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October 02
2017

ISSUE

Fall 2017

VR THOUGHT-LEADERS ON TECHNOLOGY’S NEW SILK ROAD

“Content developers are justlearning how to manage the viewer’s attention, while giving him or her the excite- ment and discovery of a full, open, imaginary world, or a view of the real world. Also, the content developers are just now getting the software tools to develop these experiences and worlds. It’s a trial and error process.”

—Jon Peddie,

Jon Peddie Research

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“We need more … creativity to help mainstream audiences appreciate the capacity VR has to blow our minds. To say this another way – turn me around! I want to be surround- ed by what you’ve created. Otherwise I might as well be sitting on a couch watching it in 2D.”

—Tony Parisi, Head of VR, Unity

Is VR the Holy Grail of new technology? Companies like Google, Microsoft, Samsung, Facebook and others are investing billions of dollars in VR hardware and software technology. Motion picture studios, A-list directors, production companies, VFX houses, videogame firms, theme parks, museums, business corpora- tions and related tech companies are also moving forward into this new, uncharted territory. That has triggered an avalanche of content creation by established compa- nies as well as many startups that are also investing their creative time and fortunes in development.

VFX Voice Publisher Jim McCullaugh gathered a group of VR trailblazers from around the globe and asked them where we are in VR/AR and where we go from here.

JON PEDDIE, JON PEDDIE RESEARCH, TIBURON, CALIFORNIA

When VR was thrust into the consciousness of the consumer in 2014, the biggest weakness was, and pretty much still is, content that is designed specifically for VR. That’s been somewhat ameliorated by passive 360 VR which is gentler on the viewer. Content developers are just learning how to manage the viewer’s attention, while giving him or her the excitement and discovery of a full, open, imaginary world, or a view of the real world. Also, the content developers are just now getting the software tools to develop these experiences and worlds. It’s a trial and error process. The first thing most people think of when they hear VR is gaming. That’s because of the sensationally large investment by Facebook in Oculus. The other 40 headset makers that jumped into the market, plus the 70 smartphone-based Samsung Gear clones, and Sony, only had some retrofitted games to use as demonstration. The result was the consumer associated the concept of VR as a gaming machine, but it is ‘oh so much more than that’. Prior to the Facebook intrusion into VR, the market was based on scientific, engineering, medical and military applications. Now applications that show great promise and in various stages of development are: automotive, construction and real estate, events and conferences, film and entertainment, gaming, health care and medicine, journalism and media dissemination, law enforcement, manufacturing and logistics, marketing and advertising, military/defense, recruiting, talent management and HR, retail, and space exploration. Probably one of the biggest opportunities for clever use of VR is education. AR offers a bigger opportunity for marketing than VR does.

TONY PARISI, HEAD OF VR, UNITY, SAN FRANCISCO

As an immersive technology that represents the next computing platform, VR’s use and development are not limited to making games and can be used to tell stories and create worlds. But most important to note about VR is how it creates empathy, escape, embodiment and engagement. It also needs to maintain a high production value to fully immerse people to the point where they may even question what ‘reality’ is. This requires thoughtful and thorough storytelling, beautiful and compelling graphics, and increasing levels of interactivity, whether through conversations, by physical inter- action or through social constructs that promote engagement. Finally, VR needs to promote social interactions. This will be the difference between ‘immersing’ yourself and ‘losing’ yourself.

One of the most crucial design considerations is how to tell a story that actually makes use of a 360-degree space. We need more of this creativity to help mainstream audiences appreciate the capacity VR has to blow our minds. To say this another way – turn me around! I want to be surrounded by what you’ve created. Otherwise I might as well be sitting on a couch watching it in 2D.

“A common criticism of VR is that it is isolating. While VR will always separate you from the real world, it can and will bring people together to communicate, experience and play in a truly memorable way.”

—Sol Rogers, CEO/Founder, Rewind

“VR will naturally become a more accessible technology as it goes through a couple of life cycles, just as our phones and computers have done. But one thing we can aim to change more quickly is the price point of VR software and hardware.”

