Monthly Archives: November 2018

Blast From the Past: Quantico VR

In the spring of 2016, ABC Television released a short 360-degree video, set in the world of its popular crime drama Quantico. Although the show was cancelled in 2018, it’s worth taking a look back at this early VR experiment. Officially called Quantico: The Takedown, this short VR film was one of the first examples of a broadcast network using virtual reality (or 360 video) for a major TV series.

Sponsored by Lexus, the three and a half minute video starts in the backseat of a Lexus LX 570 SUV. Told from the point of view of a new FBI recruit, the viewer is brought along on a mission with FBI trainees Shelby Wyatt (Johanna Braddy) and Caleb Haas (Graham Rogers) as they track down and apprehend an assigned target.

Presented in a single, uninterrupted camera shot, the viewer follows Shelby into a nightclub, where they search for and apprehend their target, then move quickly into a back alleyway. Finally, they end up back in the Lexus SUV.

It’s a short experience, but provided enough immersion to give me a feeling of what it’s like to participate on a mission with these characters. Throughout the film, the characters addressed me directly, and the camera pulled me through the story without limiting my freedom to look wherever I wanted.

Overall, a fine early example of 360 video used for a TV show. This and other early examples have led to current productions such as Nightflyers VR, The Limitand Trinity.

See below to experience Quantico: The Takedown on YouTube VR, along with a behind-the-scenes companion video (in traditional “flat” format).

Quantico VR is available via YouTube on all major VR headsets, including Google Daydream, Samsung Gear VR, Oculus Go, Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and PlayStation VR.

 

Roy Kachur is a Media Technologist, IT Architect, and VR Evangelist. He has worked in the information technology field since the 1990’s, and in the media industry since 2014. He believes that VR will play a significant role in the future of media.

Nightflyers VR Review

Nightflyers is a new science fiction TV series premiering December 2nd on SyFy. In advance of the premiere, SyFy has launched a special three-part web series in virtual reality. Available on YouTube VR as well as on SyFy.com, each chapter in the VR mini-series is around five minutes in length.

The story follows several characters, in a series of 360-degree videos shot on the actual sets of the TV show. Special effects were also added to the production, which is essentially a short mystery on board the Nightflyer spaceship. Chapter summaries from SyFy.com are provided below (links to YouTube are included for each chapter):

Chapter 1: Alarm

Kel, a new recruit aboard the Nightflyer, must journey into the heart of the ship to uncover the secrets hidden within the starship’s dangerous cargo.

Chapter 2: Tunnel

Lommie uses her physical connection with the ship to confront the L1 telepath, supposedly being kept locked away.

Chapter 3: Circle

Kel’s harrowing journey through the Nightflyer concludes in a mind-bending showdown with Thale.

Although it can be argued that 360 video is not “true VR”, when done well it can provide a very immersive experience. Especially when presented in stereoscopic 3D, the experience can be just as good as computer-generated VR, and is usually more realistic (since the imagery is captured from real life).

Thankfully, Nightflyers is fully stereoscopic and provides a great sense of depth throughout the story. Camera movement is slow and deliberate, which works well for VR productions, in order to prevent any motion sickness due to jarring motion or quick cuts in the action.

Admittedly, it’s difficult to get a complete sense of what the TV show is about in the short time we spend with a few characters in VR. But the experience does convey a sense of the atmosphere and tone of the show. The brooding music, creepy sound effects, and claustrophobic setting create a feeling of suspense and terror that we will likely see more of in the full series.

When I watch a 360-degree video, I want to feel like I’m in another place (either real or fictional). The Nightflyers VR experience effectively transported me to the sets of the TV show, and gave me the feeling of being a part of the production. Although I could not interact with any of the characters or affect the story, I felt like I was on the ship and experiencing the adventure along with them.

The Nightflyers VR experience is available via YouTube on all major VR headsets, including Google Daydream, Samsung Gear VR, Oculus Go, Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and PlayStation VR.

 

Roy Kachur is a Media Technologist, IT Architect, and VR Evangelist. He has worked in the information technology field since the 1990’s, and in the media industry since 2014. He believes that VR will play a significant role in the future of media.

Age of Sail Review: A Fantastic Voyage in Virtual Reality

The immersive animated VR film Age of Sail is now available for viewing at home. Google Spotlight Stories released the film on November 14th, on multiple platforms. It’s an astonishing and emotional adventure between a young girl and a seasoned captain, who meet unexpectedly at sea.

Set in the early 1900’s, Age of Sail is one of the best examples of how to use virtual reality to tell a story effectively. Although Google has released a number of Spotlight Stories over the past few years, this one is different. Approaching the artistic level of a Pixar short film, the film takes viewers (travellers is a better word) on a journey with captain William Avery. Avery is a grizzled sailboat captain who resents the fact that steamships are beginning to replace his beloved sailing vessels. He sets forth on a journey alone, but unexpectedly encounters a spirited young girl named Lara, who manages to rescue him from his sullen demeanor. Short but very moving and effective, the story is one of adventure, companionship, and determination.

