A ROUNDTABLE DISCUSSION ABOUT VIRTUAL REALITY
Henry: So, we’ve been talking about all the different aspects of the VR production pipeline. Everybody here is involved in different aspects of VR so everyone’s got different ideas and opinions. Let’s discuss these! For me it’s interesting because as a medium VR combines so much of what we do in other areas. It combines film, it combines interactive gaming and sound design, and I think when you get it right, I consider that to be the richest media experiences I have ever had.
Yates: My personal opinion is because it’s so difficult. The complexity you run into when trying to express yourself is so frustrating. It makes it a fascinating problem to crack.
Cyrièle: Well I would say from my point of view as a user it brings a lot of more immersion, so it brings a feeling that you can’t really feel otherwise, like being in another place or being someone else in another body.
Martin: It’s actually the first media I have tried that isn’t like media: it’s not like you’re watching something, it’s not like you’re playing something, you’re in something. it’s real. That’s like the most exciting thing ever.
Anrick: There’s something genuinely exciting, and I think it’s more filmmakers and artists are gonna really challenge what a VR experience can be. But too much of the current work is just tech demos. We’re in a very early phase and seeing a 3D car flying by, sorry I don’t give a shit. I’m interested in true emotional, and real powerful storytelling.
Henry: I don’t know if the narrative could carry the full length of the feature film, but some of the VR experiences I have had have been better than any feature film I have seen actually.
Laura: I think gamers love it because they are in control of their actions. But there are also people who like to watch, sit back and don’t really like to control things. I think VR needs to cater for both types of experiences. Sometimes you have experiences where you are just absorbing it, and some other times you have experiences where you are controlling everything.
Yates: If everybody in the world could experience VR then it would be worthwhile to make something interesting, and it would be worthwhile advertising in there. This is the challenge we have now.
Anrick: As a part of an advertising campaign, I think there’s going to be an expansion of the traditional media package to include VR, but it will never replace any medium that’s already being used. It seems that marketing is an increasingly fractured process, with ideas needing to cross-over from TVC to all kinds of digital executions.
Yates: And also in this space specifically there’s like 7 or 8 different major manufacturer headsets, with different specs competing with each other. Advertisers are probably worried about putting all their bets on one particular way of doing VR or AR. They’re wondering ‘‘Which one? How do we do it?”
Laura: One thing Cyriele and I were talking about was travel agencies. For example, you want to go to Sri Lanka, but you’ve never been there. You can take your friends’ word for it. They say it’s beautiful, you’ve seen pictures and videos, but what about actually being on the sand, near the hotel where you’re gonna stay, listening to the sea? And you’re experiencing that through live action.
Yates: If we have a social layer that is standard for VR, the medium will evolve quickly, people will push the boundaries of the medium. And you might find yourself in a beautifully realistic grassy landscape… brought to you by Coca Cola, or something like that. I think the killer apps for VR will be the social based ones: when you have communities that regularly use Facebook with Oculus for example. Imagine you had a way to get in touch with all your family inside a virtual environment.
Henry: I think there will be enough content in VR even if it’s just hype-driven for the next year or two, but I don’t think there will ever be a standard format for a VR experience.
Yates: If there will be a standard narrative app format, it depends entirely on there being accepted ways of consuming narratives in VR generally. For example, will we be playing games in VR and will there be a commercial break in your game?
Martin: My prediction is that VR worlds will contain the same types of advertising we have in the real world. On top of that, specific experiences created by brands suit VR as a medium perfectly. It’s not (currently) comfortable to spend a great deal of time in VR so well produced content which last a few minutes work really well.
Martin: VR hasn’t really become a consumer industry yet. As a company we have access to headsets, but you can’t buy them off the shelf. But how long do you spend in VR on an average week that’s not strictly work related?
Yates: It’s a weird dynamic: you can’t really be social in it now. We need to crack the social side. If, in that scenario, you both had headsets on, it would work in a streamlined way, even the UX would work better.
Henry: I don’t spent an awful amount of time on it, but that’s because the content doesn’t exist yet. Content is being created but there isn’t anything with a super high budget yet. When there is, things are gonna change.
Laura: And if there was content, when would you do it? I wouldn’t wanna use it at my place with my boyfriend next to me, wearing a headset while he’s just looking at the television.
Yates: Maybe you would switch between AR and VR: which I don’t think is a long time away. Rather than you being in your own personal worlds you could then both be in the same environment. You can both watch a film but you can turn around and you see him, he sees you, and you’re still watching the same content.
Anrick: I can choose to look at my phone, talk to someone, and maybe vacuum the house while doing all of that. With VR, it’s ON my face. It’s extremely demanding as an entertainment medium, it wants 100% of my attention..
Anrick: It’s very interesting to think about how classic examples of storytelling might be translated to VR. The famous Guinness Surfer ad for example. With VR, it’s very difficult to progress the story of a complex narrative. You can’t guarantee that your audience will see something specific that you want them to. You get back to what is difficult in interactive storytelling, where you have to account for every possible version of the story, every possible branch of your narrative.
