Digits: Oculus VR Premieres Animated Short Film

30 Jul 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Oculus Demos the Power of VR With New Short Film.

BEVERLY HILLS – With less than a year to go until its products hit shelves, Facebook ’s Oculus VR is trying to jumpstart Hollywood’s interest in virtual reality by making short films of its own.A lonely cartoon hedgehog named Henry could herald the future of storytelling by becoming the first ever virtual reality (VR) movie star, say the creators of a ground-breaking new short film.The 10-minute movie is the first in a lineup of virtual-reality-based flicks designed by Oculus Story Studio to showcase the VR platform as a filmmaking tool.BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. (AP) — Oculus is hedging its bets that an adorable critter named Henry can help convince consumers — and Hollywood — about the viability of virtual reality as a storytelling medium.

The company recently premiered its second film, “Henry,” a short that will be included in the Oculus library when its products go on sale in 2016. The VR company, which Facebook acquired for nearly $2 billion last year, debuted a 10-minute narrative experience starring the lonely hedgehog Henry during an invite-only event Tuesday at a private mansion in Beverly Hills. Henry, the film’s eponymous hero, has difficulty making friends because he hugs everyone he meets – which, given that he’s a hedgehog, lacks the desired effect. Attendees strapped on consumer versions of the Oculus Rift headset, and were immersed in a 360-degree view of Henry’s world as he made his birthday wish. It’s part of an effort to prepare a library of content for people to watch on the company’s strap-on headsets, which generate 360-degree imagery that changes in response to the wearer’s movements, creating an immersive effect.

Directed by Ramiro Lopez Dau and narrated by Elijah Wood, the dialogue-free 10-minute film all takes place in Henry’s home on the day of his poorly attended birthday party. Though Hollywood has embraced 3D movies, it has yet to take on virtual reality—a concept director Guillermo del Toro and Disney’s LucasFilm are testing, according to Reuters. Instead, with “Henry” and Oculus’ other work, the company is seeking to demonstrate VR’s capability and inspire studios and production companies to create content beyond promotional efforts connected to other films and entertainment franchises. “In a perfect word, we’ll have all the major studios making tons of VR content because they’re making tons of money off of it,” said Luckey. “That would be much better for us than having to hold up the entire VR marketplace with our own content.

Guests at the Beverly Hills event were each invited to don an Oculus Rift VR headset to view the short: a single, minutely detailed 360-degree “shot”, with an emotional tug that the film-makers hope is far more forceful than anything set in plain old 2- or 3-D. “In VR, there is no fourth wall. To that end the company published a “best practices” guide for game developers to use and is planning to release a similar guide for narrative content. It’s just you, the character and the story, with nothing in between,” said Saschka Unseld, who directed the acclaimed 2013 Pixar short The Blue Umbrella and is now Story Studio’s creative director.

Oculus’s debut film, Lost—a short animation about a mechanical creature that comes alive in the forest—played at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. It’ll be much healthier to have a diverse ecosystem.” “Henry” is an entirely passive experience that doesn’t require viewers to use a controller, other than tilting their head to see the action inside Henry’s tree-trunk abode. Both movies will be available for free with next year’s consumer Rift headset, which could set you back up to $1,500 when combined with the PC needed to run it.

However, “Henry” director Ramiro Lopes Dau, a former animator at Pixar, included the ability for the spikey character to look directly at the user during the experience. “I think there’s room for all difference kinds of experiences, where they can be more or less interactive,” said Lopes Dau. “In the case of ‘Henry,’ it’s more about the character. We use those moments when he’s happy or sad to look at you no matter where you’re standing.” The introduction of interactivity in a piece of content referred to as a short film begs the question: Is “Henry” really a movie? One thing that might help its advancement is the new Nokia OZO camera, a spherical device with several cameras intended to help video pros produce VR content. The hedgehog occasionally looks toward the viewer throughout the short story, which takes place entirely in his forest home as he eats a birthday cake and is visited by magical balloon animals.

The Story Studio team currently consists of fewer than 20 people, compared to Pixar’s 1,200-plus employees, but Oculus hopes that in the long run its film-making division could prove similarly influential. The former start-up, which ignited the latest VR obsession three years ago, now has several competitors similarly diving headfirst into the marketplace, including Valve and HTC’s Vive headset and Sony’s Project Morpheus, which works in tandem with the PlayStation 4 console. More from WSJ.D: And make sure to visit WSJ.D for all of our news, personal tech coverage, analysis and more, and add our XML feed to your favorite reader. The studio is currently at work on two more short animated VR films, Bullfighter and Dear Angelika, for which Mr Unseld is collaborating with the Canadian graphic novelist Jillian Tamaki.

Mr Unseld said he and his fellow creatives are still experimenting with the VR medium, and that the a VR feature film is probably still a far-off prospect. “We feel like we know so little right now about what works and what doesn’t, that setting out to do a feature now would be like doing a feature film before you’d even started film school,” he said. Yet Story Studio’s core aim, said Mr Saatchi, is not to bury its box office rivals, but to encourage the competition. “The mission of Story Studio is to inspire and educate,” he said. “To inspire by making cool movies, to educate by sharing everything we learn.

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