By Ola Björling, Global Director of VR, MediaMonks
And no, that's not a mystical statement but it's a mantra all the same. It's the one that's buzzing and bubbling up from the trenches of production. In the current gold rush of articles and artists trying to lay claim to the ultimate and ultimately pointless definition of Virtual Reality (VR) as a medium, the single angle that stands out is how it unifies and incorporates so much of what has come before. From film focused production methods, to interactive thinking and game development engines, it's like a medley of production hits. And in doing so creates something completely and utterly new. Artistic alchemy that creates a fundamental shift, from suspending our disbelief as we stare intently at rectangles of all shapes and sizes, to inhabiting a place and time and having to remind ourselves that it's not really real.
It's boundary breaking as its shape shifts across interpretations, with at its very core the goal to make you experience something. Which even in its most simplistic form, requires creatives and producers to balance between story and technology in ways not seen before. Capturing and curating in unison in the knowledge that we cannot control every take and take-away. This is about facilitating experience and engagement. Making something feel real, instead of for the reel.
It's a high-wire act of artistry and, to mix our metaphors, more reliant than any other medium on its weakest link. If any of the sensorial tricks we play falls down, so does the illusion we're building. Turning our touted experience into one that gets us stuck in the Virtual while never experiencing the Reality we desperately need to succeed. What gets us across this uncanny valley of failure is craft, pure and simple. This isn't just about making sure the experience is more than the sum of its parts, but making each part in and of itself perfectly produced. Our ability to suspend disbelief is suspended on top of the world-building we do across sight and sound, and under-delivering on either is the same as not delivering on the whole.
Which brings us back to the beginning, VR is everything. And as we slowly leave the me-too age of VR fun and functionality, the number of elements that needs to be done well to make even the most elemental of VR experience a success has grown exponentially. For example, mention sound to someone in the VR space, and be prepared to walk away two hours later with a head full of psychoacoustics jargon and a clear understanding that it easily accounts for 50% of the experience. And yes, this evolves constantly as we collectively explore and experiment, each project cycling through an ever growing list of must-do's and please-don'ts. All with the goal of delivering on the very purpose of VR: presence and immersion. And let's not forget we're on a deadline here, as the consumer market will quickly go from easy awe to expecting always awesome as content starts to become readily available.
In general great work gets built on the shoulders of giants, but in this case we shouldn't be afraid to give the cold shoulder to some long held beliefs. Take live-action VR, on rails experiences that in the wrong hands become head-spinningly (literally...) terrible tales. Hammering square plugs into round holes by ignoring that this just feels like the same medium, but clearly isn't. All elements of film need to be thought of as VR-first, from script to grade and edit to acting. This isn't your annual anthem or Super Bowl spot. Although don't be surprised if they too happen in VR in the not too distant future.
Which brings us to a recurring theme in VR, across film, digital, post production and games: so many of us recognise enough of the medium to do it badly. Relying on old tricks for new technology. VR is an amalgamation of so many industries that it has managed to morph into a new canvas, and not just the same one with a different brush to use.
'It's not the tools, but how you use them' has never been more apt of a saying. Look at the gaming world's experience with experiences, creating autonomous narratives to explore and engage. Ideal for VR, but games don't distribute across digital as easily as linear content does. Viral VR is not yet a thing, but we can bet the cost of a few cardboards that the first true hit will be film driven. Results will come through reach, which will require film, VFX, post and dedicated media distribution to happen. Not the natural grazing ground for games companies.
VR is everything. At the same time. It's the alpha and the omega of production, from concept and creative, to the talent and teams needed to execute the experiences. It's film. And it's post. And it's development. And a million other things as well.
And while that's not the definition anyone is asking for, it's the reality of making the virtual real.