VR in the Cannes spotlight
The Cannes Film Festival will be showcasing more than 30 Virtual Reality (VR) films and displaying the relevant tech in its NEXT pavilion, which it describes as an ‘innovators' hub.
Despite creating a considerable media buzz at events like recent NAB equipment show in Las Vegas, VR is in a state of flux. Involving the techniques of both interactive entertainment - video games, where the technology seems to find the most obvious natural fit – and conventional filmmaking, there’s much discussion about suitable content, how that material is to be produced and the sort of audiences who will enjoy it.
The Oculus Rift headset represents the conjunction between games and movies, and is at the centre of the current upsurge of interest in VR. Through their Story Studio offshoot, headed by Pixar emigre Saschka Unseld, the company will discuss its work in Cannes. The short film Technolust, designed for exhibition on the Rift, is part of the exhibition programme, and Oculus has so far preferred to show the user a computer-generated view of the virtual world.
A second option is to record a complete sphere of video to be selectively delivered to the user depending on the viewing angle. This discipline has far more in common with conventional filmmaking. The Israeli delegation to Cannes, for instance, is promoting a number of 360-originated productions shot with novel cameras such as Samsung's Gear 360 and the Vuze camera developed by Israel-native HumanEyes.
This approach makes it possible to place the viewer in a live-action, real-world scenario, but interactivity is less straightforward than with the flexibility of on-demand rendering as offered by a computer-animated reality.
Five live-action fiction films are to be presented, including Go Ugly Early, Last Fiv5 Minutes, Kafka 360, Crystal as Clear and Summertime, alongside animation and documentary productions.
With such huge differences in approach commonplace, the productions involved in both the VR Days programme and other VR-related exhibitions at the festival are likely to offer a lot of variety.
The mainstream is represented by the work of Eric Darnell, director of Madagascar and chief creative officer of Baobab Studios, a start-up dedicated to VR. Darnell's directorial effort Invasion! is a computer-animated short in a style referencing the Pixar greats, in which the viewer is cast as one of two white rabbits who must oppose an alien invasion.
Considerable buzz also attends the upcoming VR production based on the Indian epic Baahubali: The Beginning, which last year became India's most profitable indigenous feature film. Director SS Rajamouli, alongside producer Shobu Yarlagadda and Raja Koduri of AMD's Radeon Technology Group (a manufacturer of computer graphics hardware) are scheduled to give a talk on 16 May about the planned Baahubali VR experience.
Alongside content exhibition, discussion of potential approaches to the financial support of VR content are scheduled on Animation Day – 18 May. The panel “VR: What's the financial model?” is scheduled for 10am with Ana Serrano, director of the Canadian Film Centre's X Media Lab, and Michel Reilhac, who has been described as an interactive story architect and recently served as chairman of the World VR Forum in Switzerland.
There's much talk of exhibition equipment, too, which is a key market issue for a medium requiring one moderately-expensive headset per viewer. Swedish game developer Starbreeze is covering several bases at once with its production Cockatoo Spritz, directed by Stephane Barbato, to be shown at the festival on Wednesday 11 May, as well as the StarVR headset.
StarVR itself stands to increase the effectiveness of VR presentation, offering higher overall resolution and a wider field of view for a more convincing experience than has been possible previously. It remains to be seen whether this sort of vertical integration will become a lasting part of the VR landscape.
The full schedule of productions to be shown at Cannes demonstrates that VR is emerging from a phase of discussion and experimentation to production, bringing the technique a step closer to the mainstream.
All photos from Getty Images. VR football photo courtesy of Bruce Feldman, Fox Sports; first VR headset pic via Bloomberg/Getty Images; second VR pic via Mark Ralston/Getty Images. Main page image: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg