Filmmakers tiptoe into brave new world of virtual reality
Virtual reality into our world.
Once seen as a tool for alienblasting gamers, movie studios, television producers and artists are now adopting the technology, which immerses people in faraway realms using bulky goggles, housesized domes and smartphones.
Entering a virtual world means that users who look left, right, up or behind experience an alternate environment, even when they’re sitting in a theater or on a couch.
It means a horror movie can be promoted with a hauntedhouse tour featuring a mass murderer who can spring from anywhere. Or a shark
creeping documentary enhanced by the sensation that you’re being circled by predators.
“What’s better for jump scares than, like, turning your head and it’s right in your face?’’ saysMatt Lipson, senior vice-president of digital marketing at Focus Features.
Virtual reality may not appear at your local multiplex soon, but it’s being used to lure you there.
Universal’s Focus Features recently launched its first virtual-reality experience for movies, promoting the upcoming release of its Insidious: Chapter 3 horror flick. It’s driving a truck around the country, inviting fans to wear virtual-reality goggles. It has also sent out thousands of movie-branded Google Cardboard kits, which fold around smartphones to turn them into primitive VR viewers. Fans can download the app from Google Play, or the App Store, to make it work.
In the Insidious VR experience, viewers sit in a haunted house across from a psychic. Various scares appear from the right and left and, in the end, there is a close-up encounter with an undead serial killer known as the Bride in Black.
Lionsgate used a similar approach for its Insurgent movie. It applied VR to try to widen the film’s fan base beyond young women, to male fans of action movies. Using VR was one way to appeal to gamers, who are mostly men and are expected to be the first buyers of VR headsets.
VR remains the realm of promotion. But content created now or for future films could also build value for home video products as more VR headsets are sold, Lipson says.
Discovery Communications is also planning to launch VR content under the Discovery Virtual brand in August.
Teams are already shooting off the Bahamas in preparation for Shark Week in July, says Conal Byrne, Discovery’s senior vice-president of digital media. Fans of the series are used to watching the circling predators from inside a protective cage. But virtual reality would heighten the fear factor, as sharks could cruise by while your head is turned elsewhere.
Another virtual frontier to cross is creating environments for groups, not just individuals, in the same way that theaters provide a community experience.
That possibility was tested out on a recent evening, when eight art-school students gathered under a dome in downtown Los Angeles. They were preparing an immersive show projected on a 6-meter-high hemisphere.
Student Jack Turpin used video-game software to create a psychedelic world of rolling mountains, beaches and palm trees. Using a controller, he transported students through the environment as if they were riding in a tour bus with a bubble glass roof. Student Jackie Tan spelled out words, forcing viewers to glance around the dome, then gave them a bug’s eye-view of ice cream melting over the top of them.
It’s all part of creating a new cinematic language that doesn’t just play out on the screen in front of you, but is interactive and immersive, says professor Hillary Kapan, who put on the class for the California Institute of the Arts.
“What kind of elements do you use instead of an icon on a computer? How do you interact with that world?’’ he says. “We’re just in the beginning stages of understanding.”