Framestore VR Studio creative director Resh Sidhu on the questions, challenges, and creative opportunities in VR storytelling.
I’m far from the first person to suggest that creative companies are currently at a crossroads. Everything around us is shifting, from the media and platforms we’re expected to navigate, to the kinds of ideas our clients expect from us. And it seems that increasingly, we’re falling short of those expectations. Why? A failure on our part for not changing the creative ways we work with technologists and partners to come up with fresh ideas.
Fortunately, another parallel revolution is taking place inside the creative process itself, and it’s being driven by the still-emerging medium of virtual reality. The sheer amount of problem solving, rule breaking, and inventiveness the VR production process demands is reshaping the way creative and technologists do their work and work together, setting the stage for never-before-seen kinds of creativity that will push storytelling forward.
THE BIG “WHAT IF?”
There is always a rocky period around the birth of a new medium, when naysayers decry the loss of the old and work to minimize the potential of the new. But it’s clear at this point that virtual reality has been a gift to the creatives who are pioneering it. Old ways of thinking bring the same old results, but when you are working in an undefined space, there is no tried-and-true process to fall back upon—new ideas and experimentation are the only ways to succeed. VR has forced us to work outside our comfort zones. Our parameters and our structure have been wiped away, no longer are we producing our work from straightforward scripts and storyboards, or only worrying about what’s inside the frame. Years from now, we will be experimenting with something that was sparked by VR, and we will be reshaping the creative process again—a cycle that should be nontraditional in its roots, just like what VR is bringing in our creative processes with clients today. But only when we aren’t scared of the big “what if?” and embrace the moonshot thinking required to work in VR will we be able to help move this medium forward to its full potential.
The annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) has served as a good way-point for VR’s progress over the years. With CES 2017 kicking off next week, here we take a look back at the highlights (and low-lights) from 4 years of VR at CES to gauge how far the industry has come and look for clues as to where it goes from here.
Wedged somewhat inconsiderately at the very start of every year (it’s OK CES organisers, no one in the tech industry have families they want to spend time with), the annual Consumer Electronics Show held in Las Vegas is still the biggest event for hardware in the world. A swirling mass of corporate marketing excess and the single platform showcasing the best (and worst) new gear from around the world expected to vie for our attention in 2017 and beyond. Virtual reality has figured prominently at the event in recent years of course, quickly rising to become one of the shows hottest technologies. With that in mind, and with CES 2017 imminent, we thought we’d take a look back at the notable VR events from past shows, charting VR’s progress to the present day.
CES 2013 / 2014: The Early Years
From the advent of the Oculus Rift in 2012, we saw Oculus attend the show for the first time in 2013 to show off their pre-production Rift headset prototype ahead of the DK1 launch, following their wildly successful Kickstarter campaign. Press response to the closed-doors meetings was almost universally positive. Road to VR was still in its infancy at the time, but Tested.com went hands-on with an interim Rift prototype at the show along with giving us a glimpse at the near-complete Rift DK-1 design that would ship to Kickstarter backers later that year. The demonstration included the now familar Unreal Engine 3 powered citadel scene, one which would become the setting for one of the most famous early VR applications of all time, Rift Coaster. The Rift had of course been covered by media before, most notably when Id co-founder John Carmack at E3 2012 showed an early, modified Oculus Rift prototype sent to him by the device’s inventor (and future Oculus VR founder) Palmer Luckey. CES 2013 however gave us the first glimpse of Oculus VR operating as a company.
Giroptic has unveiled a portable attachment that turns the iPhone or iPad into a 360-degree virtual reality camera.
Giroptic, which is based in San Francisco and Lille, France, said the Giroptic iO enables people to capture, share, and livestream experiences in fully immersive 360-degree imagery, seamlessly. The company’s product fits with the larger plans of social networks like Facebook, which is rolling out live 360-degree streaming next year.
The device leverages the company’s patented, real-time stitching technology. And it uses direct smartphone connectivity to provide a capture-to-playback experience with minimal delays. When connected through the lightning port, the companion app lets users capture and post videos to compatible social platforms, such as Facebook and YouTube. Or you can broadcast live through YouTube’s livestreaming platform.
Thinking of hopping on board the virtual reality (VR) train? Unfortunately getting into VR isn’t cheap as with headsets like the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, you will need a compatible PC. For headsets like the Sony PlayStation VR, you will need a PS4. Then you also have the Samsung Gear VR and Google Daydream View, both of which will also require you to own a compatible handset.
This means that if you don’t already meet certain of the hardware requirements, you’ll have to spend more money to meet them. This can be a rather expensive investment, which is why our readers in Paris, France will be happy to learn that cinema chain MK2 has announced that they will be letting customers rent VR headsets to try out.
2017 will be a year of consolidation for virtual reality, and startups are wise to dig in and make their money last as long as possible: That was one of the key points of advice from some of the industry’s premier investors at the Virtual Reality Intelligence conference in San Francisco Wednesday.
A coming cash crunch for VR isn’t completely unexpected, said GV / Google Ventures General Partner Joe Kraus, who argued that it took three years for the iPhone to become a popular and profitable platform for developers. With VR, it could take even longer. “Going through this valley of despair is important, and is a necessary thing,” he said.
His remarks were echoed by Comcast Ventures Managing Director Michael Yang. “There is massive consolidation that is going to occur,” Yang argued. Startups that don’t want to be swept up in this wave of consolidation should spend their money wisely, and be prepared to survive until virtual reality has become a mass market.
Attend a virtual reality meetup or conference and the discussion will eventually turn to developing better 3D spatial sound for VR experiences. The New York Times’ VR journalism platform, NYTVR, recently upped the ante (for iOS, Android and Google’s VR platform Daydream) when Tribeca-based Q Department Studio, creators of a VR and augmented reality spatial sound system called Mach1, teamed up with Secret Location—makers of the VR content management system, VUSR—to help bring virtual sound up to speed with visuals.
As Q Department Studio’s Jacqueline Bošnjak tells The Creators Project, she and Mach1 creator Dražen Bošnjak wanted to enter the VR sound arena so that the VR and AR experiences could become more holistically immersive. She says that while sound—as with everyday reality—is half the “presence” for more complete immersion, it lags behind VR’s visuals.
As Dražen notes, the ability to sense acoustic vibration is one of humanity’s five basic senses—one that helped us survive predators, hunt for food, and locate loved ones. Some aspects of high quality sound require a trained ear to appreciate, while other sounds work through a basic smartphone speaker that is compressed over a wireless signal. He’s amazed at the diversity of audio sensations in human hearing, and wants VR and AR audio to reflect this dynamic spectrum.
“Some aspects of visual technologies, mostly at the level of post production and processing are ahead of sound,” says Dražen. “It is much easier to trick the brain that it is hearing the right sound than it seeing the right image therefore exponentially larger amounts of money and time are designated towards developing and processing believable visual effects than sound.”