Oculus Connect: 'The Martian' Is the Latest Fox Movie to Get the Virtual Reality Treatment

The Martian Still - H 2015
Courtesy of Toronto International Film Festival

The Martian Still - H 2015

Robert Stromberg, the Maleficent director and two-time Oscar-winning production designer, talked of working on a 15-minute VR experience for Fox's upcoming The Martian on Thursday during a panel at the Oculus Connect 2 developers conference in Hollywood, saying, "I don't think we have truly felt the emotion [of a performance]. I see a time soon where you can direct actors and [convey] the emotions we want."

Stromberg, who has his own production entity, The VR Company, believes the intimate and immersive feel of being in 360-degree VR environment with an actor can bring something new to an actor's performance. 

Stromberg's Martian will be Fox's second movie-based VR experience. The first was based on Fox Searchlight's Wild, and more are on the way. "We are looking at all our big tentpole IP and looking at what [VR] will bring to old or new stories. We are also exploring new visions ... A new medium gives opportunities to new artists, and we are cultivating that," said 20th Century Fox futurist Ted Schilowitz.

"We don't see virtual reality as a marketing tool — we see it as a new way to visualize entertainment," he added. "We are taking risks."

Calling this "the most exciting time to be alive as a storyteller," Chris Milk, founder of VR studio VRSE, said "We'll try anything once. We are working on fiction, a documentary. ... I don't thing there's one specific thing [that works for VR]."

"It has a range, and it's growing," agreed Felix Lajeunesse, whose Felix & Paul Studios produced Fox's Wild experience. "We're about creating a sense of intimacy with the viewer."

Added Ikrima Elhassan of VR production company Kite & Lighting: "Filmmakers will establish the conventions, and that will come to the collective consciousness of the audience, and we can built on that."

The tools for live-action VR production are also developing. For instance, speaker Arthur van Hoff, co-founder and CTO of VR startup Jaunt VR, was at Connect with a prototype of a company-built VR camera. "With it, we hope we can scale up high-end production significantly," he said.

Speaking on virtual production technique, Stromberg noted that "when we were making Avatar, we were making 360-degree environments, and it had to feel right. There are ways to make compositions in 360, so you can compose and production design."

"It's so early," he added. "What we are seeing is the power of what VR could be."

Saschka Unseld, creative director at Oculus Story Studio and a Pixar alum, moderated the discussion.