Jaunt CEO Says Cinematic Virtual Reality "Promising" for Hollywood But Faces Challenges

'Insurgent' and 'The Book of Life' were among the VR experiences demonstrated over the weekend at VRLA, a virtual reality expo in Los Angeles.
Andrew Cooper
"Insurgent"

There’s a sizable opportunity for Hollywood to create “cinematic” virtual reality, and as the headsets get lighter and more comfortable, longform VR could be the direction of industry, predicted Jens Christensen, CEO of VR technology startup Jaunt, during his keynote Sunday at the VRLA Spring Expo.

“This is amazingly promising, but there are challenges,” he said of the emerging VR market, which attracted more than 1,000 to the industry gathering, which was held at the JW Marriott in downtown Los Angeles. Echoing a concern also raised in the early days of digital stereoscopic 3D, he warned, “a bad quality VR experience is really bad; it can literally make you sick. We have to keep the quality very high so that when people experience VR for the first time they have a good experience.”

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Christensen also urged the community to explore how to tell stories in a 360-degree VR environment, including how to focus someone’s attention with visual cues, move the camera (these cameras are already being mounted on drones) and handle areas such as production design and lighting. He added that while interactivity is crucial for gaming, he finds that cinematic experiences should as “as unobtrusive as possible.” He also believes the industry needs to create a social component for the experiences.

“The idea of being in a movie is amazing,” he said, citing a wide range of additional, potential applications including education, news, sports and advertising. “Travel is huge. We can put you in the Himalayas or in Paris. We can put you in the hotel room you are thinking about or by the pool.”

For now, a lot of Hollywood’s experimentation in VR surrounding marketing and promotion of motion pictures, said Chuck Peil, head of business development at Reel FX, the company that recently produced the animation for Fox’s The Book of Life and is an exhibitor at VRLA. Reel FX has already started a VR unit, whose work has included promotional VR content for The Book of Life and Lionsgate’s Insurgent, both for Samsung's Gear VR headset. He related that the studios plan to use these for marketing at events and that Reel FX is already working on additional VR experiences that will debut this summer at Comic-Con.

The Insurgent content includes a film clip plus an original experience through which the viewer is the film's protagonist, Tris.

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The Book of Life content allows the viewer to see a clip from the film. Book’s director, Jorge Gutierrez, was involved and reviewed and approved the content; Peil believes the “holy grail” is to have the director and filmmakers involved at the earliest stages with creative input.

Exhibiting with Jaunt was Guillermo del Toro’s Mirada, which created a virtual tour of a Google Store using Jaunt cameras to film live-action and incorporating Mirada-created CG. This was demoed using Google Cardboard.

Noting that VR is still in a very early stage, attendee Marty Shindler, principal of consulting firm The Shindler Perspective, said: “There a frenzy going on, the same as the frenzy that occurred [in the early days] of 3D and CGI."

But pointing out that most of the announced VR headsets such as Oculus Rift and Sony’s Morpheus are not yet available to consumers, Shindler added, “That’s the opposite of what happened with 3D. … where there wasn’t enough content for [3DTVS]. Here, the content has had a jump on the hardware because [developer kits are available].”

Email: Carolyn.Giardina@THR.com
Twitter: @CGinLA

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