Before Christmas the news of the first feature film for the Oculus Rift was making its rounds on virtual reality news feeds, DreamWorks campaigned with a VR demo and Christopher Nolan made his trailer for Interstellar an Oculus Rift exclusive. While this was met with overwhelming positivity, I was curious yet sceptical of using virtual environments with traditional filmmaking techniques.
My main concerns were:
1. The storyteller does not control the camera, the audience does. As such, the traditional frame breaks down. The story is not told through the 2D composition of the camera but through the 3D positioning of spatial qualities. The reading of these qualities depends entirely on the audience.
2. The shot is continuous. Such a sensory immersive device as the Oculus Rift marries spatiality with the body. As such, sudden cuts and edits, the essence of filmmaking, can make users feel jarred and disoriented in virtual landscapes.
Recently I've discovered that I was not the only one to have these concerns. In fact, Toni Dove and Michael Mackenzie said the same thing in 1993. When creating the interactive virtual environment "Archaeology of a Mother Tongue" they "required entirely different ways of editing narrative in space than the cinema". In the words of Margaret Morse:
"The landscape itself was continuous, without cuts or edits. It was the gaze of the visitor with a head-mounted display, scanning the landscape that selected what would be seen on the monitors in the helmet and projected on a screen for a larger public. Duration, or the pace of the narration of the story, was individual and variable, depending as it did on the curiosity of the visitor and his or her skill in releasing narration from objects in each of four different worlds."
If Hollywood wants to tackle virtual reality as a medium to tell stories it must go beyond traditional film and look at games, theatre and architecture, who's knowledge is based on spatiality and spatial storytelling.
Our entertainment is being shaped by technologies and, despite the apparent cynicism, it is these concerns that constantly pike my interests. I am hopeful to join an industry that can collaborate in many ways to push forward how people connect over ever evolving storytelling mediums.