Dubai filmmaker Clyde DeSouza explores the reality of virtual cinema's great potential

Is virtual reality the next big movie trend? Or is it another heavily hyped fad likely to fade away in the same way as previous bizarre, ill-fated gimmicks such as the short-lived sixties concept of smell-o-vision? Of course, VR is a far more substantial and potentially revolutionary development. It gives the viewer immersible 360-degree access […]

Is virtual reality the next big movie trend? Or is it another heavily hyped fad likely to fade away in the same way as previous bizarre, ill-fated gimmicks such as the short-lived sixties concept of smell-o-vision?

Of course, VR is a far more substantial and potentially revolutionary development. It gives the viewer immersible 360-degree access to the action, and offers the possibility of interaction with characters and objects, and multiple possible storylines.

No wonder it has caught the imagination at recent major film festivals, and the recent announcement that December’s Dubai International Film Festival will include a Different Reality section is proof of local awareness of its potential.

The question remains, however: can VR break through to the mainstream and become the next big thing?

One local filmmaker who believes that it can is Clyde ­DeSouza. Dirrogate, his 10-­minute VR movie – which was created in Dubai, based on his own 2015 sc-fi novel Maya – was recently added to the film menu on Samsung’s VR platform, which gives viewers a chance to fully immerse themselves in movies using their mobile phone and the company’s Gear VR headset.

It is an impressive feat – his film is currently the only indie production on the site, where it sits alongside VR experiences based on big-budget hits including Ridley Scott’s The Martian and James Wan’s The Conjuring 2.

A leading local proponent of 3-D and VR cinema, DeSouza has hosted numerous workshops and panels, including an event at DIFF last year, and formerly oversaw operations at twofour54 Abu Dhabi’s defunct 3D Lab. Before this, he set up a similar lab at Singapore’s Nanyang Polytechnic.

He is also the author of two books – 2012’s filmmaking textbook Think in 3D and Maya, which was published by Penguin last year.

DeSouza accepts that VR is still a niche market for now, but believes the potential exists to conquer the mainstream. “The first big thing will be for people to interact with each other rather than watch a movie,” he says. “For example, Google is coming up with a new line of phones called Daydream that will map your house through two cameras at the back, so you could appear in front of me in my place, or vice versa. I can see people spending hours on something like that.”

Desouza hopes that as people get used to this kind of personal interaction using VR, using the technology to experience movies in a new way will seem like a logical next step. “The technology can be used for family reunions and the like,” he says.

“Who wouldn’t want to spend an hour at their kid’s birthday party in VR if they can’t be there [in person]? That’s how I think it’ll enter the mainstream. Once people get used to using it in those sort of situations, other uses – such as live sports and movies – will start to creep in and become the norm, too.”

One common complaint with early VR headsets is that they are uncomfortable to use for more than a few minutes at a time. ­DeSouza says this is changing, and will continue to do so as technology improves.

“They’re going up to around 20 minutes or half an hour now,” he says. “But as the technology gets less intrusive, that will change. It’s not entirely practical for full-length features yet because of the resolution loss, but for something like stand-up sets it’s great to get that sensation of being in a big hall with the comedian on stage in front of you.”

DeSouza admits that given the current small audience for VR filmmaking, it simply is not economically viable.

However, he says he has meetings coming up with advertisers and marketing professionals about using VR and, as ever, once the potential financial rewards of using the technology are known, it is likely to become increasingly common.

“There are so many possibilities,” he says.

“For my next movie, I’m looking into ideas such as selling advertising space on billboards in the virtual city, and I can see a future where locations and sets that filmmakers have built in VR could be hired out to use in other films – just like a ‘haunted mansion’ might be used for several movies in real life. It’s a whole new world.”

• Watch Dirrogate online at www.samsungvr.com or view and download in higher resolution via Vrideo

cnewbould@thenational.ae

Source: art & life

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