Get Ready For Virtual Reality Movies

How does moviemaking change when the audience becomes part of the action?

Jaunt just scored $6.8 million in funding for its camera that can make movies for the virtual reality Oculus Rift headset. Using the Oculus Rift dev kit—which the company purchased off of Craigslist!—Jaunt has created the algorithms necessary to give viewers the feeling of being inside a movie. The experience, according to Gizmodo, sounds pretty incredible:

Immediately I was standing directly in the middle of a skate park. The sun was shining. There was a guy going back and forth over the shallow peaks and valleys directly to my right. There was no break in the scene as I looked left, and up, and all the way around behind me, and the sound remained true to the direction of his wheels along the concrete. This was a very real—like, shockingly real—3D transportation. It was a mouth agape, I-can't-stop-giggling-out-of-pure-incredulity kind of leap.

Prototype Camera

Jaunt isn't the only company working on this type of technology, as Fast Company's Sarah Kessler reported earlier this year. A company called One Condition already put out the first virtual reality film, Zero Point. With this big investment in Jaunt as well as Facebook's $2 billion acquisition of Oculus Rift, the future of movies is on the horizon. The next gimmick in movie viewing will be this immersive experience. The question is, do audiences want a new way to watch movies?

Oculus has received rave reviews from the tech set. And it is indeed an unbelievably real feeling experience. (When I tried it at South by Southwest, I whimpered while it felt like I was falling off of a very high wall.) But, whether anyone would want to watch an entire movie as a character inside the screen is another matter. An early precursor to immersive viewing, 3-D TV, was a flop, and people have also reported nausea after using the headset for too long.

But these "movies" won't look or feel much like what's playing at the local cineplex today. Unlike 3-D films, the movies made for Oculus will likely take a totally different approach. Oculus movies won't be like having the IMAX-3-D version of an already existent 2-D movie, but a whole new way to tell stories. "We have to invent a whole new language of storytelling for this medium," Jaunt CTO Arthur van Hoff told Re/Code. "That’s actually one of the more interesting parts of this project, the technology to drive this. But the content part is something that we need to invent as well."

Prototype Camera

These "movies" also won't be two-hour epics, but shorter videos that, much like YouTube, people will want to watch over and over again. "We feel that there’s an opportunity to watch the content multiple times," van Hoff added. "That’s interesting for a lot of content creators—they want you to go and re-experience it, maybe have a slightly different or better experience the next time around. In the real world, if you’re in the middle of a play or something, [you can't do that]."

The viewing experience completely changes when you give the viewer agency, as Kessler described. "Something strange happens to filmmaking when you plop the audience inside of the story," she explains. "All of the sudden, you can’t tell them what to look at. You can’t take them from one scene to the next without creating the feeling that they’ve teleported." Whatever concept we have of "movies" will look completely different through an Oculus Rift headset.

[Images courtesy of Jaunt]

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