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Back in early fall 2014, I was shown my first virtual reality experience on a Samsung Gear VR developer kit. I was so overwhelmed and excited by the possibilities of what I just seen that I basically dropped everything I was doing in the film business (pretty much on the spot) and launched UNLTD VR, an immersive content and technology company. As a 20+ year film and TV content producer and distributor, my goal was simple: create ground-breaking cinematic immersive content that would compete with anything a Hollywood blockbuster has to offer. What I’ve learned along the way is that creating high-end virtual reality presents several nuanced challenges.
Hardware and software limitations
When we first began creating VR experiences in late 2014, we barely knew how to stitch 360 images together, or how to create perfect stereo in VR. We were working with early GoPro mono 360 camera rigs, or massive RedCam nodal stereo rigs. We were improvising on the go, making it up and innovating as we were shooting. Our background in developing 3D cameras and shooting techniques for the film industry certainly helped as we adapted existing technology to our needs.
On set, we were learning an entirely new way to design, block and shoot a scene in VR. In those first days, we were hiding the crew, equipment and lighting ‘in the stitch”, and then shooting a clean plate after to complete the shot. We had to learn new ways to direct actors and action to accommodate the limitations of multi-camera 360 rigs and the no-go parallax zones between lenses that are still a problem today.
In post, we were doing our best with off-the-shelf stitching software that we quickly learned was not up to the technical spec that we required for high-end VR. We quickly realized that we had to move on to higher-end post platforms such as Nuke and After Effects, though we had to adapt those to our need as well.
As our company grew and we began doing more complex brand projects for clients, we suddenly found ourselves with an on-staff team of very talented FX artists. We also built a medium-scale render farm to handle the massive data required for the processing of high-end 360 images and effects. When we started UNLTD we never imagined we’d be running a VFX Studio, but we had no choice – there was simply no other way to get the job done at the level we wanted to compete at in the VR space.
Creative storytelling challenges
Storytelling in virtual reality is different from any other platform, which is what I love about it. Stories don’t have to be linear and viewpoints can change seamlessly. The storytelling style used differs depending on the type of VR experience and the intended audience. This is especially clear in branded content versus original film content.
For the past 12 months, we have been working on “Trinity,” an interactive VR series we will be releasing the pilot for later this fall. “Trinity” is a live-action sci-fi thriller […]