As the technology emerges and becomes more affordable, directors are venturing into virtual reality as a new way of storytelling—with the viewer in the middle.
When Facebook paid $2 billion for virtual reality company Oculus Rift two years ago, the move signaled a leap-of-faith investment in the future of immersive storytelling. A radical departure from the flat-screen world of movies, TV, and tablets, VR reaches its audience one headset-wearing viewer at a time by wrapping each audience member in a 360-degree environment. For directors curious about rethinking "rectangular" storytelling habits, virtual reality offers an intriguing array of opportunities.
Demand for VR content could boom once consumers can more easily—and affordably—acquire viewing devices, including Oculus Rift’s own headset (currently selling for $599), Samsung’s Gear VR, Sony’s PlayStation VR, and the budget-priced Google Cardboard. By 2025, the VR content market could rise to nearly $5.4 billion, according to investment bank Piper Jaffray. And by 2018, trend analysis firm CCS Insight predicts, there could be up to 20 million shipments of VR devices. And all those viewers will be hungry for stories.
Over the past few months, VR camera systems have advanced rapidly to keep pace with the emerging medium. For Catatonic, Shelmerdine positioned a cluster of eight GoPro cameras at the "head" of his terrified "patient" to capture all four quadrants of the 3-D space. More recently, Shelmerdine has used his own Dark Corner rig, featuring four Sony a7SII cameras, to shoot projects like the gritty drug-smuggler short Mule. Recently introduced stereoscopic VR camera systems also include the Jaunt NEO, Radiant Images’ Headcase, and the Nokia OZO. Veteran director Randal Kleiser (Grease, The Blue Lagoon) switched to the OZO after making the pilot for his 12-episode Defrost series on a GoPro rig.