Does it really need to be in VR?

Let’s talk content.

Purveyors of fine nausea and pointlessness.

I was at a VR showcase/conference yesterday where a wide sampling of content (mostly by filmmakers) was on display. I was amazed by how many people didn’t get the memo, or the memo, or the memo.

Basic VR rules like don’t use jump cuts; don’t accelerate/decelerate the camera in twirling aerobatic loopty-loops; and for the love of lunch don’t use shaky handheld footage — suddenly didn’t seem all that basic. They seemed like exotic nuggets of zen wisdom shared through tantric sand riddles, that everyone ignores. But on these issues of technique, I am confident that Darwin’s law will eventually resolve this folly.

Let’s talk content: I know we are in the early days, but in touring the exhibition of VR (mostly) movies I found myself screaming in my head over and over again — why is this in VR? Firstly there was everything filmed with cameras. Fail. There was some real-time rendered content that fared better, but often this is what I saw:

You are in a 360º spherical environment. There is some title or text somewhere. Look, or you’ll miss it! Maybe it’s fixed in the middle of your view no matter where you look. Fine whatever. Then the real show starts. Not much is going on, except something interesting over your left shoulder. You turn your head to see it. It fades. Now there’s something of interest over to the right. Now it’s up above. Now look down below. I’m sorry but if you’re anything like me, you are lazy. Why do I need to be constantly turning my head around to see this show? If all the action always fits into a single frame-of-view, why can’t it all happen in the same direction so I can relax and watch in peace? Answer: Because in that case it wouldn’t have to be shown in VR, now would it.

If your content is flailing about for a justification to exist in VR, it’s not supposed to be in VR. Sorry.

Put it on a screen where it belongs. Stop polluting the nascent medium with your conventionally edited documentaries and your whiplash-inducing animations. You are hurting our vestibula. There are many advantages to screen-based media. A century’s worth of grammar to convey meaning through montage and mise-en-scène. Control over the viewer’s POV, directing their attention and focus details of your choosing. A plethora of venues to distribute and showcase the work.

VR is a new format that requires a new approach to content design. For thoughts on what that new approach will be please read: Movies in VR: Why they’ll never work, and what will instead, but for now suffice to say that when we have good VR content, true VR content, it will be expressed in VR because it simply cannot be expressed on a screen. It will make no sense on a screen.

A page of King Lear can be shown on a reel of film, but a scene from Ran cannot be conveyed in a book. Format/content information density is a one-way continuum.

Consider that when your are developing your next VR project.

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