Virtual reality is not a new idea. It’s been romanticized in books and movies as a way to transport you to completely different environments and situations. Until recently, working products have been confined to the darkest corners of test labs and tangential tech projects.
Understanding the Tech
There’s a lot to learn about how this technology is evolving, but for the sake of simplicity let’s cover the basics.
When it comes to video content and film making there are currently three ways to do this: 3D computer generated video, 3D 360 degree video, and 360 degree video.
Current 3D Video content is either computer generated or created with highly customized camera rigs (not available to the general public) that require a lot of post production tinkering.
On YouTube you can find 360 degree video (fancy marketing term) which is essentially a panoramic video. It’s consumer ready and available, but it’s not 3D. It’s a spherical image with your view smack-dab in the middle giving the illusion of immersion.
Why is this important?
360 degree video lacks parallax. This is the displacement of objects viewed along two different lines of sight, meaning you can see what’s behind objects if you move your head around a little. It also lacks stereoscopic imaging, which gives the 3D effect. Without these there’s no depth and immersion is diminished.
The big take away: one is really cool (3D video) and the other is not as cool, but still pretty cool (360 video).
Where Are We Now?
Video content for VR is in the wild west phase. There aren’t any right answers at the moment. A unique set of strengths, drawbacks, and hurdles has presented themselves and need figuring out.. Fortunately, there are very creative people willing to try new things and devote their time to this new endeavor.
How do you tell a story in VR? Traditional 2D content has the luxury of being able to point viewers exactly where they’re supposed to look. With this simple idea stripped away you have to think of the viewer as an active participant.
The New York Times tackled this with some interesting ideas.
For example, in their production The Displaced, which can be viewed on YouTube without a headset by dragging the screen, you get to see the lives of three children affected by war. It’s a powerful story told in a way that capitalizes on the impressiveness of VR. There are no quick cuts (since nausea is a factor) or unique angles. Only the raw emotion and solitude of actually being there. Composition had to be thought of differently. Where might the viewer be looking at this point? How will the viewer move when the subject makes this action?
At a certain point the video has you standing in a field waiting for a supply drop to fall out of the sky. Everyone looks up as they hear the plane coming. Naturally you look up as well. The drops fall from the plane and land on the ground. By the time you look down the shot has changed since everyone is now running at the camera to claim the food.
It was a clever way to transition the scene in a logical way without confusing the viewer. It shows how forward thinking and anticipatory you need to be when dealing with an active viewer as opposed to a passive one. This project is full interesting methods and deserves watch.
There are many examples of linear storytelling as well as experience driven VR productions coming from places like Purple Pill VR and VRSE. If you ever have a chance to experience VR take it. I guarantee you’ll become a believer.
As the medium continues we’ll be seeing what grabs people’s attention in a meaningful way in regards to film making and marketing. Now is the time to take note.