Warner Bros. Exec Chris DeFaria Says Virtual Reality Has "a Ways to Go"

Speakers including Chris DeFaria and execs from ICM and Fox showed cautious optimism during a panel at Digital Hollywood.
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Chris DeFaria

Pointing out that “that nobody knows where the money is going better than an agency,” Warner Bros. president of animation and technical innovation Chris DeFaria said that if an agency is “not deeply into [virtual and augmented reality], that indicates that there's a ways to go.”

His remarks came during a panel discussion on the state of virtual and augmented reality from the Hollywood perspective, which helped to kick off the Digital Hollywood conference Tuesday evening at the Skirball Center in Los Angeles.

Speaking about VR and AR during the session, Paul Hook, partner and head of motion picture production at ICM, admitted “we are trying to figure it out.…Our clients still want their day jobs — but they want to be a part of it.”

He cited several cinematographers who are already experimenting with VR, among them Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki, who just finished a VR short with his Revenant director Alejandro G. Inarritu and Legendary; and Janusz Kaminski, DP for VR-enthusiastic Steven Spielberg’s upcoming Ready Player One.

“There’s a lot of great talent that should be involved,” Hook said.

But DeFaria warned that there "isn't a discernible revenue source [for VR content]. We encourage R&D, but we have to find a return."

Though citing Fox's The Martian VR Experience, Brendan Handler, senior vp, new media at Twentieth Century Fox, said while VR is in a "nascent" stage, "we wanted to make an early run at creating premium content.

"A few titles have now hit the million-dollar mark," he reported. "As PlayStation VR launches (it was released last week), I think we'll start getting to a reasonable installed base for [the premium VR headsets]."

As the topic turned to uses of the technology, Jim Mainard, executive vp, digital strategy and new business development at DreamWorks Animation, said “the biggest thing for me is cracking the social element, so people feel comfortable [in the virtual world].” VR headset makers such as Oculus have already demonstrated work toward bringing social interaction — including virtual calls — to VR device use.

Asked for thoughts about Imax’s plans to put VR in movie theaters, production exec Bill Fay (The Dark Knight) admitted it’s “hard to imagine there won’t be a VR/AR component at theaters.”

Handler took the concept a step further, suggesting that VR could arrive at Internet cafes or the like. “We are starting to see different concepts emerging in location-based [entertainment].… We see it as an important force to get people exposed to the higher-end VR experiences.”

Steve Schklair, founding principal of 3ality and now VR firm 3mersiv, moderated the discussion.