It's 2035, and you've gathered your family into the living room to watch old home movies together. You each strap on your virtual reality headset, and the image comes into view – a young Aunt Petunia, in glorious 3D, lurching toward the punch bowl with all the grace of a drunken elephant.
Virtual reality isn't just the future of games. As Oculus has been quick to tell us every time we've talked, games are just the beginning. There isn't even a consumer VR headset on the market at this point – or, at least, not one worth using– and we're already seeing applications from architecture to healthcare.
Add movies to the mix: Multiple companies are convinced VR is the future of film. Jaunt, a new California-based start-up, just announced it raised around £4 million to produce VR films. Jaunt's out there showing off its VR-ready camera (below), which looks a bit like a football made of camera lenses.
A set of microphones on the top of the rig captures audio – this allows positional audio as you turn your head in the Oculus, so the sound isn't out-of-sync from where you're looking.
Jaunt's VR ambitions started with an Oculus dev kit bought second-hand on Craigslist and grew from there, though Re/code also reports the company is open to working with Sony on Project Morpheus.
Jaunt is the second company I know of that's making a big push into VR film. I met with Condition One, a similar start-up, at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco last month. Condition One showed me its film Zero Point, which is as much a documentary on the medium of virtual reality as it is a showcase for the company's technology. Zero Point dropped me into the midst of a military drill, guns going off around me, and then took me for a jaunt through the hallowed halls of the Los Angeles Convention Center during the E3 gaming convention.
I haven't seen Jaunt's demo films yet, though they sound similar to Zero Point – short, documentary-style vignettes meant more for novelty than true narrative filmmaking. In many ways, the early days of VR film match the early days of film as a medium – "actualités," or actuality films, which showcased everyday life in motion.
But novelty can only take you so far. Whether VR film will eventually grow and transform into a story-based medium on par with the movie experience down at the local cineplex, that's up in the air. There's a lot for Jaunt, Condition One, and others to figure out. How do you direct a viewer's gaze when there's no way for the camera to direct it? How do you make it seem more like film and less like theater when there's no change in camera angles?
And how do you take advantage of the already-improved hardware in Oculus's DK2? Does position-tracking make its way into VR film also, allowing the audience to move around a space?
That's a lot of unknowns. I feel comfortable saying VR is the future of games; the same can't be said for movies--at least not yet. With this much money being dumped into research, though, I'm sure we'll see some impressive productions soon.