We have to talk about Virtual Reality.

It’s VR talk time, you’re old enough.

Let’s get this out of the way – 3D television died, Google glasses died, everything is bad, why try anything let’s just sit around bitching. Great, thanks for the opinion. But that argument is based around success I’m not looking for. There is zero chance or interest that I will be “a media tycoon by getting in at ground level”. People that think that way are calculating profit and loss, not making fun things. VR will probably die, so did a heap of things we’ve enjoyed.

But you were against Google Glasses and AR! Yes that’s right. I don’t want to build something that tells me what I am seeing. I want to build entertainment. VR and AR are only related in the most superficial way.

I’m learning how to handle VR by first remaking the 2010 video for Greater Reward.

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Until you actually make something it’s all theory. Then the problems come crashing in fast. Let me add my voice to the very sensible advice already there.

  • Until you see the shot on a VR helmet you have very little idea what you are getting. The distortion moves everything away, your instinct to make things fit the image is wrong. Something that looks OK there is about 1cm from the viewer’s face and that sucks.
  • The inter pupil distance really matters. If your camera has pupils 6.5cm apart then everything must be scaled to that. If it’s wrong you end up with things being kilometres in size and that hurts. There is no zoom. Prime lens only.
  • There are no edges to the frame and so you have to design in all directions. But there is a centre of attention, only 70° in the middle. Your viewer is seeing a little bit at a time, you don’t know which bit. So most scenes should be simpler than you first thought. You only place complex things where you want the viewer to look. So like the way you place furniture in a room.
  • I tried tilting the camera. Nope. The viewer feels gravity pulling them down, the scene doesn’t, so it tilts, not the camera. It just doesn’t work. That and the previous point mean most of your camera skills are dead. So if you want the viewer to look up, you have to move something up there to get their attention. Same for most directions. You use the same tricks as stage plays: light sound action.
  • Editing seems OK so far but jump cuts are worse than usual. You need to move toward the new position, or pre-empt it. I’m testing fades now.
  • Technically you are making 4K but the bit the audience is seeing is about 640×480. All textures should be severely anti-aliased. Like Gaussian. No grids that will moire with the pixels. Think 1990’s computer graphics. Everything smooth.
  • Drop the light levels down, keep the lighting comfortable. You can’t use normal filters on a VR image – e.g. blur. So you have to get this right in camera.
  • I’m not seeing too many problems with motion but I am keeping it slow and steady. Also I am used to the helmet. One day maybe people will all be used to VR and some of these rules will be broken.

So is all this pain worth it? Depends on the material. I generally would steer the vast majority of film making away from VR (I wish my students would listen). You cannot perform cinema with VR. If you ever write ‘we see’ or ‘moves to’ in your scriptment do not use VR. As for Greater Reward, all the scenes are positioned in spheres of some sort and so the translation becomes possible. But what else will work – I just don’t know yet.

(Nothing here about sound design – a different post for that).

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