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VR storytelling & building a new grammar for cinematic language


May 2015
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Onscreen entertainment has been accomplished on rectangular screens for 100 years and at some distance from our eyes. The size of the screen has shifted over the years to enhance movie pleasure, and we’ve seen stereoscopic 2D and 3D which created a sense of depth and distance. But all of these shifts didn’t change the prison of the rectangle. Our eyes were still always limited to the 4 borders of the rectangular screen.

Oculus rift and other virtual reality ventures are now trying to crack the rectangle screen wide open with a 360 degrees screen. This means that the narrative would no longer be linear and viewers would become part of the narrative. Viewers would be unconstrained by borders because there will exist no borders on a 360 degrees angle in VR filmmaking. This will allow the cinemagoer not only not jump side the cinema halls but inside the movie, too. The viewer will be inside a virtual movie theater where s/he can even walk around and choose her/his seat.

But it is a new language and VR cinematic grammar will have to be perfected before it becomes viable. Some questions will need articulation.

The experience of the world from within: How can a story be directed inside a medium where the viewer can look anywhere s/he wants? In rectangular screen cinema when a director wants to avert someone’s gaze he or she just needs to point the camera elsewhere. The challenge for the director using the new VR language would be how to accomplish the same when the director doesn’t even know where the viewer is looking. A cinemagoer will view the images via a headset or next-generation smart phone right up against the eyes. The question here begs: will there be too much immediacy? Wherever you look, you will be in the same forest, sea, sky or other universe, in the same spherical space as actors. What if the viewer doesn’t want to be there? What if it is a rape scene and the viewer is female? How does she stop terror and fear from reigning down on her? It can be disturbing and disorienting for the viewer which traditional cinema has never had to deal with. inside image can be terrifying

VR narrative versus linear narrative- In traditional moviemaking, directors aim camera, create themes through montage, transport viewers across the world in a second by cutting in on a scene, or they stretch one minute of a ticking bomb into 10 mins of drama. In VR cinema, however these techniques don’t exist. Not yet. Virtual reality has begun to flower, but few know what direction it will take and therefore comes with quite a bit of uncertainties:

There’s no standard way to control VR -With no rules for standards yet in place, how can companies explain this new field to a layperson who just wants to watch a new kind of movie?  At what point is all this public experimentation actually a bad thing?

Consumer confusion – it will be difficult to accept the confusion that’ll come out of using the device to view movie. Also, if it’s just all noisy moments, we’re going to lose people.

VR as a new medium to tell movies is not yet pioneered. Cutting edge of hardware is required to build a 360 degree VR camera and capture systems. 360 degree viewingEstimates predict another 20 years before we could reach this level of sophistication in the film industry. Storystudio is currently building a grammar to contain this new cinematic storytelling of VR. They’re working on how to communicate to the viewer when they should explore the story, when the movie starts. Viewer needs to follow the story since the environments could be distracting, immersive. Viewer can see many things happening simultaneously and may be hard-pressed to see that thing the director wants them to see. In normal conversation and films it is not always possible to follow one conversation.

The 360 degrees camera system in the works by Milk VR would be good at telling stories. Skybound is already en route to producing a series of Walking Dead for Samsung that will premier in 2016. Things like capture, flow, and playback are big issues to iron out but the biggest concern by far is the cinematic language. No language is limitless; that’s why there’s’ a dictionary, to contain language. And the sky has always been that proverbial limit for everything. But a limitless cinema? When the cut or the frame is gone what is left for the cinematographer? It took a century to develop that cinematic language and suddenly the cinematographer leaves the frame for the viewer to decide it. Is it the director who is telling the story if he gives the viewer the freedom to choose what he or she wants to see and thus to tell his or her own story? How would filmic expression be built in VR? How will a cinematographer draw outside the traditional lines?  Will gaming be a platform for this new kind of cinema as it is already putting the player inside the game? With VR cinema, where will the viewer be?How can narrative coherence be achieved when viewers can wander outside the negative space where the movie isn’t?

All of these cinematic syntax must be refined in order to fit into an oculus rift goggles.


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