In a year of slow sales for traditional movies, VR came out on top. So what happens now?
While everyone was busy complaining about slow sales at the 2018 SundanceFilm Festival, something remarkable happened: The festival saw its first major VR acquisition. For a reported low-to-mid seven figures, CityLights bought the three-part VR series “Spheres,” directed by science-storytelling whiz Eliza McNitt, narrated by Jessica Chastain, and executive produced by Darren Aronofsky.
A few days later, in the first sale of a VR documentary at Sundance, Dogwoof acquired “Zikr: A Sufi Revival,” directed by Gabo Arora. “Zikr” is a 15-minute interactive VR experience that uses song and dance to transport four participants at a time into ecstatic Sufi dance rituals; in addition to location-based installations, the deal includes funding for an online version of the VR experience that allows multiple players to be networked at once.
Lytro’s Immerge light-field camera is meant for professional high-end VR productions. It may be a beast of a rig, but it’s capable of capturing some of the best looking volumetric video that I’ve had my eyes on yet. The company has revealed a major update to the camera, the Immerge 2.0, which, through a few smart tweaks, makes for much more efficient production and higher quality output.
The appeal of VR content lies in its ability to endow the viewer with a sense of agency and a sense of immersion. Well-executed experiences completely surround the audience, with no bezels or screen borders to remind them they aren’t actually in some far-off world.
Which is why I was so impressed by The Dome, an all-encompassing theatrical experience that has been popping up at recent iterations of the Panorama and Coachella music festivals. Think: A planetarium on steroids, where visitors are free to look around and immerse themselves in an environment, without actually being bogged down by a physical VR headset.
“The 180-degree screen surrounds the audience with up to 25 million pixels in each frame,” says Bobo Do, creative director for Dirt Empire and co-writer and co-director of The Ark. “To give a sense of how big that is, standard HD is a little more than 2 million pixels. So the visual fidelity is much better than any VR set available today, by an order of magnitude.”
Uproxx knows that science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) disciplines are driving the future of this planet forward. Every day, we see new ideas, fresh innovations, and bold trailblazers in these fields. Follow us this month as we highlight how STEM is shaping the culture of NOW.
At the intersection of technology and engineering, you’ll find Virtual Reality — the much-buzzed about tech that will eventually be so cool that we’ll all Matrix ourselves. These days, most VR is a static, stereoscopic film which allows you to visually explore a single spot. The future of VR is more than that. It’s a fully immersive experience in which you can run, jump, climb, swim, fly, study, and research through space and time.
In this new VR-era, Sólfar Studios is blazing the path. They’ve built a VR world where you can viscerally explore Mount Everest, right now. The Everest VR experience from their studio allows the VR user to feel the wonders of being at Everest’s base camp before actually climbing the mountain in real time. You can take steps, cross rickety ladders, and even leave offerings on Buddhist altars.
It is so immersive that even though you’re virtually standing on the precipice of a virtual cliff on virtual Everest, you end up with real vertigo (it’s true, we tried it).
LOS ANGELES, Calif. – Live streaming VR pioneers, 360 Designs, today announced the release of Flying EYE™, the world’s first broadcast quality, live streaming, virtual reality drone. Flying EYE is the first drone system capable of streaming live, 6K, 360 video, with a range of over 5 miles.
Flying EYE marks a major advancement in live streaming video technology. Using a custom wireless transmission system – Breeze™ – developed exclusively by 360 Designs, live VR streams can be broadcast anywhere in the world in ultra-high quality, and streamed live to YouTube, Facebook or VR headsets. Viewers can get a sense of flying “like a bird” as they hover above sporting, news, and music events.
“We wanted to create a broadcast quality live 360 drone platform for professionals, so they can create stunning live VR productions, with or without the drone in shot,” said Alx Klive, CEO of 360 Designs. “The sky is no longer the limit.”
Perfect for 360 video, the system has applications for traditional TV broadcasting, with the company recently demonstrating how it is possible to extract a zoomable, pannable 2D high-definition feed, from live 360 footage. With studio-grade camera sensors and a broadcast-standard SDI/NDI workflow, technical directors, DP’s, and VR supervisors can be assured of the highest-quality live image and an easy-to-integrate system.
6K 360 Video – High-quality wireless video system offers near uncompressed, low latency (<1sec), broadcast-grade 6K video.
Long Range – Astonishing wireless streaming video range, over 5 miles.
Best-in-class 360 Camera – Designed to carry the company’s popular Mini EYE 3 camera, Flying EYE is also compatible with other 3-camera, HDMI or SDI-based VR rigs.
Automated Live Stitching – The company’s proprietary Breeze 6K wireless transmission system pairs with an integrated live stitching system, removing the need to stitch 360 video footage later. The system can also be used for live 2D wireless transmission, at greater than UHD resolution.
