VR Cinema - How Virtual Reality Is Transforming Cinema

Who I am
Alejandro Crespo Martínez
@alejandrocrespomartínez

Summary

  • VR cinema: 360-degree films allow you to fully immerse yourself in the action
  • VR cinema: the filmmakers are still in the experimentation phase
  • VR cinema: an economic model to find
  • An increasingly important place in festivals for VR cinema
  • Intel: cutting-edge technology at the service of VR cinema
  • Virtual reality cinemas are more and more realistic
  • VR cinema: the future of 360-degree movies

VR cinema: 360-degree films allow you to fully immerse yourself in the action



Virtual reality could be the next revolution for the movie industry. A century after the introduction of Technicolor in 1917, this new technology opens up new perspectives for the seventh art. After the green screen in the 40s, CGIs in the 70s, VR is emerging as the next innovation set to transform the sector, increasing the feeling of immersion provided by films and their realism.

3D was supposed to revolutionize cinema, but failed to generate interest. In contrast, many filmmakers are very interested in virtual reality, for good reasons. The possibility of filming in 360 degrees allows spectators to immerse themselves in a film, to feel immersed. Rather than just watching a movie, viewers actually walk into the movie, and feel like they're physically present. The action no longer takes place just in front of them, but all around them.

Likewise, it is possible to offer viewers interactive content. For example, the Emmy Award-winning short film VR Henry features a little hedgehog watching the viewer follow. Here again, the feeling of immersion is increased tenfold. The spectator becomes an actor. Thus, this technology brings its share of challenges and possibilities for the world of cinema. However, as with VR video games, expectations for 360-degree movies vary.



It is indeed possible that virtual reality is transforming the movie industry, completely transforming traditional cinema, and replacing 3D glasses with VR headsets, but we are still only at the beginning of this transformation. same professionals enthusiastic about this technology are not yet sure what impact VR will have on the industry. Despite these doubts, the creation of virtual reality films is already booming.

VR films are also invading the most prestigious traditional film festivals: Sundance, Tribeca, or even the Cannes Film Festival now present and reward selections of virtual reality films. The more virtual reality headsets become more democratic, the more important studios will be interested in this medium and will invest financial means to give life to large-scale projects. For now, many blockbusters are being promoted through a virtual reality experience. Among the recent films having benefited from this treatment, one can quote Ghost in the Shell, Power Rangers, Alien Covenant or SpiderMan Homecoming.

VR cinema: the filmmakers are still in the experimentation phase

VR is a completely new storytelling platform. Therefore, the filmmakers are still in the experimentation and discovery phase, and the quality of the films is very variable. There are no standards yet for 360-degree films, and many challenges await those who embark on the adventure, from filming to post-production.

Many movies are produced by big studios that have chosen to create a VR division, but there are also several production companies that are completely dedicated to VR movies. According to Simon Robinson, co-founder of The Foundry, 360-degree videos are proliferating as it becomes easier and easier to create. 360-degree cameras are now affordable and available in the mainstream market, and anyone can upload their videos to YouTube 360 ​​or Facebook 360, to name just these two platforms.



However, to create a quality movie the task is much more difficult. One of main difficulties are to film in stereoscopic, to allow the spectator to visualize the scene with a 3D depth in his VR headset. While this technique considerably increases realism and immersion, it also adds a difficulty for filmmakers who must consider two perspectives at the same time. Likewise, working in a spherical environment is much more complex than with flat images.

As Will McMaster, Director of the VR Division at Visualise, explains, main difficulty is to anticipate where the spectator's gaze will land, and to understand how to control the direction of his gaze. The slightest staging or editing mistake can go unnoticed and ruin the entire experience. Moreover, the production costs are extremely high.

For the French director Alexandre Perez, the modification goes even further since it is necessary, according to him, to rewrite the cinematographic grammar. "There are certain notions to be reinvented, in particular that of the off-screen, what happens outside the framework which has been abolished." Regarding the latter, Alexandre Perez found a solution. In his film Sergeant James, he puts the spectator in the bit of the figure of the “monster under the bed” so that the off-screen is symbolized by the bed.

VR cinema: an economic model to find

The main problem in cinema today is: how do you make money from a film? In France, the average budget for a feature film is 4.4 million euros. On the VR side, a film like Miyubi of around forty minutes from a production studio known as Félix & Paul. Even if this one was awarded in particular on the occasion of the VR Arles Festival, this one is in no way economically viable. Despite Facebook's investment in the studio, this case is not general.



Generally speaking, all VR films only live on subsidies. Indeed, all these films are available for free on platforms such as Oculus Store, Steam or others. In addition, the equipment to shoot 360 degrees costs a considerable sum and the directors must find generous patrons. In a more Franco-French dimension, the film Sergent James was financed and supported by TF1 and the film cost 140 euros.

The problem is as follows: it is necessary for creators and investors to find an economic model. So Goldman Sachs Bank estimates that by 2025 the VR and AR market will be $ 80 billion. According to Michel Hazanavicius, president of the VR Arles festival jury, what VR cinema lacks is its reference film: "VR lacks its Avatar, so VR will be considered essential."

