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VR movie pioneer on the challenges and future of virtual reality filmmaking

Hayden Dingman | April 10, 2014
There isn't even a consumer-ready virtual reality headset on the market yet, but that isn't stopping a few filmmakers from thinking it's the future. One of the pioneers in the area is Condition One's Zero Point--a film that's as much a discussion of VR's potential as it is a showcase for new technology.

That made me sweat. I was like "Oh @^%$."

Dennis: I know, yeah. We attached the camera to a little drone and flew it off the edge of this cliff. We're really interested in drone technology. I think it can move the camera through space in ways that we could never do before, and as a cinematographer and a photographer, we've always been limited by the physical limitations of the rigs we can build and move. With drones we can just start flying them off cliffs and do things we couldn't do otherwise.

Before you were, as you said, limited by rigs. Now you're limited by people's ability to keep their stomachs down. I've used the Rift a lot and during the E3 scene I started to lean back and shut my eyes [because I felt sick]. I consider my tolerance for the Rift pretty high; we have people in the office who use it for five seconds and say they're done. How do you get past that when it comes to making a feature length film, and also having the physical Rift on your face that long?

Dennis: Our priority is to make this a comfortable experience. You're actually the first person outside of our company to view the longer version of Zero Point. We're looking for guinea pigs to test it out on because as you said, you develop your VR legs really quickly so you need new testers that have never tried it before.

We know that the length of the experience is going to be shorter. We're probably not going to do a feature-length, 90-minute film anytime soon. It's just too intense and too visceral for people to take. We think shorter length — 15-20 minutes will probably work better. We're still experimenting, seeing as the hardware gets better how much that removes any type of motion sickness or how much is on our side.

We know really smooth camera movements are essential. That E3 scene, that was a handheld scene, shoulder-mounted, the cameraman walking, so even that slight camera bob is enough to throw you. There's some basic rules that we have to adhere to for comfort. Things we could disregard or could be accepted in a normal film or a normal video format, when it fills your entire field of view you need to rethink basics. So we're thinking really smooth, steady, forward-moving shots work best.

Even things like moving at a 45 degree angle — we had this escalator scene at E3, and the sensation of moving down an escalator really threw people, so we took that out. And that was just from testing, we found people who just couldn't handle the escalator scene. It's just going to be a lot of testing to see what works.

 

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