Since its inception, the Oculus Rift has shown great promise for filmmakers and a spectrum of other content developers.
To inspire more producers to jump on board, Oculus have recently teamed up with Pixar to release a groundbreaking short film, Henry, starring a loveable hedgehog obsessed with hugging. During the premier of the animated film, Pixar creative director Saschka Unseld emphasised the user experience as one that transcends traditional mediums such as television, so that the viewer is not merely observing but is being immersed within the film, creating greater empathy for characters.
“The goal with ‘Henry’ and these short films isn’t to be an introduction to virtual reality,” Oculus founder Palmer Luckey said.
“We’re trying to build things with Oculus Story Studio that other people can learn from and build better content from as a result.
Alongside the debut film Lost,Henry will be included with the Oculus Rift next year. Watch the trailer below.
Whilst the company has been big on inspiring contributors and promoting new content production, the big question is really whether people will buy the product or not and if it will become a normative experience.
Mark Zuckerberg has made a $2 billion bet that it will, and his acquisition of the Oculus back in March last year sparked a frenzy of developers pitching ways in which the Rift can transform our media experiences with a range of content. Facebook is opening registration for the Oculus Connect 2 event in September, bringing together 1,500 VR developers, entertainment and cinematic content makers, innovators, creative thinkers, enthusiasts and more to explore the limitless possibilities of VR. Palmer Lucky, the genius behind the Rift who designed the first prototype at 18, is certain that VR holds a big part of our future.
“Quality is going to go up. There’s going to be more content, and a wider range of content,” he toldThe Daily Beast. “What if I said to you, ‘You can put on this pair of sunglasses and it’s a couple hundred dollars, but you can watch a VR recording of a sports game, or hang out with friends in a virtual café from all over the world?’ I think VR is for you. It just may not be for you right now.”
However, the idea for VR is by no means a new concept. The attempt to immerse ourselves in an alternate sensory experience has been around since the late 1950’s. Whilst the technology was just miles ahead of its time, the Sci-Fi concept of virtual reality is grounded by human curiosity and our innate psychological need to explore new things.
“People have never grown bored of doing things that are outside their own existence,” said Luckey.
The past few decades have seen technology catch up to VR, and with that our ability to integrate the product with contemporary content. Using VR today will not cause the social discord it would have in the late 20th century, when people were more concerned about the negative implications of these products as isolating and disengaging.
“The point is, VR doesn’t have to be isolating,” Luckey said. “Right now, people are isolated from other countries just by geography. But if you could easily mingle and communicate with people from all over the country and the world without ever having to get on a plane and burn gallons of jet fuel to get there, that’s a net positive for humanity.”
Today, consumers are more interested in immersive media than just reading or observing something. Take social media for example – engagement is at its peak with videos, and generally, people would rather watch the news in a 1 minute video than read 500 words about it. This isn’t because we are lazy, necessarily. Video’s are more rewarding to watch because they immerse more of our senses, generally creating a more impactual response this way. For instance, watching a story about the problems faced in Syria, seeing its impact and hearing the voices of individual stories forces you to become a part of the issue and generally creates a bigger impact on you than reading about it in your own voice.
With that in mind, now imagine the impact it could leave on you to watch this story play out in VR. Earlier this year the UN launched a powerful short VR film, Clouds Over Sidra, following a twelve-year-old girl named Sidra in the Za’atari camp in Jordan, home to around 84,000 refugees.
“The idea is to help generate empathy toward the 3.5 million Syrian refugees living outside Syria,” producer Socrates Kakoulides told TechCrunch.
Suddenly you are immersed in the perspective of this young girl living in the camp for 18 months, and her reality seems much more real. The short film shows the kind of psychological implications this device could have, a new way for campaigners to create empathy.
“I’m crying inside this. This is probably one of the most vivid experiences of my entire life,” said Mike Butcher from TechCrunch whilst watching the video.
While the film was specifically designed for the Sony Samsung Gear VR, it demonstrates the immersive experiences VR creates, revolutionising how we could be telling stories in the future.
Whilst the device has been widely used for storytelling and film purposes, also used as a promotional tool for the film Interstellar, the vision for VR was initially conceived with the idea of virtual gaming experiences. Xbox has partnered with Oculus for the release of the consumer VR model in Q1 2016. The Oculus will be packaged with a wireless Xbox One controller, usable with Windows 10, allowing the user to stream Xbox One games to the headset.
The development of VR has also inspired other companies to find practical purposes for the device, demonstrating the groundbreaking potential of VR and it’s wider implications in a range of fields.
NASA releaseda video last December showing how it plans to pair Kinect 2 with the Oculus VR to manoeuvre robots in space. The Kinect allows for body tracking, and paired with VR the astronaut gets a first-person view of the environment surrounding the robot. The Rift can also be used as a therapeutic tool to help astronauts endure the long travel to places like Mars and reduce their stress in small cramped spaces.
Architects will be able to create VR designs on a platform called Rift Architecture. The designers and clients will be able to walk through the buildings and be immersed in their designs before any investment is made in real infrastructure.
The Rift also has the potential for clinical purposes, such as reducing the PTSD of war veterans. A psychologist from the University of Souther California’s Institute for Creative Technologies, Albert “Skip” Rizzo, is using the Rift to help veterans with PTSD recover by immersing them back in the battlefield, so that they can confront traumatic memories.
Virtual tourism allows the viewer to become immersed in any location in what world, sometimes in places otherwise inaccessible. Oculus are driving the evolution of satellite technology one step further than Google Street View with virtual recreations of the Earth.
The VR platform itself has undergone immense changes itself to cater for this great variety of content. Oculus has recently introduced Oculus Touch, a pair of controllers that tracks the movements of your hands and fingers with close to zero latency
However, the Oculus Rift will not be paired with OS X, which may be a major set back for the product considering the amount of Apple users there are. According to a blog post, almost none of the popular laptops out there meet the graphic requirements for the device.
“Our development for OS X and Linux has been paused in order to focus on delivering a high quality consumer-level VR experience at launch across hardware, software, and content on Windows. We want to get back to development for OS X and Linux but we don’t have a timeline.”
Whilst you might need some pretty expensive tech to get the full experience of VR with Oculus Rift, the company has invested a lot for VR to become the norm. However, by focusing on creating a quality platform and letting others take the reigns of content production, Oculus may successfully push VR to the mainstream with it’s commercial release next year.
Until then, watch this 90-year-old woman who went viral over her reaction to the Oculus Rift.