After 30 years of false starts, near misses and broken promises, virtual reality has become a reality. Thanks to smartphone technology, blazing curiosity, brilliant ingenuity and a billion or so bucks from Facebook, virtual reality has suddenly emerged among the fastest growing techno-industries worldwide. This has given rise to a plethora of terribly exciting new products and concepts. Possibly no area of technology has more momentum. Certainly no field of entertainment holds more promise.
After a century long reign as mankind’s favored medium, motion pictures are destined to become a quaint whistle stop on humanity’s insatiable, inevitable drive toward more immersive media. Why? Human beings prefer a heightened sense of involvement in their media. Just as photos replaced paintings, movies replaced photos and TV replaced radio; immersion (VR movies) will inevitably replace motion pictures as the chosen medium for the new millennium. Count on it.
Heresy, you say? Wait until you see what we have seen, been where we have been or even time traveled. Soon your brain’s hippocampus will process memories from events never witnessed, or trips never made to places that may or may not have existed. Heady stuff, huh?
If all this sounds too good to be true, it may well be. With each successive new medium come ever-increasing challenges, requiring new techniques and new vocabularies. The technical challenge of visual immersion by means of an apparatus to display convincing imagery has been met. Now, the gap between virtuality and realism, deemed the ‘uncanny valley,’ will only grow exponentially closer. A huge part of that closure has little to do with technology, yet what remains is what matters most. Simply put, technology takes you there. Humanity makes you care, in the form of emotional immersion.
The foremost challenge in any new medium is the technological frontier. But as mediums mature, so do audience tastes. At the onset of painting and then photography, it was enough for viewers to simply to see an image. Early motion pictures audiences were enraptured at the mere sight of a galloping steed or a steaming locomotive. However, once the novelty of motion became commonplace, audiences clamored to observe people and learn their stories, creating a demand for “empathic immersion.”
Here’s where things get challenging and complicated. Once the novelty of presence in immersion becomes commonplace: a second, equally challenging frontier awaits the pioneers in this new medium. Little we have learned in the past millennium of staging plays or blocking shots remains relevant with liberated audiences. Now viewers may stand alongside actors in the midst of a scene and are capable of looking around, walking about freely or even interacting with performers. Directing an immersion means, just as in life, there are no scenes, only moments, with no cuts, no stepping on or off screen, no frame lines, camera angles, wide shots, medium or close ups, etc. For the first time, esthetic distances between actors and viewers can make or break a moment. Often emotional factors are amplified in immersion, requiring savvy directors to “tone down” intimacy, action, and especially violence. Meanwhile, a viewer’s sense of speed, fear, and isolation are heightened. Musical soundtracks may be perceived as inappropriate to future audiences since, in life, there are no soundtracks. After all, an immersion is not a play, scene or movie being watched. On the contrary, immersion is perceived as an intimate moment experienced privately by the viewer. On-screen intimacy takes on a new meaning when a thousand years of traditional proscenium approaches to the presentation of drama are instantly vaporized by this utterly unforgiving new technology.
According to Randall Rudd, founder of Immersion Industries International, “When we launched into production last year, our team at Triple-i recognized the enormous potential of empathic immersion for telling a remarkable story of humanity.” Determined to dig deeply into the emotional psyche utilizing this new medium, Rudd quickly learned that effective tools and techniques for the presentation of drama in an unchartered medium must be invented, often the hard way.
“Today, our industry is entirely focused on technology and single viewer presentation. We see things differently. We are looking further ahead,” says Rudd. Along with quantum leaps in immersive technologies, Triple-i recognizes the ultimate demand for professional level, top-shelf content. Since March of 2014, Triple-i has been working to bring both time travel and authentic emotional immersion together in an entirely unique experience. Rudd says, “Even with an international crew of renowned experts with decades of multi-discipline experience, we have learned that achieving real emotional immersion in this brand new medium is a humbling, yet achievable experience.”
Rudd predicts that moving forward, closing the gap between technology and human emotions will continue to be this new medium’s greatest challenge.