Virtual Reality - You've Gone Hollywood!

Virtual Reality – You’ve Gone Hollywood!

by Jennifer Paley

 

To date, the rise of virtual reality (VR) has been driven primarily by the videogame industry.  Palmer Luckey created the first Oculus Rift specifically for gaming (and recently entered into a partnership with Xbox). HTC’s Vive (made in partnership with Valve Corporation, the videogame developer) and Sony’s PlayStation VR were both created by gaming companies.  Whether intentionally or not, VR appeared to be a technological advancement to be cultivated and appreciated primarily by the self-admitted ‘geeks’ of society while the rest of us were expected to idly stand by and miss the proverbial boat.  

 

By way of contrast, despite the phenomenal success of James Cameron’s “Avatar” in 2009, the VR/film business failed to take off as expected. This lackluster performance was due, in no small part, to a lack of in-home adoption and commercial availability of VR-related devices and accessories. In the past several years, however, as VR headsets have become readily available to consumers (starting with the Oculus Rift headset), VR-gaming has been forced to share the limelight with the motion picture industry. Let’s not forget, those above a ‘certain age’ are far more likely to watch a film or TV show than to attempt to set a new record playing “Robo Recall” or “The Climb.”  As such, the film business is now rapidly embracing the VR wave and as a result, content creators aren’t simply telling us stories anymore -- they are creating intense, immersive experiences.

 

Most major (and mini-major) Hollywood studios are getting into the VR game in a major way, including Warner Bros. (which entered into a multi-picture agreement with IMAX in 2015), 20th Century Fox (which provided its viewers with the ability to watch the Superbowl in virtual reality for the first time in 2017), Lionsgate (which recently partnered with Qualcomm to power the Power Rangers VR experience at 2017’s CES), and Disney (which recently invested $65 million into VR hardware and content startup, Jaunt).  Additionally, in 2016, the Sundance Film Festival debuted over 30 VR-related projects at is experimental (and wildly successful) “New Frontier” show.  In January of 2015, Oculus launched Story Studio, helmed by a Pixar alum, in order to produce film content for the platform.  Every major studio is dipping its toe in the VR waters, and its magic has invaded some of the most popular of today’s franchises, including Fox’s “The X-Man” and Warner Bros.’ “Batman vs. Superman.”

 

VR is also playing an important role in the movie marketing process, as the producers of two recent Oscar contenders – “The Revenant” and “The Martian” – created intense and empathy-laden experiences designed (successfully) to give fans the opportunity to find out what it feels like to survive a bear attack or be stranded on Mars.

 

Needless to say, the VR-infused entertainment gold rush is well underway, as big tech and big Hollywood hastily grab a seat at the table. Even Facebook, the social media behemoth well known for its prescience, not only owns Oculus (having paid a mere 2.3 billion for the company) but has recently formed a VR movie studio of its own, staffed by former creatives of Lucasfilm and Pixar, in order to create and share powerfully immersive content with its users.  

 

This general trend will most likely continue as the entertainment industry seeks to expand the application of this cutting-edge technology, figuring out new and more imaginative ways to exploit its potential. VR is predicted by many to reach mass adoption in the coming years, and filmed content, as opposed to gaming, is expected to lead the way as its hottest new collaborator.

 

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