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Is VR the future of filmmaking?

Hey friends, and welcome back to the Alex Makes VR podcast. In today's episode,I want to flip the script from last week, I'm going to do an absolute U turn from Is VR filmmaking dead, which if you've not listened to that episode, go back and listen to it, it was a corker of an episode. But in this episode I want to look at is VR the future of filmmaking? So kind of the absolute opposite of what we talked about last week. Now, I might not go where you think I'm going in this episode. So please stay tuned, because I think it's going to be an interesting discussion.

This is a transcription of the podcast episode, instead you can listen to it here:


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Okay, so let's dive in. Last week, we talked about why VR filmmaking is really struggling, right now in 202, there have been some incredible articles written on that subject since I did that episode. Or even maybe that came out around the same time, which I highly encourage you go and check out and I usually tweet about them. That's where you can usually find those kinds of articles, so if you want to head over to Twitter, you can find me at @alexmakesvr, and I'm usually talking about topical or news related stuff on my Twitter feed, so that's probably the best place to go and check some of those interesting opinion pieces, that have come out in the last couple of weeks. And interestingly centred around the same topic that kind of sparked it in my head as well, which was the Sundance New Frontier selection. So interesting that we're all along the same lines in terms of our thoughts aligning on that subject, but like I said, I want to talk now in this episode, about why I personally think that VR is the future of filmmaking. And basically, I want to make it very clear that what I'm going to talk about is not VR filmmaking, it is VR for filmmaking, two very, very different things. When I say that, I think and I genuinely believe, and actually, it's already kind of proving to be true, that virtual reality is the future of filmmaking. What I mean is that the technology that we have with virtual reality is going to slowly and surely be adopted by all of the major filmmaking studios, all of the movie blockbusters, they're all going to use virtual reality, to help make their films. So for example, recently, The Lion King, the remake, was entirely made in virtual reality. So what that looks like is that they build the entire scenes, the characters, the worlds in a game engine, I don't know what game engine they were using for The Lion King, but let's say for argument's sake, we build it in an unreal engine, which is a game engine for those of you listening that don't know and then what they did, what the director did was, and the cinematographers and you know, the people who were doing the art direction, what they did is, they actually wore a VR headset, and basically shot the film from within virtual reality. They had virtual cameras, and the beauty of obviously, using a game engine is that they could literally get any shot they wanted. It gives you unlimited creative control and the beauty of this is, if you had pre decided I want a wide shot followed by, you know, a handheld, close up, that then cuts to a two shot, If your artistic team had spent all that time creating those specific shots, and then you didn't like them, In those times, you would have to redo all the shots, right? You would have to like…if you were doing it, let's say without game engine, let's say you were doing it as a normal traditional film. If you don't like the shots you've done, you're gonna have to reshoot the whole thing to get a different shot. Virtual production will allow you to capture the scene once and then choose the shots after the fact. How incredible is that? When I did a recent project, and that was captured in volumetric, one of the things that occurred to me, and one of the conversations that I was having with one of the guys that runs the facility in London, was that their studio had been used for massive movies like Bohemian Rhapsody. They’d used it for a few of the shots, so that they could have complete creative control over what that shot looked like and they could do it loads of times, because once you've captured it, you can just go in and virtually record the shot as many times as you want and it doesn't cost money. Right, because they've already had the actors in, they've already had, you know, they've done the production and it's cost them one set amount and then they can mess around with that shot as much as they want, they can manipulate you know the movement of the shot, they can manipulate the angle, they can change the virtual cameras lens to mimic a different style of shot, they can do so much control in post and that to me makes total sense that that would be the future of filmmaking, because it's essentially saving the studio's money.