—Jon Wadelton, Chief Technology Officer, Foundry

SOL ROGERS, CEO/FOUNDER, REWIND, UNITED KINGDOM

Goldman Sachs Research expects virtual and augmented reality to become an $80 billion market by 2025, roughly the size of the desktop PC market today. To get to this point we need mass adoption to occur. With the release of ARKit, Apple has accelerated Augmented Reality development and when ARKit becomes available on Apple devices running iOS 11, AR will become accessible to a huge user base. Mobile is also going to be extremely important for VR. As mobiles become more powerful and capable of tracking and offering high-end interactive experiences,VR will reach the tipping point. Mobile is the bedrock for the progression of the immersive industries.

A common criticism of VR is that it is isolating. While VR will always separate you from the real world, it can and will bring people together to communicate, experience and play in a truly memorable way. This is why Facebook sees VR as one of the world’s biggest social enablers. The all-immersive elements of VR make the experience much more enriching than a ‘like’ or ‘share’. The creation of content that connects individuals through a shared experience is incredibly important to push the industry forward.

JON WADELTON, CHIEF TECHNOLOGY  OFFICER, FOUNDRY, UNITED KINGDOM

For those of us developing VR software, the main focus over the next couple of years is on providing tools that allow direc- tors to build riveting, immersive content. In order for VR technology to fully break into mainstream production and cement its position there, the content itself needs to live up to its namesake and truly repli- cate reality. VR content is currently still in its early stages, but steps are underway to take us to this next stage.

In the coming years we can expect to see the next iteration of immersive content as it becomes ‘hyper-real’. The blending of physical and virtual reality together – as hyper reality does – is certainly a trend we expect to see a lot more of in content creation in the future.

“In the filmmaking space the real question about content is, “Are we asking the right questions? Will 360 film change storytelling?” No. How it’s told will be the same; how it’s experienced will be different.”

—Christopher Gomez,
AR/VR Industry Evangelist & Angel Investor

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“VFX will play a large role in guiding the [VR] user in overt ways, and in suggesting action to the user in more subtle, even subliminal ways. VFX will continue to play the same role it has in 2D storytelling today in enhancing and creating worlds, scenarios and action that is difficult, costly, or impossible to do in real life.”

—David Schleifer, COO, Primestream

CHRISTOPHER GOMEZ, AR/VR INDUSTRY EVANGELIST & ANGEL INVESTOR, SINGAPORE

VR and AR are alive and well in marketing, especially in activation campaigns and events. Storytelling is still disjointed and pretty incoherent. But I will say it’s not the big marketing names that are getting it right. It’s the small studios that are. If you heard about a project that’s done by a big ad company, it’s very likely outsourced. I am glad to be proven wrong, but being proven wrong once or thrice doesn’t make it the industry norm. So keep a look out for the small-tech VR companies, not the marketing VR companies. There aren’t many, but they are out there.

In the filmmaking space the real question about content is, “Are we asking the right questions? Will 360 film change storytelling?” No. How it’s told will be the same; how it’s experienced will be different.

There are many other issues that come with filmmaking and ‘transitioning’ film into VR film. Filmmaking is a linear medium. Because storytelling is linear, people may argue that there is so much going on around you in the real world so it’s not linear. But in a social, day-to-day setting, we process things sequentially. So stories are told in ways that help you understand.

Stories on film are passive narratives. Not experiential ones. When we go watch a movie, we are telling ourselves we are going to be an audience. Audiences are passive. In fact, audiences like and want to be passive. A cinematic experience is one that is social and relatively safe. There are those who are looking to get you to be a participant, and I believe that’s still too far a leap. It’s like cramming a video game into a movie.

I believe if there is going to be serious breakthrough in ‘VR film’ it will come from the animation field. The film language of animation today fits a 2D viewing experi- ence. Now, because animation is essentially made of bits, it is pliable. New storytelling elements or tools can be invented and can be introduced to the current film language that we know today, and can be further expanded on.

