VR Film and Theatre - Dr Wei Lo Chang


If you look at any forward-looking film festival, you'll find one about virtual reality. Even in the antiquated world of Cannes, where cinema is so sacred that critics have reacted violently to made-for-tv movies, VR has crept in. Last year's festival saw the premiere of "Carne Y Arena," the refugee VR experience of "Avengers" Oscar-winning director Alejandro Inarritu. Hollywood is clearly taking the technology seriously, but what if they're reacting to the wrong VR experience?

Anyone who has experienced VR will tell you that it's not particularly similar to movies." "Think about it," says Ian Garrett, a designer and producer of the environmental drama Transmission, which is currently on tour. If you're a filmmaker and you move from a 2D cinema to a 360 or VR shoot, then you've moved away from this limited frame and you have complete control over the audience's first view to an open environment where nothing is hidden and you have no control over what your audience is looking at."

In VR, on the other hand, the viewer controls the picture; In a sense, the audience is the director. Many people think this lack of a directing role is what makes VR a thing of the past, but as Garrett points out, there is already one medium in which creators relinquish control over the audience: theater. "As theater producers, we put ourselves in the audience's position in the chair or in the environment, "Garrett says. So in that sense, technology lends itself to this kind of immersive recording of live experiences without requiring a big leap or change in the way we think as theater producers." For example, one of the most immediate and practical uses of the technology is to allow remote viewers to experience a show virtually without actually being in the theater or buying expensive tickets.

"The parallels between theater and VR become more apparent when you start to think about immersive theater, where the audience is at the center of dramatic action, rather than behind a fourth wall." "With both, you have an audience that doesn't want to remain passive," notes Megan Reilly, lighting designer at Transmission. "They want to be an active participant in a story and have a degree of initiative. "They give viewers the opportunity to explore a storytelling environment."

Of course, VR has one seemingly insurmountable stumbling block in this early stage of the technology: headsets. One of the greatest joys of theater is to experience it with an audience, and VR headsets turn theater into a solitary experience. There is, however, an exciting intermediate solution: augmented reality.

"A lot of AUGMENTED reality relies on the participant being in a specific location to experience it, "Reilly explained. Think of Pokemon Go and Ingress." "Immersive theatre requires the same kind of active engagement and location," she says. Augmented reality means that layers of narrative can be embedded in a particular place and only accessible when the viewer is physically in that place."

You can see this augmented reality drama in action in Reilly and Garrett's upcoming Transmission project -- described as "an immersive theatrical piece about two smart sisters chosen to join a mission to satisfy our celestial neighbors." At this year's Fringe, "we're using the idea of 'tech ghosts,' using VR and AR recordings, "Garrett explains," but asking the audience to synchronize them with the live experience."

For example, one scene takes the viewer to Arthur's throne. "Your goal is to go to a predetermined location and then watch a panoramic video on your device that is consistent with the actual scene, "Garrett explains. So you're looking at the device as a window into the past. It informs your understanding of space by showing you the 'ghosts' of previous events."

Rather than VR's fanciful vision that we put on a helmet and never interact with real life, Garrett believes the opposite is true and that the technology could help reduce our screen time. Pokemon Go has made many people Go outside! They may have been looking for Pikachu, but they're also starting to see a piece of their city. It's about introducing people to a novel, real space and enhancing it with some kind of digital magic."

Garrett sounds almost metaphysical: "Finally, I came back to an idea someone told me about understanding VR. VR is not necessarily a technology, but a state of implementation."