Virtual Reality Making the Rounds

The Tool of a New Generation of Film-Makers

VR_films_lThe Sundance Film Festival, held in Utah, is known for providing new talent with an opportunity to show off film-making prowess. Directors including Paul Thomas Anderson, Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez and Steven Soderbergh got their initial breaks at Sundance, giving the venue a reputation as an indicator of up-and-coming talent as well as new film-making methods.

At this year’s event, more film-makers are working on virtual reality (VR) projects than ever before. According to Bloomberg, the number of VR films has increased threefold year-on-year, with about a dozen such movies being shown. Most of these are short technology clips, but they’re getting significant attention from major studios anxious to keep pace with changes in tastes and tools.

The film industry’s track record of shifting to new movie formats is mixed — a fact current studios are certainly aware of. The move from silent films to talkies took several decades of technology fine-tuning and decision-making. The use of colour film was seen as an artistic distraction by some film-makers, and 3D movies have popped in and out of existence for more than half a century. New entertainment technologies trend on their own timetables.

The use of virtual reality for film is still in the experimental stages. The enabling machinery (see Daily Insight: Imaging Goes Full Circle) is very new and, perhaps most importantly, consumer acceptance remains unknown.

A number of studios have been shooting bits of clips for major productions using 360-degree cameras to future-proof their material. Film-makers will need to create two versions of movies in order to make the rounds in most contemporary theatres as well as virtual reality devices, at least in the short term, but we envision more titles written with VR in mind to come to mobile first. Our visit to CES 2015 underlined the momentum of this trend, with virtual reality (and accompanying glasses, cameras and content) emerging as one of the hot topics of the show (see International CES 2015: Wearables).

Virtual reality is enabling consumers to become part of the storytelling experience, and no two viewing experiences are quite the same. The next killer mobile app could be a killer monster movie.