Siggraph: Filmmakers Delve Into "Wild West" of Virtual Reality Content Production

Speakers from Oculus Story Studio, Digital Domain and IM360 describe challenges and lessons learned.
Courtesy of Story Studio
Oculus Story Studio's virtual reality short 'Henry'

Virtual reality stakeholders urged the production community to start developing content for emerging VR systems Sunday during CG conference Siggraph, which is being held at the Los Angeles Convention Center.

“We have a chicken and egg situation. We think amazing content needs to be made, but we have to inspire you to start to do this,” asserted Oculus Story Studio co-founder and Pixar alum Maxwell Planck.

Oculus Story Studio is the content-creation arm of Oculus, the maker of virtual reality headset Rift (scheduled for release in early 2016). Oculus, which was acquired by Facebook for $2 billion in 2014, along with additional VR headset makers including Samsung, (maker of Samsung VR Gear) are working to introduce virtual reality as a new industry.

But speakers warned that with the expanded 360-degree stereoscopic creative palette comes new hardware and software. That means technical challenges in areas including managing large volumes of data, tracking and rendering — while mistakes can mean “vomit town.” These are areas that speakers are working to overcome.

Hanzhi Tang of VFX house Digital Domain asserted that virtual reality will require digital humans, but that means the same challenge faced by those creating CG characters for film: staying out of the "uncanny valley," a perceptual zone in which a CG human appears creepy. He showed Digital Domain’s work toward making CG humans believable, including the virtual Tupac that it created for Coachella 2014 and a CG version of performer Teresa Teng that appeared in a VR experience from IM360, a VR joint venture of Immersive Media and Digital Domain.

“The next step is to let the character react [to the viewer] in the VR experience,” said Tang. “This is the crossroads between the film and games worlds.”

"Ultimately, we all want a 'choose your own type of adventure,'" added Digital Domain's Lou Pecora. “That’s the exciting thing that I can’t wait for.”

Calling VR production the "Wild West," Pecora and additional speakers from Digital Domain and IM360 talked about VR gear that's been developed by IM360, which includes a 360-degree 3D camera and tools that allow the director to view what is being photographed in real time.

Since Siggraph attracts many software and technology developers, Planck took the opportunity to provide his wish list for future VR production tools and capabilities. This included previsualization tools, review tools, and methods to animation, set dress and light in a VR environment.

Oculus Story Studio recently premiered its second VR experience, an animated short titled Henry.