Laura: I totally agree with you, but if the action is interesting enough, if it engages the user, they will follow it. Or they might miss it – it’s like watching a movie, you never know what the person is looking at.
Anrick: It’s not like watching a movie, you can pause a movie. In VR, you need to guide them. In the VR project I am working on right now, an actress comes from the back in the 360 degree video instead of coming from the front – and I know the project, so I was like ‘oh I need to look there.’ The actor becomes the editing tool; the actions the actor does are the editing moments.
Yates: A technique would be just to have the world around you becoming gray, with a more focused area of color to show that it’s rich with emotional content, and it could be be slightly blurred around it. Or another thing you could do is direct the users’ head in slow motion, without making them seasick, just automatically force them to go and look.
Anrick: I think every solution that we are discussing comes from trying to re-apply the rules of filmmaking to VR while actually it’s a whole new thing; the only similarities I see are lighting and cameras, and everything else is new, it requires new rules, new workflows.
Yates: In some instances you could switch from immersive 360 to stereoscopic non-360 view and force users to watch that. That happens a lot in films where you see a big panorama and then suddenly you cut in to the main character doing something in slow motion; you know you can just force me to look at that.
Martin: Sound also plays a hugely important role here. Think about what makes you turn around to look at something in the real world – most of the time it’s because you heard it first. There is suddenly the capability to do this in VR, and it’s going to be a really powerful tool.
Cyrièle: Forcing your user is not the best practice from a UX point of view.
Yates: It’s an expression. I mean the best practices have reasons to be there but if you are forcing slowly, to create drama… The best practices are to avoid creating a sense of nausea, but if I force you to move your head slowly in the direction of an action you won’t feel nausea, it just might be frustrating but it depends…
Anrick: UX as a discipline emerged from building functionality based software. Applying that to the director’s script doesn’t make sense.
Laura: No, user experience is more than that, it’s the whole thing, it’s what the user is experiencing in a bigger level, if sickness is part of user experience, but if that’s the director’s decision I totally agree with you. In terms of filmmaking and storytelling, UX is not the discipline that is gonna define what you can or cannot do, but if we’re talking about ‘okay we cannot make people dizzy because they’ll throw up or they will fall off their chair’, then UX comes in and plays a big part. It’s ergonomics, it’s not UX, it’s the study of the human body.
Anrick: There’s a hundred films about Vietnam, and they all will have different visions. The difference in the script, and the directors vision. And the magic that happens on-camera when actors connect. Forcing people to see something feels too restrictive to me – instead we maybe have to accept that the user might miss the key action – and make sure it’s still fun even if they do.
Henry: I was thinking about something very simple. Someone picks someone elses pocket, in a crowd. How do you show that in VR? You don’t know necessarily where the user is looking, you have to frame that generally in their forward field of vision somehow.
Laura: You have to involve the person who is wearing headset: it’s like in real life, if I don’t care if i just don’t look, but if I am involved, if someone is talking to me, I am gonna look at you.
Anrick: What about the long term – are you gonna spend 5-6 hours in VR in 10 years? Is the web gonna go down, is film gonna go down, is Netflix gonna go down?
Laura: In my honest opinion I really doubt that the Oculus Rift will be the headset of the future. I don’t think it will be a fully covered, 360 field of view that prevents you from seeing anything else around you. It will be something like what Microsoft is doing with Hololens, in which you can switch between focusing on a virtual layer added on top of the real world or switch it off and just look at the things that are physically next to you.
Cyrièle: Augmented reality is more like a tool, so it’s gonna help to enhance our everyday lives, whereas VR is more about an experience: I think it’s good, it’s got a future for gaming, and maybe for installations. I know that TopShop did something where some people were wearing a VR set on their head and they were able to see the catwalk, so they weren’t at the catwalk during the fashion week, but they were able to see it anyway. So for experiments like these, or for gaming, I think it can be good in the future but it’s not gonna be something that we are gonna use in everyday life, like our smartphones or our tablets. As a tool, I think augmented reality is the answer.
Martin: I disagree. Headsets are going to become so small and light that it won’t be a problem to use these devices all day. Wearable technology is all about fashion and technology combining, and I think that once this happens with VR and AR, the stigma or barrier of having these devices on your body most of the time will be minimal. The Apple Watch is a perfect example of this. Your Armani AR glasses will stream a wall sized desktop from your smartphone controlled by gestures wherever you are! Maybe.
Yates: For these sort of “close” wearable technologies to really feel like friendly extensions of ourselves, and be used regularly, we need to go back to where people felt like their personal data was personal. Its interesting that Facebook is behind Oculus, and that the most likely perfect VR killer app is going to be social. How will they manage the information exchange between value to user and information from user to inform advertising? I am expecting some key changes in culture and business around privacy in the coming years as precursors to a full adoption.
Anrick: To me the future of these technologies is less about the headset, and more about the experiences you can create, and the worlds you can build. Once it’s cheap for everyone to build whatever crazy vision they can come up with, to somehow translate their ideas easily into a virtual space you can explore, it’s going to be just as exciting as going on holiday.