Film­mak­ers tip­toe into brave new world of vir­tual re­al­ity

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE - By AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS in Los An­ge­les

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.”

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