The Man Selling Virtual Reality to China, By Yiting Sun

How an American animator became a guiding force in China’s bubbling VR scene.

One afternoon in December, Kevin Geiger was giving one of his regular talks about storytelling in virtual reality. To a packed lecture hall at the Beijing Film Academy, he urged everybody in the filmmaking process—directors, actors, and people up and down the production chain—to think differently in order to adapt to this new medium.

As the founder and executive director of the International Animation and Virtual Reality Research Center at the Film Academy, Geiger is at the forefront of a growing group of filmmakers exploring what the future of VR films will be in China. Geiger makes films himself and is also designing a curriculum in immersive media for the academy’s new Digital Media School.

Interest in Geiger’s topic has been growing quickly in China since 2014, when Facebook acquired Oculus VR. The deal’s $2 billion price tag raised investors’ interest in bringing a low-cost version of the device to the Chinese market. By late 2015, over 100 headset makers had popped up, churning out virtual-reality viewers akin to Google Cardboard or Samsung Gear VR.

Now the industry sees opportunities beyond hardware, turning its attention to software and the kinds of stories Geiger is focused on telling. New virtual-reality startups are exploring ideas such as VR apps for patients to use in depression therapy, VR film-editing software, and VR animation.

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