LOS ANGELES—New media platforms demand
new production methods and none, since the introduction of the pixel, have
needed a rework more than virtual reality.
First job of any media content is to engage the audience. Whether it consists
of a teenage boy cloistered away with his VR headset, the urban hipster with
the latest flavor of augmented-reality glass, or a family at the local theme
park’s 360 panorama; if you don’t hook them with something compelling they’ll move
on to something that will.
What flavor are you selling?
VR: Contrary to what you’ve
probably read or heard, VR is a very finite format and not something that has
anything to do with physical cameras. To quote the ubiquitous Wikipedia, “Virtual
reality… replicates an environment that simulates physical presence in places
in the real world or imagined worlds and lets the user interact in that world.
Virtual reality artificially creates sensory experiences, which can include
sight, hearing, touch, and smell.”
AR: Augmented reality superimposes a computer-generated image over the live view of the
physical, real-world environment. The image remains in alignment to the
real-world or a pre-defined target as the viewer moves.
PANORAMIC VIDEO: 360 and panoramas surround
the viewer with an environment intended to create a sense of presence. They can
be “stitched” together from several conventional video streams or by using a
fisheye or purpose-build lens. Although 360 has been with us since well before
the pixel showed up, the recent media frenzy over VR, combined with low-tech
design and fabrication needs, have created a glut of acquisition systems
spewing from garages and home workshops all across country. Even though 360 is not VR, it does share a number of the
same issues with respect to narrative production.
Why this iteration of VR is different:
Thanks to your tax dollars and the military industrial complex’s need
for more accurate real-time targeting, Inertial Measurement Unit, or IMU, technology took a major leap
forward. Poised on a tiny chip that sits inside nearly everything from the Predator
drone’s AGM-114 Hellfire missiles to your smartphone,
the IMU tracker uses a gyroscope,
accelerometer, GPS and magnetometer to figure out where it is, where it
is looking and where it is going: And
this is precisely why VR will work this time.
The Oculus Rift head-mounted display isn’t the about virtual reality—that’s
been around since Jaron Lanier coined the phrase back in the early ’80s—or simply figured out how to make the
IMU faster. Facebook stepped in and bought Oculus because they understand where
this is all going. Motion-to-photons lag is the delay between inputting a
command and seeing the effects of that command. For Oculus, that magic number
is somewhere under 20
milliseconds and even though you can’t perceive it, for the very first
time, VR doesn’t make you puke.
THE MECHANICS OF VR CONTENT:
The fact that VR gear will play both true virtual environments and
panoramas does not mean that 360 video is VR. Your ability to make real VR
content is limited by your grasp of CGI and game engines. Good engines are
relatively easy to create with and come with an extensive catalog of ready-made
sets and props that will get you started without writing a single line of code.
There are even fully rendered scenes with controllable characters that you can
reverse engineer and modify.
To create a “reality” that lives up to the name, a rather significant number of
computer scientists, artists and engineers have been working for more than 20
years to make synthetic characters that are driven by predictive analytics and
voiced by prosodically
guided phonetic engines
that queue emotionally appropriate posture, gesture and empathy scripts.
This is not a pursuit for the faint of heart, but if you’ve got an XBox Kinect,
you already have the rudimentary tools to start creating real VR content.
Download a demo copy of the Unity or Unreal game engine and get started.
THE MECHANICS OF AR CONTENT:
The actual manufacturing process for Augmented Reality content is
essentially the same as for VR with the exception that your entire environment
is now replaced by and registered to the real world. The true importance of VR
is that it is driving the R&D on AR. AR is so important because it is the
de facto interface for the Internet of Things. Everything within your field of
view will have an AR tag. Think of it as visible Bluetooth gone wild: And those
synthetic characters, they will be your semiautonomous, very smart, personalized digital
THE MECHANICS OF 360 PANORAMA CONTENT:
Buy a 20-year-old QuickTimeVR camera on eBay or one of the hundred or
so 360 systems out there on the market. Good entry style systems are the Sony
Bloggie and the VSN v360. For a cinematic quality image I recommend the
time-tested Pont Gray, Lady Bug5 that Google has been using for Street View for
the past ten years or the Immersive Media, Dodeca, a proven performer for both
civilian and military use.
The craft of virtual content:
A very large part of linear narrative is wrapped up in the art of
framing. The director, cinematographer, actor and editor all conspire to convey
the emotional arc of the actor as they drive their vector along the central
theme of the narrative. The problem with VR is that there is no framing. The
viewer is free to look around and will most likely be looking the other way at
all the major plot points: you’ve lost
the narrative. This holds true for VR, AR and Panorama. The narrative
must be reimagined.