An increasingly important place in festivals for VR cinema

It made the news during the Cannes Film Festival the Spanish director Alejandro González Iñárritu presented one of his films in virtual reality: The film presents the journey of Mexican migrants heading to the United States. The arrival of VR at the Cannes Film Festival confirms that this aspect of cinema takes an important place even for creators and specialists in the 7th art.

In addition, other festivals have placed themselves in the cinema and VR combination. This is the case of the Paris Virtual Film Festival or the VR Arles Festival, which are celebrating their second edition this year by surfing on this popularity. For example, the latter takes place during the Arles meetings and is extended during the two months of the summer vacation. All with a prestigious jury headed by Michel Hazanavicius.

These festivals aim to show the public large-scale virtual reality productions. Thus, the Parisian festival was able to bring together 2700 visitors in 2 days. At the VR Arles Festival, conferences were also organized on virtual reality in order to make people aware of the issue of VR cinema. Thus, directors such as Jérôme Blanquet or Loïc Ciutti were invited to debate.

As part of the Sundance 2018 festival, VR cinema has reached a new milestone. In total, 13 virtual reality films were offered. The jury will have selected only 24, but all these achievements are breathtaking. Among the 5 films presented by Oculus as part of the event, we notably count Wolves in the Walls, an interactive VR adaptation of the eponymous book published in 2003.

Directed by the creators of the film Henry, we find the mechanics of this first creation with in particular the character who follows the spectator with his gaze. That's not all since the character is now handing items to the user. In addition, it is possible to interrupt the narration by communicating with the virtual protagonist. This new movie pushes the boundaries of 360 degree movies.

We will also remember the documentary The Sun Ladies, offering to follow the journey of Yazidi women fighting Daesh in Sinjar. This short film immerses the spectator in a situation of crisis, which allows him to really feel the dramatic situation in which these women are plunged on a daily basis. This documentary shows the immense capacity of VR cinema to arouse empathy.

Intel: cutting-edge technology at the service of VR cinema

As part of CES 2018, Intel announced the opening of its own VR cinema studio in Los Angeles. At the center of Intel Studios, there is a huge dome of nearly a square kilometer, dedicated to cutting-edge technology that could bring virtual reality cinema to a whole new level. This technology is volumetric capture, making it possible to capture objects or actors in 3D in order to materialize them directly in VR or AR or in the form of holograms for 3D films.

Data is transmitted to Intel servers using 8000 meters of fiber at a speed of 6 terabytes per second to support production and editing. This studio took 18 months to see the light of day, but could allow Intel to become one of the leaders in VR cinema. Paramount has already decided to use this studio for his future projects.

At Sundance 2018, Intel demonstrated its breathtaking RealSense Volumetric Content Capture technology. The firm offered visitors to capture themselves in 3D and then integrate into films. Intel also provided the technological tools necessary for director Eliza McNitt to create her VR film SPHERES, presented at Sundance. This film invites viewers to visit the corners of the cosmos in virtual reality.

Virtual reality cinemas are more and more realistic

Since the launch of the first VR headsets in 2016, virtual reality cinemas are proliferating. Oculus Videos, CMOAR VR Cinema, or even Big Screen: these applications simply allow you to watch 360-degree movies or traditional movies in the greatest comfort. The user is immersed in a VR cinema room, with a giant screen in front of him.

Thus, it is possible to enjoy the conditions of a real cinema from the comfort of your bed, comfortably lying on an eiderdown. The streaming giants like Netflix and HULU They also offer applications for watching films and series on a giant screen within VR.

However, Paramount set out to create the most realistic VR cinema ever. In partnership with Big Screen, the American giant has created an experience that perfectly simulates the experience of a cinema session. User must buy your ticket at the cash desk, choose your seat in the room, and even chat with his seatmate during the trailers. This virtual reality cinema room thus transcribes the conviviality and human warmth of a traditional cinema session.

VR cinema: the future of 360-degree movies

Beyond the various technical and financial difficulties encountered by VR filmmakers, the main hindrance to the rise of VR cinema is the fact that producers and cameramen don't yet know how to shoot 360 degrees. Even with the money, a 360-degree movie will not be magically successful. It would take several years, even decades, for narrative techniques to develop and succeed.

It is easier to demonstrate the potential of virtual reality through an interactive experience or a video game, but 360-degree videos are a whole different area. If VR is revolutionizing cinema, this transition will not take place this year, nor next year. Just compare the narrative complexity of Charlie Chaplin's films with modern films. The two are simply incomparable. This difference is not only related to technical improvements, but also to the progressive development of ideas and artistic know-how.

In any case, virtual reality is unlikely to replace traditional cinema. It seems more plausible that VR cinema is developing in parallel. In the near future, cinemas will certainly offer classic films, and virtual reality films to be viewed through a VR headset. Cinema giants like MK2 in France or IMAX in the United States have already embarked on virtual reality with dedicated theaters. The MK2 VR in Paris allows you to try out virtual reality games and experiences, with a weekly programming change, and the IMAX VR Center presents itself as a virtual reality games room, emphasizing the spectacular aspect of this technology. The convergence between cinema and virtual reality has already started, and is not about to end.



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