Filmmaking and virtual reality. How different and how similar?

Below are a few short reasonings in regards to my next project which is a 360 degree film tale.

Film can use the instruments of VR to tell stories. But where does one start and the other end? Is this process leading to something that will relate to film the same way smartphones relate to landlines?

We can start with the fact the both propose an immersive experience through the use VR glasses. If we leave special effects and interaction aside, what remains as unique characteristic is the feeling of being somewhere else. Even the complete darkness before a game or during a film is a digital “dark room”.

mind map 1

So we have our common ground, namely immersive space.

Another common element is interaction.

It is there by default, because the sensor of the Oculus Rift is detecting the orientation of the head and respectively the body of the viewer. This makes it possible to look around and choose what to “exclude” from the entire picture. The spectator frames the story the way his/her will or instinct desire.

This is a significantly different from traditional storytelling in cinema. We are transported to a different place, immersed in the fabric of the film. The director is still leading, but in a way that leaves us a full horizon for exploration. Space acquires distinct importance as a narrative element.

I would say, we can safely conclude that there is interaction already when simply watching a movie with VR glasses.

There is though, a big turning. How much of an interaction does one want to use? From keyboards to smells and haptic devices, everything is possible. Since we are talking about film and storytelling there are two things to mention in that regard:

1. It is extremely easy to loose the sense of being immersed in a film story, if some kind of controller is used. Because of the nature of present time VR glasses and sets, this interaction immediately brings us out of the film and transforms the experience into some sort of a video game.

2. When interaction means that the viewer is altering the storyline, the experience is different. One thing is if I am free to look around, another, if I can actually change the film destiny. Even if we only use eye tracking to make choices in the film, it makes us conscious of ourselves and subsequently may draw us away from the story.

To summarise: Immersive feeling and basic interaction are the largest areas of overlapping between Film and VR.

Anything that steps out of that border seems to form new categories and aggregates.


VR and Ethics

This is an article on The Ethics of Virtual Reality from 1992. It covers the main problematics of the concept in philosophy and ethics. It elaborates on the cultural and technical dimension of VR and introduces various points of view. A short quote:

“Virtual reality therefore has the effect of reality upon us, though we recognise that it is not properly real. VR is best described as a simulation, as opposed to a representation (Baudrillard, 1983). If I make a model of something, say a chair, then my model is a representation if I never lose my belief that it is the original chair that is the real object. On the other hand, if I make a model of something, say the surface of the moon, and in navigating the imaginary terrain I come to believe that the model is real, then I am in a simulation. The term “virtual reality” is a precise expression of this latter concept for we are, at the same time, admitting the fact that we have created a model (which is unreal) and admitting that we are treating it as reality.

The significant point about this definition is that VR is essentially subjective. VR is an experience and not a piece of technology. I can curl up with a good novel and claim to be in virtual reality, whilst I can don the most expensive headset and data glove yet remain perfectly aware of the fakeness of what I observe. This is important because it follows from this definition that many symbolic structures in society can be viewed as “virtual reality” (for example, cases where a computer model of an organisation does not reflect the underlying reality). We must therefore understand virtual reality as being the expression of a deep philosophical problem caused by our commitment to symbolic structures whose existence now obscures the reality of the underlying object.”


Prewriting for dimensional film

Paintings such as L’Absinthe by Degas inspired me on the notion of exploring the canvas as space.

I firstly looked at the glass of Absinthe. Then at the absent look of the woman. Then I realised the tables she and the man are sitting on didn’t have legs., Suddenly the tables surfaces were floating.

In the process of working on scripts and stories for dimensional storytelling I enjoyed developing ambients and constructing places and spaces through text.

Dry wind

In a granite city far away live friendly people, passionate to sing and think and look for answers. A chain of mountains covers their horizon. They have as closest friends the city statues.
The statues are of human size and form, except the one atop the central fountain which has the shape of big and silent fish. The white stone figures decorate the city but also populate it. They often come to life and walk the streets to meet with young and old, to share ideas, laugh and talk.
The only wind that swirls the streets is dry and fast. Statues don’t like it and are always frozen while it lasts. That is also the reason this wind is left without a name. People believe it carries songs from city to city.
The bond between people and statues is of a particular importance to both. The first consider the second as their guides in understanding and loving existence and as protectors from the unknown. The second do not see, hear or feel one another and cannot communicate if not with the help of the first who transmit their messages. This is how ancient stories are never forgotten in this place.
One day a giant volcano in the mountain erupts and its lava splashes down through the streets and houses covering every corner of the stone city. People are caught by surprise and cannot escape. Fast dry wind bursts for two weeks.
When statues wake up and search for their fellow man all they find is frozen figures and silent faces.
Since then they wander the streets and on a windy day one can hear them sing.

Imagine being a spectator in the middle of this square.