AUSTIN, Texas — I’m staring out over the edge of a cliff, the great rushing Colorado River visible far below. The vista in front of me is stunning, with Southwestern hues of orange and red bursting from the rock faces. But it’s almost totally still. There’s no movement at all.
Although it’s beautiful, crystal clear, and obviously live-action video, I’m confused by that stillness. Then I tilt my head to look down and far to my right. There, just in time, I see two sprinting men leap off the edge of the cliff and soar for a few seconds before their parachutes open.
Had I not turned my head, I’d have missed them. But that was the point. The Oculus VR headset I had strapped on recognized the movement, and now I was looking at what I would have seen if I had actually been physically looking down into that Utah canyon: the two BASE jumpers disappearing into the gorge.
This was a demo of Jaunt VR’s technology — an end-to-end system now available to VR content producers that starts with a 360-degree stereoscopic video camera; continues through video encoding, editing, and post production; and ends with live-action footage filling 360 degrees of a user’s field of vision. Palo Alto, California-based Jaunt is now distributing content for Oculus, Samsung Gear VR, Mac, PC, and a number of cardboard VR systems.
Virtual reality systems are among the most exciting technologies on the horizon right now. With Oculus VR, Sony’s Morpheus, Microsoft’s Hololens, Magic Leap, and Samsung Gear VR, to name a few, storytellers are facing a dizzying array of platforms to choose from, even as consumers will soon be selecting their system(s) of choice. That means we’re on the edge of an all-new kind of storytelling, and the VR platform companies and content creators are in the earliest stages of trying to figure out how to come up with the kinds of compelling stories that will do the technology justice.
Filmmakers’ excitement about producing content for VR was on full display at the Sundance Film Festivalin January. There, attendees were treated to a number of the latest VR cinematic experiences.
Still, whether it’s live-action VR, computer-generated VR, or a combination of the two, we are, as Wolfgang Bergmann, CEO of the German TV network ARTE Deutschland, put it at South by Southwest (SXSW) on Saturday, “at the beginning of the beginning of the beginning [in VR storytelling]. It’s like silent movie part two.”