If you think about, how much money it costs to do reshoots, think about how much money it costs to do just like one take of a huge scene that requires a really intricate shot and now you have this, this technology that's going to allow the director to literally step into the scene. So it's almost like she's in there with the actors again, watching the scene playback. Only she's got complete control over the angles that she chooses now. It's quite phenomenal. So obviously at the moment, volumetric capture is so expensive and that for photorealistic films for for traditional films rather than animated films, we probably won't see adoption of this technology as fast as we do in the in the computer generated graphics world like a Pixar. But let's face it, I mean, the graphics on movies nowadays, animated movies is so incredible, that it would not surprise me if we start to see this blend happening. And I feel like to an extent we already are. I mean, sometimes you watch a film that is obviously green screened but the graphics are so realistic, that it's really hard to distinguish. I remember actually watching a trailer for Gemini Man with Will Smith and I believe it's that film anyway where they recreated him younger and that whole character is computer generated, motion captured I assume, as in for those who don't know what that is, motion capture is where an actor wears a suit with trackers and then that kind of informs the computer generated character, like what movement it should be doing, if that makes sense. So a performer can control an animated character live wearing a rather silly suit that has loads of different sensors on it. But thats like a movie that is capitalised on that blend between photorealism and animation. But now imagine that you've got the technology to be able to again, capture that scene once and then go in there and mess around with as many different edits as many different shots as you like, from a virtual production, let alone the fact that oftentimes in these game engines, you can also affect things like the lighting, so it's not even that you can just go in there and change the shots. It's also that you've completely changed the aesthetic look of something completely virtually. How insane is that? Again, think about how much money that costs usually. Ready Player One, that was another example of I believe where it wasn't all done in virtual reality, but I think for the novelty of the fact that it is a film about virtual reality, Spielberg did direct some of the scenes in VR. And I've watched some behind the scenes videos of him doing that and you can see, the excitement in a director of his calibre, his eyes when he comes out of the headset. And you can see that this is something transformational for the traditional filmmaking process and that's really exciting for me. Now, of course, like, do I wish that VR films full stop would be the future of film? Maybe, yeah, of course, like, I mean, I'm a VR filmmaker, so of course, I want VR films to be successful and to have staying power, but when I put my realistic hat on, I know that VR films will be their own thing, they will never eclipse filmmaking itself ever. But the technology will be the thing that completely transforms the landscape of traditional filmmaking.


If we bring it down to more of like an independent filmmaker level, because all of those things we've just talked about, are quite expensive and of course, you could do a version of that with, you know, a small indie game engine setup. Realistically, those technologies that we're talking about, you know, cost millions and millions of pounds and for now, anyway, until the technology becomes more commonplace. So let's look at how VR can impact filmmaking on a more independent level on a smaller scale. One of the biggest, biggest things for me, and even I use this when I'm scouting for locations for my own VR projects, is the beauty of racking a location with a VR camera is that you don't really need all of your crew there to get a sense of what the space is like. Because you can literally record the location in VR, and get your DLP for example, or your first ad or, you know, health and safety supervisor, you can get all these people to see the space ahead of time by sending them the 360 footage for them to play back in a headset. This is exactly what I'm doing with Bad News and I'll talk about this more in my Friday series about how to make virtual reality film, but that's exactly what I'm doing. At the moment I'm taking along my little consumer 360 camera, and I'm recording the location reccies in VR, so that I can send it to my DOP who is currently on a shoot in London and lives in London. So she can't be here with me, reccying the locations especially during the pandemic and she can see the locations for herself. And it's not like just seeing a photo where you can't really get a sense of scale or size or she can't fully get a sense of like what it would be like to be there. All of a sudden, she can put on a headset, and she can play back these files and she can literally feel like she's there with us, to see the location she can look for the practical light, she can look for the power supplies, and how are we going to you know, rig the lighting? And what windows have we got? What are we, north or south facing? All of that kind of stuff that impacts her decisions on the aesthetic of the scene. She can now come up with all that with a really good idea based on having a VR version of the location, and also that can be really helpful for myself as the director because I can look back at that scene and I can put that put the headset on and look back at that location. I can start to plan out my action, I can start to plan out where I want people, how close do I want to be to things or maybe I’ll realise the shot I've taken here is a bit too far away, so I'm going to I'm going to get closer. Oh, I hadn't noticed that, but there's you know, a sign over here, that would be quite interesting to use as like a prop. So maybe you know, all of these things that you can do, that you wouldn't get as vivid from just a normal photo or video, so you can really get a sense of things. I think that, that is so powerful. For a lot of traditional filmmakers who will most likely have a 360 camera in their arsenal, because of the kind of mass marketing that's been done over the last few years about 360 cameras being a great tool for reframed footage, you know, all these vloggers and YouTubers that use 360 cameras, not as 360 cameras, but they use them to get a cool shot, that they can then again, choose the frame that they want to use in post production. That's something that we've never been able to, to do before. And obviously at the moment, I guess that is not too dissimilar to what I was saying at the beginning about big movie studios, creating fully 3D, fully realised scenes and then going in there and choosing their shots afterwards, you know, on a very small scale, that's what's happening in the YouTube community with 360 cameras right now, they're taking those amazing kind of action shots with a 360 camera and then choosing the angle afterwards, they've got more edit power, though, I think the way that Insta 360 market is, you know, have a whole camera crew in your pocket, this idea of never being able to miss a shot, when you're using a 360 camera. Now, obviously, you can always you can tell when a 360 shot that's been reframed, or maybe that's just because we're in the industry, and we know what to spot. Maybe the average person wouldn't know what they were looking at, but it's definitely got that kind of light still, got that fisheye go pro II action camera kind of look to the footage, it's definitely not as advanced or slick as say, for example, something like what Pixar would use to recreate the Lion King or something. Where was I going with that? …oh, yeah, so the average filmmaker might have a 360 camera in their arsenal as it is. So to be able to then use that as a practical utility tool to take kind of photos and videos of racking locations, and then being able to send that off to their crew members to ahead of time prep and plan for a bigger shoot. Well, all of a sudden, I mean, I don't know about you guys, but I get paid to recce when I do commercial shoots like that, so that's usually like a half day or a day out of my schedule to go physically to a place and record the location and talk through the shots and look for all the things that I need to look for. And I've you know, I've generally been on recces where there's 5/6/7 crew members that are there, every single one of them being paid for their time to be there. Now, all of a sudden, if just maybe one or two people go, but they take a 360 camera, and they take footage of the location. Now all of a sudden, those other four or five, six members don't need to be there. How much money is that saving a production? It's practical, it's logical and this is what I'm excited about. I'm excited about VR, as a tool for filmmakers, not just a medium for filmmakers, because I think this is where the technology becomes more commonplace, it becomes kind of proven investment because people will invest in it. If they're going to make their money back at the moment making a VR film is not going to make you any money. Whereas using VR in film will save you money and the more people that use it, the cheaper the technology become ands the more accessible the technology becomes. And all of a sudden economies of scales happens, and you've got a much much much cheaper and accessible and frankly better product, then you might see more people adopt VR filmmaking. You know, more people might explore that, because they've already got the tools. They've already got the workflows, they've already got the processes. Now it's just about changing the output, changing the distribution. So as much as it might sound that I'm saying, VR filmmaking itself will never take off but VR for filmmaking really will and that's how what I think will happen…we might find is that the more that VR impacts traditional filmmaking, the processes and acts as a tool for filmmakers, the more we'll see people maybe start dabbling and experimenting in VR filmmaking as a medium, which is only beneficial for the industry.


