We’ve all heard the hype of VR: “It will replace filmmaking as we know it.” Balderdash. VR will no more replace traditional filmmaking than TV replaced movies. Or that streaming services will replace the broadcast networks.
They will co-exist; albeit uneasily. Instead, the key thing I learned is that VR doesn’t need to “replace” something in order to be successful. Social media didn’t need to replace something to attract an audience; all it needed to do was showcase its innate strengths.
Those of you who have listened to my interviews on the Digital Production Buzz podcast know that I am skeptical about VR. However, over the last two weeks prepping my “Introduction to 360/VR” webinar, I had a chance to rethink my opinions on VR.
And, I think that we are asking VR the wrong questions. Instead of asking: “How will you replace film?” we need to ask: “What do you do well?” Yes, you can take any camera underwater, but you’ll have the most success if you use a camera that is designed for underwater shooting.
So, let us ask: What is VR designed to do really, really well?
And the answer is that it puts the viewer right in the middle of an experience. This is no small thing, it’s something that film has to work very hard to recreate. If we focus on the experience, rather than the story, we start to discover ways to work with 360/VR that also lead into the strengths of most filmmakers.
WHY SHOULD WE CARE?
If you have more clients and projects than you can handle, you don’t need VR. However, if paying projects are scarce on the ground, or your existing clients are asking: “What can you do for me that’s NEW?” VR can be a useful addition to your portfolio. Ignore, for the moment, whether we can tell stories with 360/VR. Focus, instead on whether you can make money from it.
360/VR doesn’t replace what you are doing now. It supplements it in a variety of complimentary and divergent ways. We already know the techniques and technology of standard digital media production. We just need to master a new way to deliver content.
There are three types of VR:
Within 360° VR, there are four additional terms you need to know:
I want to focus on this last type, 360/VR, because it has the most relevance for filmmakers. We refer to this a VR, “virtual reality.” But, actually, there’s nothing “virtual” about it – any more than shooting a video creates “virtual reality.” We are using traditional video cameras to record a different way to represent the world we live in. And in such, there’s opportunity for traditional filmmakers.
STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES
Let’s start with the strengths of 360/VR:
However, 360/VR also has significant weaknesses:
The closest example I can think of to describe 360/VR is not film but theater-in-the-round:
My biggest hurdle in thinking about 360/VR was shifting from seeing the world through a frame, to watching something happen from the middle of a sphere. In film, we move the camera to the edges to get good shots. With VR, the camera goes dead-center.
My second biggest hurdle was that, with video, we control what the audience sees by where we point the camera. With VR, we are building an environment which allows the audience to look anywhere.
The technology of 360/VR uses the craft of film and video production; but its content takes its craft from the stage. When working with 360/VR, we need to use the tricks of stagecraft, not film production, to make sure the audience sees what we want them to see, when we want and where we want.
THOUGHTS ON PRODUCTION
I’m not an expert on shooting 360/VR. But, based on my experiences shooting VR for my webinar, I’ve learned a number of lessons:
VR was initially pitched as a replacement for traditional filmmaking – principally to generate initial interest in the format. But, VR isn’t film. Worse, thinking that VR IS film forces the format to be what it isn’t.
But what 360/VR can do really well, is put the viewer in the center of an activity and enable them to have the experience of actually being there. This ability to create experiences is yet another tool we can offer to clients or use to develop new programs directly for our own audiences.
NOTE: To learn more about what I learned about 360/VR, watch this webinar.
As always, I’m interested in your comments.
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