Virtual Reality

For the past few years I’ve been exploring the VR industry and it’s technology to see how this might affect the future of film and video production. The past decade has seen online video rise from a useful though luxury item to a ubiquitous marketing and training tool essential for organisations to communicate and present themselves to the world. VR and other technologies have the potential to take all this to a new level.

New media and promotional video production

It’s likely that media production of the future will combine many different forms each tailored to different needs. At present there is a distinction between live VR, where the viewer can interact with the content on the fly and prerendered content such as 360 video. Terminology is rapidly evolving and in the absence of an umbrella term describing all these immersive experiences, VR will have to do. While traditional video can tell stories incorporating live footage, music, voice, text, animation and photography, VR can really put the viewer into the experience. The full immersion of VR and 360 video while creating emotional impact and empathy may be too unwieldy and overwhelming for many uses. Augmented and mixed reality in not completely removing the viewer from the outside might be more manageable for many applications. Future headsets will probably switch between different types. With devices and smart phones, promotional videos are easily consumed. With new delivery platforms such as web VR and less obtrusive headsets I expect the promo video format to expand into a more immersive experience.

We’ve been exploring ways to create easy promotional videos in 360, particularly by combining traditional video. This example is a 360 version of the VR World promo superimposing the interviews onto surfaces within the 360 image (to view in a headset, open the video in the YouTube app on a smart phone by clicking on the title)

The UK VR events

The UK by all accounts appears to be lagging behind other tech leading countries in its corporate adoption of virtual reality. New VR orientated trade shows such as the Virtual Reality Show at London’s business design centre and VR World at Olympia hope to address this. These events are a place for VR professionals to share ideas and for other industries to learn about and try out the technology. The industry itself is a diverse melting pot of programmers, designers, filmmakers, artists, entrepreneurs and marketeers. Many industries are exploring the technology for marketing and training. Companies from construction, medical, automotive, media and luxury brands were demonstrating their content and best practices at the tradeshows. The presentations and conversations explore case studies and predictions for the future. Though the future extent of mainstream adoption is unknown there is general agreement that these technologies will at least transform certain niches. As an entertainment medium and social platform there are differing opinions. What will become of our shared viewing traditions such as cinema and TV? Shared experiences are possible with arrays of video projectors and social avatar systems within VR allowing people to experience content together. This is still in the early stages but has fascinating possibilities. As a filmmaker, the conversations around narrative interest me. Inherent in VR is the assumption that the viewer will interact with the experience even if just by casting their attention around the 360 field. As a world brought up on passive linear storytelling our appetite for interactivity is unsure. Will new genres emerge combining film and gaming to include interaction with the content and branching narratives? Broadcasters, independent production companies and enthusiastic freelancers are all in the same boat here. Trying out new ideas to see what works.

Behaviour Change and Social Life

Although a brilliant means of escapism, The potential of technology to cultivate more presence, awareness and behaviour change is what I find the most interesting. VR exposure therapy can help address fears and learn new behaviours in the comfort of a simulated environment. I’ve tried plenty of these from spiders to public speaking and even found a few phobias I never knew I had. I’m exploring ways to combine neuro feedback to create some powerful experiences.

   What becomes of our relationships and social interactions in a world where we can interact via an avatar? There are lots of implications that could have both positive and negative effects. What is exciting to me is that we may be on the cusp of inventing new forms of social interaction the etiquette of which is still to be defined. What’s even more interesting are the potential psychological and philosophical implications of displacing our perception of reality on a regular basis. This also has great potential but has also dangers.

VR has spawned a new industry combining many different ideas and  fields of expertise. It has a vibrancy and pioneering spirit that I can imagine surrounding the early days of the film industry. No one knows where it will go though many stake their trust and enthusiasm. There is an eagerness to learn, try out new things and share ideas.