In the coming year, expect VR theme parks. Not VR arcades or gigantic VR arcades that you see popping up in parts of China, but actual theme parks where you can ride through a story.

DAVID SCHLEIFER, COO, PRIMESTREAM, MIAMI, THE NETHERLANDS AND INDIA

As is true in any media delivery ecosystem, content is king, but in the VR space there is also a focus on how to create compelling content that has implications throughout the delivery chain. Cameras are improving at the same time that storytellers are working out the details of marrying spatial sound with high-reso- lution images. Distributors are working to fine-tune methods of delivering more pixels in the direction you are looking without a need to download them for the sphere, cube or pyramid of images that the viewer is positioned in.

The challenge in the VR or 360 space is in how to tell a story – a guided narra- tive – in an environment that invites user redirection. Just like in real life, people take cues from their environment to make decisions about where to look, move, and how to interact. VFX will play a large role in guiding the user in overt ways, and in suggesting action to the user in more subtle, even subliminal ways. VFX will also continue to play the same role it has in 2D storytelling today in enhancing and creating worlds, scenarios and action that is difficult, costly, or impossible to do in real life.

“On the content side, we need to think about what that mainstream audience is going to love in VR. The answer is not hardcore video games. What will a typical Netflix viewer enjoy? We believe the answer is narrative content running in a real-time 3D game engine that delivers the right balance of immersion, presence and responsiveness.”
—John Scott Tynes, Executive Producer for Virtual Reality, Holospark

 

 

 

 

“There is more and more fantastic work being produced all the time. It really feels like we’re not far away from hav-ing not just one, but also many ‘killer apps’ for VR.”
—Karl Woolley, Head of VR, Framestore

JOHN SCOTT TYNES, EXECUTIVE PRODUCER FOR VIRTUAL REALITY, HOLOSPARK, SEATTLE

For VR to reach the mainstream, we need to see Rift/Vive quality experiences running on smartphones, 6DOF (six degrees of freedom) head tracking, tracked motion controllers, and mobile GPUs that can run Unreal/Unity VR at much better quality than phones do today. Samsung Gear and Google Cardboard have shown there is a real appetite in the market for VR content, but mainly what they’re getting is 360 videos while the really immersive stuff is behind a wall of high-end technology only used by hardcore gamers.

On the content side, we need to think about what that mainstream audience is going to love in VR. The answer is not hardcore video games. What will a typical Netflix viewer enjoy? We believe the answer is narrative content running in a real-time 3D game engine that delivers the right balance of immersion, presence and responsiveness.

KARL WOOLLEY, HEAD OF VR, FRAMESTORE, UNITED KINGDOM

Like any medium, new or old, the success of itself is usually best determined by the content it produces, so for me, the most important consideration for VR right now and for the future is content.

I’ve no doubt we will get there, perhaps this year or next, but once we do, not only will there be demand for quality, I also believe there will be a demand for varied price points and genres, much like film/ TV/games right now. There is more and more fantastic work being produced all the time. It really feels like we’re not far away from having not just one, but also many ‘killer apps’ for VR.

The technology side of the VR industry is both its biggest upside and also perhaps its most challenging side, too. VFX studios and the general community are used to changes and adaptations to their workflows, be it a new version of their favorite 3D software necessitating plugin rewrites, or intro- duction of cloud-based or GPU rendering solutions. The VFX industry, at least in my personal experience, has always been good at adapting to new technologies – because it has to. VR is similar right now.