Directed by Oscar-winning animator John Kahrs, the film stars Ian McShane as the captain and Cathy Ang as Lara Conrad. Age of Sail originally premiered at a number of film festivals earlier this year. A traditional “flat” version of the film was created after the VR version was produced, and is currently available on YouTube.

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The VR experience

Because it’s available in both traditional and VR versions, Age of Sail provides a perfect case study for comparing the differences in watching a standard film vs. an immersive VR production. It’s also possible to experience different levels of immersion and interaction, depending on the type of VR headset used.

I was able to experience the film in three different ways:

  1. The “flat” version on YouTube
  2. The limited VR version on Google Daydream (which provides three degrees of freedom)
  3. The full VR experience on Lenovo Explorer (a Windows Mixed Reality headset which offers six degrees of freedom).

The filmmakers made conscious decisions in how the various versions were presented, in order to take advantage of the medium at hand. In the traditional “flat” version, the film uses long, medium, and close-up camera shots to tell the story in a traditional way. The viewer is limited to only what the director wants you to see.

In the VR version, we become a more direct participant on the journey, although we cannot affect the story in any way. The perspective feels like we are a passenger on the boat; a passive observer, yet always close to the action.

3DoF vs. 6DoF

It’s important to note that the best way to experience Age of Sail is on a VR device that provides six degrees of freedom (6DoF). Although the viewing perspective is essentially the same as in 3DoF, a 6DoF headset allowed me to lean forward, stand up or sit down, and even walk up to the characters. I could look closely at their faces, or inspect the props they were holding (a photograph, for example).

In the limited 3DoF experience on Google Daydream, it was possible to look around in 360 degrees, but my position was locked to a fixed point in space. I could not lean forward or get closer to any part of the scene. The experience was still enjoyable, but limited because I naturally wanted to move around within the scene.

Is VR the future of film?

In a word, no. The traditional motion picture art form will live on for the foreseeable future. Virtual reality will not take anything away from the work of current filmmakers who continue to create “flat” films.

Furthermore, I don’t believe that the introduction of VR into the filmmaker’s lexicon will be disruptive in the way that CGI technology impacted stop-motion special effects. When Jurassic Park arrived in 1993, it effectively ended the need for stop-motion photography (made famous by artists like Willis O’Brien, Ray Harryhausen and Phil Tippett). The stop-motion art form lives on in the works of Tim Burton, Henry Selick, and others, but CGI has largely replaced its use in live-action films.

However, virtual reality gives us a new perspective and a new approach to film-making. As a viewer, I naturally want to get closer to the action, and VR affords me that possibility. When the story is told effectively, and I am given a choice to look where I want in a scene, I become a participant rather than merely a viewer.

The challenge for VR filmmakers is to avoid giving viewers too many choices, or granting them too much autonomy in what they can do on their own. That being said, Age of Sail provides a perfect balance between freedom and restriction, allowing viewers to feel like they are really on board a sailing ship, in the midst of an unforgettable story.

Age of Sail is available for free on Steam, YouTube and via Google Spotlight Story’s iOS and Android apps.

 

Roy Kachur is a Media Technologist, IT Architect, and VR Evangelist. He has worked in the information technology field since the 1990’s, and in the media industry since 2014. He believes that VR will play a significant role in the future of media.

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YouTube VR App Now Available for Oculus Go Virtual Reality Headset

Previously announced at the Oculus Connect developer conference in September, today the YouTube VR app is officially available for the Oculus Go standalone virtual reality headset.

With today’s launch on Oculus Go, YouTube is now available on all major VR headsets, including Samsung Gear VR, Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and PlayStation VR.

Although the Oculus Go already supports other apps for 360-degree video content, YouTube has been conspicuously absent since the headset was launched in May of this year. Already one of the most popular apps for sharing VR video content, YouTube will be a welcome addition to the Oculus Go platform.

 

XR Association Releases Starter Guide for Developers

The XR Association (XRA) has released “XR Primer 1.0: A Starter Guide for Developers,” which offers design guidance and creates an industry-wide standard for VR and AR developers.

In their October 29th press release, the XRA explains the objective of this new guide:

“As augmented and virtual reality experiences continue to integrate more deeply into recreational, public health, workforce training, scientific, and other facets of all of our lives, the XR Association will continue to partner closely with developers,” remarked Debbie Girolamo, XRA President and Senior Corporate Counsel at HTC VIVE. “The Starter Guide for Developers creates a set of standards and a common language through which developers can optimize their processes and, ultimately, the end-user experience.”

According to their FAQ, the XRA “is an evolution of the Global Virtual Reality Association (GVRA) and its mission. The XRA recently expanded its industry representation to reflect the broader XR industry, which encompasses augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), mixed reality (MR), as well as future XR technologies developed in the constantly evolving XR space. This transition, including a new name — the XR Association — has provided the association with the opportunity to relaunch as a more influential body and strong resource for stakeholders globally.”

The XR Association represents headset and technology manufacturers across the broad XR industry, including Google, HTC VIVE, Facebook and Oculus, Samsung, Sony Interactive Entertainment, and STARVR CORP.

The XR Primer 1.0 developer guide, along with other research and standards, can be found here.