In the last few years, Lytro has made a major pivot away from consumer-facing digital camera products now to high-end production cameras and tools, with a major part of the company’s focus on the ‘Immerge’ light-field camera for VR. In February, Lytro announced it had raised another $60 million to continue developing the tech. I recently stopped by the company’s offices to see the latest version of the camera and the major improvements in capture quality that come with it.
The first piece of content captured with an Immerge prototype was the ‘Moon’ experience which Lytro revealed back in August of 2016. This was a benchmark moment for the company, a test of what the Immerge camera could do:
Now, to quickly familiarize yourself with what makes a light-field camera special for VR, the important thing to understand is that light-field cameras shoot volumetric video. So while the basic cameras of a 360-degree video rig output flat frames of the scene, a light-field camera is essentially capturing data enough to recreate the scene as complete 3D geometry as seen within a certain volume. The major advantage is the ability to play the scene back through a VR headset with truly accurate stereo and allow the viewer to have proper positional tracking inside the video; both of which result in much more immersive experience, or what we recently called “the future of VR video.” There’s also more advantages of light-field capture that will come later down the road when we start seeing headsets equipped with light-field displays… but that’s for another day.
Modern virtual reality has been hailed as the future of Hollywood entertainment, our science fiction fantasies come to life. But there’s an ongoing problem: most VR experiences just aren’t that interesting. Hampered by evolving hardware and a medium with no set rules or audience expectations, most virtual reality experiences come off as either glorified tech demos, or simulacra of other, more established types of content. They’re usually riffing on stories that would be better told as short films or traditional games.
It’s partially a matter of storytelling conventions. Cinema has had more than a century to develop its own language of shots, cuts, and transitions, while storytelling in VR is still in its infancy. Creators are still figuring out what the medium can even do, let alone how to best take advantage. But virtual reality is only one small sliver in the much larger continuum of immersive entertainment. Real-world entertainment experiences have been evolving in their own right, developing their own unique approaches to storytelling. In the process, they aren’t just engaging audiences — they’re showing the way forward for virtual reality.
This is where Tom Cruise sits to review footage from his latest action epic, where Chris Nolan makes sure every soldier in Dunkirk looks exactly the way he should. Then, once filmmakers are happy with what they’ve created, it’s the job of the theater’s namesake—IMAX’s white-haired and suit-wearing chief quality officer—to replicate it perfectly in the more than 1,100 other screens it operates all over the world. Keighley is famous within IMAX for flying to random theaters on the release dates for big movies, to make sure everything’s just right.
For more than 45 years, IMAX has defined the absolute highest end of the movie-going experience by controlling every aspect of that experience, from building cameras to developing laser-projection technology to redesigning the seating arrangements so more people have better views. “Why do filmmakers come back time after time after time?” Keighley asks rhetorically. “Because they know the IMAX version of the movie is probably the best version of the movie.”
In recent months, though, IMAX has set its sights on a new technology: virtual reality. IMAX CEO Rich Gelfond believes VR is much more than a toy for gamers or a living-room furniture piece. He sees it as the future of the movie theater—even the future of movies. It’s just not the present. “Anyone who tells you that VR is ready for prime time in its current form is wrong,” says Gelfond, a stout man in his early 60s. “Wrong!”
But that’s precisely the opportunity. Virtual reality is poised to be the biggest shift in the history of filmmaking. “Everything is new, everything is fresh,” says Joe Russo, the director of movies like Captain America: Winter Soldier and the next Avengers flick. “The execution is different, the impact on the audience is different. Some people are going to take some big swings in it, and those are going to define the direction it takes.” From music to games to blockbuster movies, every aspect of entertainment will be changed by (or competing with) VR. And just as MGM and Warner Bros. made a killing at the dawn of the movie industry, there’s a gold rush happening around the future of frame-free cinema.
Insta360 has traveled to CES 2017 in Las Vegas to announce their Insta360 Pro, which is their professional VR camera, that is able to shoot in 8K resolution. This is a big deal because when it comes to 360-degree cameras, the more resolution the better, due to the fact that the picture is much larger. Unlike the Insta360 Air camera, which is a clip-on camera for your smartphone, the Insta360 Pro is a standalone camera. Insta360 notes that it “offers a powerful VR imaging system for professional photo and video creators as well as non-professionals who demand excellence from the camera they use to pursue their creative visions.”
There are 6 independent lenses available on the Insta360 Pro, which is what gives you crisp, 8K resolution. The photographers out there, we’re looking at 60-megapixel, 360-degree stills. It does support HDR as well as RAW formats, so you can take photos without any post-processing and edit the pictures yourself in your favorite photo editor. For those that would rather record in 4K, you do have the option of up to 100 frames-per-second, which makes for some pretty smooth video, definitely useful for virtual reality. There is also a VR time-lapse mode that will give a new dimension to videos and there is also a live preview function. This let’s the user get the best angle before snapping the photo or pressing record.
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.