Forget 3d glasses. Oculus, Lucasfilm, and the University of Maine’s own virtual reality lab have developed platforms that put the viewer front and center with the other characters–and movies may never be the same.
Wired claims Oculus Is Awesome for Games, But It’s the Future of Movies:
I never thought I’d ever say this, but I’m onstage with Beck. He’s wearing his usual hat-and-blazer combo, and covering one of my favorite David Bowie songs. Out past the crowd is a full choir — a few faces I recognize because they played with Beck during last year’s Station to Station rolling art extravaganza — and a massive musical ensemble. People are cheering and taking photos. It’s incredible. Then I look down. Instead of seeing knees or feet, I see Beck’s Chelsea boots.
That’s when my brain reminds me I’m not actually on stage.
Instead, I’m sitting in a chair at the Sundance Film Festival’s New Frontier installation, wearing an Oculus Rift virtual reality headset.
Last Wednesday UMaine students were invited to don an Oculus and other VR getups at an open house for VEMI, the Virtual Environment and Multimodal Interaction lab run by Nick Giudice and Rick Corey. (This is the same lab that brought you John Bell’s Octris, a version of Tetris you play with your ears instead of eyes.) On view was a civil war reenactment, a burning building simulator, and a dozen other virtual reality projects. As Giudice explained in the Bangor Daily News:
“We can make a complicated building or complicated city. We can play with the variables like the time of day or make the building burn or make the city have a disaster, what have you, and then look at how people are able to act and interact in those situations.”
In one simulation, the group placed a wind turbine in a hilly, grassy area. For people concerned about what a wind turbine near their hometown or off the Maine coast might look or sound like, the laboratory can use data ranging from topography to noise levels to put people in the scenario and show them what they would experience if the turbine existed.
Virtual reality can be disorienting at first. As you turn your head, the image displayed in front of your eyes adjusts based on your movement or orientation in a room. VEMI students and staff created a simulation of the VEMI lab itself, and by walking to the light switch in the simulation, you can find the real light switch, but it can be unnerving to reach for a switch, only to find that you can’t see your hands.
“We’ve had to stop people from sitting on a virtual couch because they think it’s real,” Giudice said.
Virtual imaging is changing the production of movies as well as their reception. Witness these stormtrooper wannabes having too far much fun in this production video from LucasFilm.
Lucasfilm is currently prototyping the combining of video game engines with film-making to eliminate the post-production process in movies. ‘Speaking at the Technology Strategy Board event at BAFTA in London this week, the company’s chief technology strategy officer, Kim Libreri, announced that the developments in computer graphics have meant Lucasfilm has been able to transfer its techniques to film-making, shifting video game assets into movie production. Real-time motion capture and the graphics of video game engines, Libreri claimed, will increasingly be used in movie creation, allowing post-production effects to be overlayed in real time. “We think that computer graphics are going to be so realistic in real time computer graphics that, over the next decade, we’ll start to be able to take the post out of post-production; where you’ll leave a movie set and the shot is pretty much complete,” Libreri said.
But don’t worry, you don’t need to Kickstart a costly new device to immerse your viewer in a cinematic narrative–a tablet will do.
instead of serving as screen on which the story plays out, here your tablet instead acts as a window into this world. The narrative world surrounds you in 360 degrees–it’s up to you to decide where to look. In that way it’s a bit like today’s immersive video games, but the key difference here is that there’s nothing for the viewer to control. “The spectator here is a witness,” Tappolet explains. “He is not a character or an avatar.”
This sort of open-ended spatial narrative required solving some tricky problems. You don’t want your viewer gazing up at the sky while all the action’s happening down at eye-level. For their own foray into spatial storytelling, the folks at Motorola’s moonshot division had a simple fix: The story doesn’t move forward until you refocus your attention on the main event.
We should remember that no amount of technical innovation will substitute for an innovative and engaging story. Here’s one shot and viewed with everyday equipment that would nevertheless make Oulipo proud.
Paris-based graphic designer Yann Pineill’s palindromic short film, Symmetry, is impressive because it succeeds in presenting a mirrored narrative that progresses organically whether watched from the beginning, from the middle, or reversed from the end.
“I did a lot of research on symmetry, and since it’s a really vast concept that can literally be applied to everything, I wanted to talk about a lot of different things,” Pineill says. “It was only when I started to look into symmetry in movements, actions and time that I really pictured the whole thing as a palindrome.”
The whole film plays exactly the same way forward as it does if you plop it into a VCR and press the reverse button, sound and all. Making this work is a lot harder than it might seem — the music and sounds, directions of any movement, the general sequence of events and how they’re cut together — all have to have to be planned and arranged so that they make sense both times they’re seen, forward or backwards….
Other less-obvious symmetries and reflections abound, such as a gradually shifting color palette, the fact that the main actors are a brother and sister, or visual dualities like the digital clock’s initial readout of 05:05 that’s seen again on the way back as 20:20.