So that's it for today's episode. I hope you enjoyed this and I hope that it maybe it gave you food for thought, because I think that's it. I think sometimes there's a bit too much black and white thinking on the subject of whether or not this medium is ever going to take off or VR can only be used in certain ways. But actually, VR is a really, really powerful practical tool and maybe one day, we'll get to a place where we can focus all of our attention on how to build entertaining content in VR. But for now, for now, we need to look at how do we keep this industry going? How do we sustain ourselves? Because for some of you listening who have these skill sets, maybe you can reach out to traditional filmmakers, maybe you can reach out to traditional production companies and educate them on VR as a tool in this way? And that then again, it kind of helps you sustain a living, which then in turns means you can focus on creating the VR work you want to create, which in turn brings new audiences in, which in turn brings more money, in which in turn means that you can get more work and, and try new things. And it's just all it's all a self fulfilling cycle, really.


So those are my thoughts on VR and the future of filmmaking. I hope you enjoyed this, if you did, I would love it, if you shared this episode, if you just take a quick screenshot and share it on any social media platform that you're on and tag me. It would mean the world. I have loved watching some of you who especially the ones that have kind of like picked out a quote from the episode and tagged me, I love that, it honestly makes my heart sing and also it helps people find the podcast and it helps kind of keep the conversation going, which is really, really important.


I think one of the downsides of the pandemic. Well, one of the many, many downsides of the pandemic has been, I felt like we've all lost touch a little bit with each other because we haven't had these mutual gatherings, these mutual events or festivals to meet up at, so getting that conversation going again online and connecting with you guys has been really special and I would love to keep that going.


Okay, that's it from me this week, I will speak to you on Friday for the next episode of my miniseries How To Make A Virtual Reality film where I'm going behind the scenes on making my own personal VR film Bad News, which is funded by the BFI network, which is hilarious given that I've literally just done a whole episode about the fact that maybe VR films aren't right now but like, you know, screw it. In that miniseries, I'm going to be exploring both I think because like I said, I am using VR as a tool as well as the medium for that. So make sure to tune in for those episodes, they come out on a Friday.


Until the next time we speak again, my friend, have a good one and I'll speak to you soon.


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