“We believe there is a real opportunity to take a more holistic approach on VR and build out the ecosystem by combining the best of VR in a destination-based application that is more social and interactive, and most importantly, more cost-accessible to consumers.”
—Rob Lister, Chief Development Officer, IMAX

“This year I demand a high-budget Netflix VR series, at least five AAA game titles, and less spin-off film/TV/game experiences, and more things that are allowed to stand on their own. I want to see the first film spin-off of a VR experience!”
—Mike Woods, Director of Immersive Content, m ss ng p eces

ROB LISTER, CHIEF DEVELOPMENT OFFICER, IMAX, LOS ANGELES

Historically, VR has been slow to go mainstream for several reasons including costs, access to the technology and quality of content. While we expect to continue to see improvements on both the hardware and content side, which is always the case and certainly necessary in any burgeoning entertainment technology industry, at IMAX we believe there is a real opportunity to take a more holistic approach on VR and build out the ecosystem by combining the best of VR in a destination-based application that is more social and interactive, and most importantly, more cost-accessible to consumers.

If you look at the cinema industry, there are thousands of players and components – from camera manufacturers, studios and filmmakers to editors, exhibitors, etc. that all work together in an intricate ecosystem that has evolved over the last century. It will be some time before such a robust ecosystem is created in VR, but we believe we are in a unique position to leverage our brand, relationships and decades of experience to excite consumers about the potential of VR in these early days.

MIKE WOODS, DIRECTOR OF IMMERSIVE CONTENT, M SS NG P ECES, LOS ANGELES

We’ve had some groundbreaking experimentation over the past four years, but now is the time to connect to a wider public.

There’s an inherent danger in getting too insular in our focus on design/execution/ technical challenges. These are really exciting things for bright minds in our space, but we need to stop just communicating with each other and focus on some epic content that makes the wider public reach for their wallets.

Content-wise, I hope to see less experimentation and more investment bravery in pure content plays. I want to be greedy. This year I demand a high-budget Netflix VR series, at least five triple A game titles, and less spin-off film/TV/game experiences, and more things that are allowed to stand on their own. I want to see the first film spin-off of a VR experience!

“Whoever creates a headset with the portability and price of mobile VR and the quality and interactivity of desktop VR will see iPhone-level success. The VFX community can contribute to that vision by designing worlds optimized for mobile and bringing their expertise to VR and AR startups.”
—Cosmo Scharf, Co-founder VRLA and Mindshow

“Thus far, we have not seen the ‘virtual’ of virtual reality. All we have done is recreate the environment that we are familiar with. Everything looks like something that already exists. Nobody is taking advantage yet of the ‘virtual’ part. It doesn’t have to an experience that even has a floor. There are a lot of experiences that have not been tried yet.”

—Ryan Moore, CEO, Experience 360

COSMO SCHARF, CO-FOUNDER VRLA AND MINDSHOW, LOS ANGELES

The biggest impediment that makes widespread consumer adoption of VR challenging is the chasm between desktop and mobile VR in quality, immersion and interactivity. Headsets like the Vive and Rift are very high quality, but require expensive gaming PCs that sit in your living room. Devices like the Gear and Daydream are extremely portable, but lack great 6DOF (six degrees of freedom) controllers and positional tracking. Whoever creates a headset with the portability and price of  mobile VR and the quality and interactivity of desktop VR will see iPhone-level success. The VFX community can contribute to that vision by designing worlds optimized for mobile and bringing their expertise to VR and AR startups.

RYAN MOORE, CEO, EXPERIENCE 360, LOS ANGELES

Thus far, we have not seen the ‘virtual’ of virtual reality. All we have done is recreate the environment that we are familiar with. Everything looks like something that already exists. Nobody is taking advantage yet of the ‘virtual’ part. It doesn’t have to be an experience that even has a floor. There are a lot of experiences that have not been tried yet. We are only about two to three years into this and it will take some time for people to understand how to build for it. That is something that I would like to see spoken to. Thus, it’s more of a content issue than a tech issue.

One other big issue is imagination. There are a lot of people who don’t get why what they have done, and the way they have done things for the last 50 years, should be disrupted. There is an ongoing education about VR now to the powers that be and people with the money. There has to be an education of ‘why VR’ and new ways to reach your customers. That takes time. You don’t really know until you put the headset on for the first time.

