The Edit

Virtual reality in filmmaking


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If you're old enough to remember a few 90s science fiction films time hasn't been kind to, you'll know better than anyone that virtual reality (VR) has come a long way recently. With devices like the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and Sony Playstation VR having taken virtual reality development out of the realms of science fiction and onto cheap home desktops, now's definitely the time to jump aboard the bandwagon (if it hasn't already left the rest of us behind).

What's been the most interesting for us in the filmmaking community is having seen the expectation 'virtual reality will be for gaming only' proven false. Suddenly, VR filmmaking is very much a thing, and not just for big business players.

With the cost of suitable hardware, cameras and software platforms within affordable reach of even home hobbyists, we're currently at a place where every filmmaker should be asking the serious question: what does virtual reality mean for the future of visual storytelling?  

While there's a great comfort to be had knowing that this question might actually get answered by grassroots bedroom filmmakers, I'm also very excited at the fact some of the world's most respected cinema directors are already investing in the medium.

Fans of Ernest Cline's futuristic hit novel, Ready Player One (largely set within an invented virtual future) will likely already be aware of the fact that not only is Steven Spielberg directing its first big-screen adaptation, but that there may be a creative tie-in with the VR companies he's been involved in. And a name like that dedicated to making VR and filmmaking a mainstream reality? He's definitely got all our attentions.

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However, even before Spielberg gets there, VR storytelling is already big business. Enormous sums of money are currently being dished out to companies vying for the title of '…the Pixar of virtual reality…', with a large number of reputable organisations already on board. Oculus itself (well-funded by parent-company Facebook) has already had some amazing success with its in-house Oculus Story Studio.

Its current project, Henry, takes the animated movie to the next level, and solves some of the big problems associated with transferring stories from screen to the virtual world. Where traditional filmmaking relies on composition and editing to keep the eye and mind focused, in VR those tricks simply aren't there anymore.

When an audience member is allowed to look and move wherever they like, how do you keep their attention where you want it (and away from where you don't)? These are the central problems current filmmakers are trying to solve, and if the reports are anything to be believed, Henry might be the first time we've seen this done successfully.

Interestingly, even with these kinds of broader conceptual developments underway, regular users aren't waiting around. Filming real-world footage has become inexcusably affordable, with platforms like YouTube and Facebook providing platforms for regular users to showcase their home VR captures.

The only thing left to do now? Make sure you're in the VR game, as a creator, or at the very least, an audience member. Whatever your budget, be sure to get hold of some VR goggles soon, or you might find yourself left behind.

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