your lights, your boom operator. Your camera is your viewer. Imagine what that does to, for example, the lighting, or production design. These teams will have to completely rethink how they work, and redesign their tools.
4. Even if the technology is there, it will take time for film crews to adapt. Great films are made by a tightly knit group of people. Director of photography, lighting, production design, costumes, stunts, etc.
5. People say that VR is inherently more exciting than traditional film. But we shouldn’t think film and VR are somehow competing for the same attention. It’s not either-or, it’s both. If Blade Runner was being made today it would still result in a traditional film, but might also have a VR component. That’s what is exciting, the universe you can build as a creator is expanding.
6. The importance of sound in filmmaking is disproportionate to the attention paid to it in VR films, or even interactive stories generally. We will need to do much better, because it’s sound and music that controls your heart-strings.
7. An actor in a film can stare directly into the camera but you understand that the actor is looking at a camera, not at you. They aren’t really in your living room. The true power of VR experiences is that the story you’re in will know you’re there.
8. Filmmaking is a visual language we all grew up with. How can we learn from the whip pans, crash zooms, and birds eye view? VR is new, but cinema offer a cultural history that spans a century, and these old tricks may have something to teach us about our audience.
9. When stories attain interaction of any kind, they become functional too. And when functional products start to involve complex interactions, they need to be written around a story. A VR filmmaker has to approach a project from multiple points-of-view; from strategist to UX designer, from filmmaker to technologist.
“We can experience virtual worlds, see through the eyes of others, and blend digital and physical in the same space. These concepts are extremely powerful. In the next coming years they will change the way we think about digital and computing.”
— Riccardo Giraldi, Creative Director HoloLens, Microsoft
10. VR is not the death of traditional screenwriting, is it screenwriting on steroids. It’s not important that the user can look here or there, it’s important what happens when they do.
11. From a scriptwriters pov, it might seem like it’s hard to even begin writing complex narratives for this medium. A 360 degree screenplay? Are you crazy? But like with games before it, there’s a role for the VR screenwriter.
12. Script writing is becoming more like world building. Instead of a series of events set in time, scriptwriting is more about creating a world and connecting everything with your narrative. We have to rethink the way we write scripts in order to be able to create truly exciting content for VR and AR devices.
13. The scriptwriters dilemma: three characters pointing guns at each other in a VR film called ‘Reservoir Dogs’. Does your viewer look at one of those guys, but miss the shots fired by another? Or maybe they only see the gorgeous sweeping landscapes outside, and miss the whole scene? We will have to write for multiple possibilities.
14. You can lead your viewer, you can entice them to look, and you can give them a good reason to pay attention to something specific. But stories have to reward you for everything you do. If your viewer misses it, somehow, they should still have had fun.
15. People will suggest ‘locking the viewer’s point of view’, but I think this breaks the fundamental reason for using VR as a storytelling medium.
ON THE ROLE OF THE DIRECTOR
17. VR film Directors have to make sure that the luxury of choice doesn’t kill the story.
18. Actors performances will have to be all the more commanding. And action that takes place all around the camera will need to be much more carefully planned and choreographed.
19. Can a VR experience make you cry? Games and interactive films always struggled with this issue: serious emotions are hard to evoke. This isn’t uniquely a VR Filmmaking problem, but I am curious what will be the first VR experience that will bring me to tears.
“There’s a new opportunity to invent a symbology for cross-device experiences, and for immersive content. To identify the grammar of what makes you feel strong emotions, love, fear, even physical discomfort. Since when have interactions been so visceral?”
— Yates Buckley, Technical Partner, UNIT9
20. Directors are control freaks — by nature and by necessity — but we’ll all have to let go of some of that control just to make it. VR filmmaking is a faustian bargain. It’s all about losing control of your story.
ON THE LONG TERM
21. The biggest challenge we face in VR filmmaking is how to future proof our work. You’re shooting a film on a GoPro 3 or 4, and reducing that footage down to 4k because otherwise your hardware can’t keep up. But even 4k footage isn’t really all that high-res when it’s stretched 360 degrees around you. What about 8k? 24k footage? That’s where we’re heading.
22. I am struck with how powerful first-time VR experiences are for people. But then almost anything, when new, is exciting and overwhelming. Will that sense of wonder fade a bit as we get used to it?
“In the same way that we now quite naturally stare at a piece of glass hundreds of times a day as an extension of our world, immersive computing has the potential to become as imperceptible to us as water is to a fish.”
— Andrew McPhee, Co-Founder of Seene
23. Games and technology are underestimated by the public. Many people in the world think of games as playing and therefore trivial. And of technology as a waste of time. I think VR is the medium that will break that misunderstanding.
24. VR and AR are very different beasts, right now we’re way too obsessed with the headsets. Over time the role these two technologies play in our daily life will become more defined by the tasks they perform, and they will do very different things.
25. I love the idea that one day — in the near future — people will book holiday time off work just to go wander around a new VR world they’ve discovered. Virtual worlds will be just as captivating as real-life travelling. In fact, some already are.
I am a cross-disciplinary New Realities Director, exploring immersive storytelling through VR, AR, film, games, and beyond. I collaborate with brands, consult for companies, and create unique self-generated projects. I also write and speak regularly. It is always nice to hear from you: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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