“In 20 years I guarantee you will be spending a lot of time with sims that will be doing some sort of various activity. Like the Internet you won’t be allowed to go back to an earlier time. You will have your eyewear on and be holding up your ultra smartphone. You will have insight into every-thing.”
—Anthony Batt, Co-founder/Executive VP, Wevr

“VR will go far, but I think AR and MR will happen a lot sooner than VR and may even trump VR at least in the next five years. VR is a trickier proposition since you have to get consumers to acquire hardware. Of course, the devices will get lighter and portable. Augmented reality can get the masses via phone or tablet or TV screen.”
—Øystein Larsen, VP Virtual, The Future

ANTHONY BATT, CO-FOUNDER AND EXECUTIVE VP, WEVR, VENICE, CALIFORNIA

Generally, 99% of all people have not experienced VR yet, including the press. So everyone is experiencing it from afar. If one were immersed in it for 40 months, then one would have a substantial opinion on it. It’s like the early days of the Internet when it took six hours to download something. People didn’t think it was going to happen. Now you could not imagine running any part of your life without the Internet.

In 20 years I guarantee you will be spending a lot of time with simulations that will be doing some sort of various activity. Like the Internet you won’t be allowed to go back to an earlier time. You will have your eyewear on and be holding up your ultra smartphone. You will have insight into everything. It’s a wedge-based technology and it will affect all things. The Internet was a wedge-based technology. We are moving towards augmented simula- tions in 3D.

ØYSTEIN LARSEN, VP VIRTUAL, THE FUTURE GROUP, OSLO, NORWAY

Currently, with boundaries being pushed hardware-wise with companies like Varjo, as well as further development of light- field technologies, opportunities extend for content creation. With the breadth of companies already doing extensive R&D in the field of VR, the road will be paved well when the hardware catches up. A big part of the VFX community has already embraced VR and has the skills necessary to create amazing experiences in this space.

I think once a lot of the main issues with VR for most people are ironed out [wearing bulky hardware, motion sickness, eye strain, resolution issues etc.] the opportunities should be amazing. Visiting museums, live venues, meetings, socializing, playing games, e-shopping, e-learning, all from the comfort of your home.

VR will go far, but I think AR and MR will happen a lot sooner than VR and may even trump VR at least in the next five years. VR is a trickier proposition since you have to get consumers to acquire hardware.

“The assets are pretty stan-dard. It’s the integration of the assets into a 360 environment that is a challenge where you need more specific skill sets.” —Will Maurer, VP of VR and Animation, Legend 3D

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Content creators need to understand the medium: To avoid negative side effects, creators need to be aware of – and abide by – the emerging fundamentals of making VR.”

—Aidan Sarsfield, Head of Production Technology, Animal Logic

WILL MAURER, VP OF VR AND ANIMATION, LEGEND 3D, LOS ANGELES

The assets are pretty standard. It’s the integration of the assets into a 360 environment that is a challenge where you need more specific skill sets. Finding artists in the 360 space is a challenge. Our competitive advantage is that we have been in it for a long time.

Content is always king, no matter what the medium. I think it’s important for writers to understand the power and limitations of immersive/interactive 360 storytelling. And it’s equally important for producers to understand budget and execution. I see all too often ambitious projects being squeezed on an unrealistic  budget, and in the end, you ultimately get what you pay for. The same can be said for the opposite as well. There are some lofty budgets being spent on ideas and treatments that aren’t fully fleshed out ahead of production.

A big challenge for VR at the moment is the lack of quality content. I harken back to the early days of 3D, when a lot of bad content flooded the market and word spread quickly that ‘3D makes you sick’, or gives you a headache, or leaves you ‘cross-eyed’. I still talk to people who say they will not see a 3D movie because of these reasons, some of which still have never even attempted to view a 3D movie because of the negative feedback.

