Eyeing the future of storytelling using virtual reality

In the near future, we will not only watch our favourite film and TV characters, we will step into their shoes and live their adventures. So say the pioneers of virtual-reality filmmaking, who believe the idea is no longer sci-fi fantasy. Hayley Pappas is head of films for RYOT, a news and media company in […]

In the near future, we will not only watch our favourite film and TV characters, we will step into their shoes and live their adventures. So say the pioneers of virtual-reality filmmaking, who believe the idea is no longer sci-fi fantasy.

Hayley Pappas is head of films for RYOT, a news and media company in Los Angeles that is developing next-generation storytelling using VR.

“This is an exciting moment in time – VR is just now starting to become part of our vocabulary,” says Pappas, who led a session devoted to the technology for filmmakers at the Dubai International Film Festival last month. “We are finally at a point where we can experiment with storytelling inside VR.”

A whole new world

Elia Petridis who was raised in Dubai and splits his time between the city and LA, is a VR pioneer who founded the experimental filmmaking company, Filmatics.

“There’s this element with VR, of, ‘I don’t want to stand on a spaceship, I want to stand on the Millennium Falcon because that has meaning to me’,” he says. “It is the emotional connection, that something that was hanging on your walls is now right in front of you. As a storyteller, I find that aspect really crucial.” VR is slowly making its way into the marketplace. Several manufacturers have headsets now available or launching soon, while VR experiences are becoming available based on blockbuster movies such as The Martian, Wild, Mission Impossible, Star Wars and Jurassic Park.

Movie studios, including Fox, Sony Entertainment and Lucasfilm are jumping aboard the VR train, and filmmakers are starting to explore the possibilities it offers.

Last year, Petridis was asked by a studio in Venice Beach to push VR technology forward by making a short film. The result is Eye for an Eye – A Seance in VR, a short horror film that is due out early this year. “I approached the task as a fan,” he says. “What would I want to see and do with VR goggles?”

Petridis decided to create a seance at which the wrong kind of guest turns up.

“I thought, what’s the horror of VR,” he says. “It’s the ability to see the world through someone else’s eyes. The ghost who appears is missing his eyeball – and yours look pretty neat. The ghost can glance around you. In a scenario like this, the space around you becomes really useful.”

For a good cause

Although the idea of, for example, creating lifelike battle or crime scenes using VR might fill some people with anxiety over the technology’s potential to glorify violence, filmmakers pioneering the new technology point to the potential benefits to society. According to Julie Young, a producer and financial officer for the LA-based studio Emblematic Group, TV audiences are becoming desensitised to repeated images of fighting from conflict zones on the news, but VR can counteract this.

“We worked on Project Syria, which places participants in Aleppo during a rocket blast, and later in a Syrian refugee camp,” she says. “We had people take off the headset in tears. They said, ‘I see these sort of images in 2-D all the time but now I get it’.”

“The ‘I get it’ – that’s the next generation of storytelling.”

Similarly, the aim of Brazilian interdisciplinary artist Philippe Bertrand is to elicit empathy using of VR technology.

He is part of BeAnotherLab, which runs a long-term Spanish research project called The Machine to be Another, and is working on a film titled Touching the Walls of Bethlehem, which gives participants a first-hand experience of life there.

“It takes the taste and feeling of being enclosed by the walls of Bethlehem so we can feel and understand what its like to live there,” he says.

VR films so far have been short, up to about 10 minutes long because, according to Pappas, the hardware isn’t quite advanced enough yet to make it desirable for the experience to last any longer.

“I don’t want to stay in a headset for more than eight to 10 minutes,” Pappas admits.

Virtual Reality expert Clyde DeSouza agrees that, for now, less is more in terms of VR.

“At this point, audiences might not yet be accustomed to what I call ‘sensory overload’,” he says.

“The eyes, the mind, the vestibular system are all involved when watching a VR film. Then, if the story is engaging, it does heighten emotions, reflexes kick in – people might flinch and duck.

“Also, the comfort level of wearing a headset that cuts you out from the rest of the world is not yet known.”

artslife@thenational.ae

Source: art & life

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