AIDAN SARSFIELD, HEAD OF PRODUCTION TECHNOLOGY, ANIMAL LOGIC, AUSTRALIA, LOS ANGELES

Anyone that’s involved with VR would have to concede that, currently, there is an incredibly broad spectrum of content and hardware that makes up the media’s definition of VR. Because of that, I think we’re pretty close to the peak of the hype cycle. Personally, I’m never going to tell anyone that anything other than “six degrees of freedom” is VR, but sadly the media is not so specific. Audiences are having their expectations inflated, and often a first experience can leave the viewer underwhelmed. At best it can be a novelty and at worst it can turn them off to the medium. Based on that, I would suggest that there’s a few important considerations for the immediate future.

Educating audiences: Mono panoramas are not VR, stereo panoramas are not VR, premium mobile is great, but HMD is best. Accept no substitutes – or prepare yourself to feel queasy.

Content creators need to understand the medium: To avoid negative side effects, creators need to be aware of – and abide by – the emerging fundamentals of making quality VR.

“The most important thing for the industry is to increase the quality and amount of content no matter what the VR usage – education, training, entertainment, etc.”
—Tom Sanocki, CEO, Limitless Ltd.

TOM SANOCKI, CEO, LIMITLESS LTD., LOS ANGELES

This year, next year and, honestly, every year, what matters most is content. Cheaper and better VR hardware is important, but consumers won’t buy VR hardware if they don’t have amazing content for it. Often, one or two killer apps can drive hardware sales.

The most important thing for the industry is to increase the quality and amount of content no matter what the VR usage – education, training, entertainment, etc. Obstacles to VR content creation are largely two-fold: technology and time. If we can build content faster and cheaper, then we, the VR industry, could try out more ideas.

We have three big challenges in VR.

One: Uneven investment. VR investment leveled off this year due to 2016 consumer headset sales not meeting VC’s expectations. By itself this isn’t a bad problem. There was a lot of investment last year, but it continues to be unevenly distributed.

Two: Uneven talent distribution. VR content is overwhelmingly driven by game developers, and so most VR content is games. VR needs to go beyond games to reach a wider audience.

Three: Lack of risk-taking. Because VR content is so hard and expensive to build, it is too tempting to lean on what is safe and known. This is a big limitation for VR.

“From our viewpoint, there are huge opportunities in the B2B marketing and sales arena. We’re addressing this opportunity with a new product that brings VR to sales teams looking for new, cost-effective and more immersive methods for communicating complex ideas to prospects and clients.” —Peter Schlueer, Co-founder/President, WorldViz

“[VR] will not only add value to current media content, but it will create unique categories of experiences. New ways to sell products, new ways to provide news, new ways to engage the audience with a story and move them to feel things they have never felt before.”
—Miguel Angel Doncel,
CEO, SGO

PETER SCHLUEER, CO-FOUNDER AND PRESIDENT, WORLDVIZ, SANTA BARBARA

From our viewpoint, there are huge opportunities in the B2B marketing and sales arena. We’re addressing this opportunity with a new product that brings VR to sales teams looking for new, cost-effective and more immersive methods for communicating complex

ideas to prospects and clients. It operates much like a ‘GoToMeeting’ for VR and takes advantage of VR’s unique ability to make someone feel ‘present’ in a virtual location, drastically diminishing the need for sales teams to travel to a physical location to present a product idea or a physical mockup. We see this offering as being immensely useful across a range of industries, including the entertainment space.

MIGUEL ANGEL DONCEL, CEO, SGO, MADRID, SPAIN

VR opens the door to a whole new realm of communication with endless possibili- ties. Making experiences more immersive completely changes the audience’s percep- tion and experience of content. VR to me, is not just a new form of media, it’s a new language, a new way to tell stories, arming storytellers with an amazing and powerful tool to experiment and play with.

In my opinion, it will not only add value to current media content, but it will create unique categories of experiences. New ways to sell products, new ways to provide news, new ways to engage the audience with a story and move them to feel things they have never felt before.

Over the next years we all will learn this new language, where and how to apply it, and artists will find amazing ways to engage us as they always do.


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