The First Virtual Reality Movie Is On Its Way

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Feb. 19 2014 11:29 AM

The First Virtual Reality Movie Is On Its Way

virtual
A still from Zero Point in which a man holds a virtual reality headset up to his eyes.

Photo from Condition One.

If you've never used an Oculus Rift or another virtual reality display, it's kind of hard to imagine what things look like. You can turn your head and see whatever you want to see? How much control do you have? And does it really make your brain think you're in a different place, or is it kind of crappy? These are all questions I had before I used a Rift last year—and they're also questions that the production company Condition One is trying to answer through its 3-D, 360-degree movie Zero Point.

Zero Point is both an immersive VR film for its viewers and a documentary about the researchers, engineers, designers, and developers behind the emerging field of VR. Producer and director Danfung Dennis says that Condition One has had to rethink the most fundamental moviemaking techniques in shooting and doing post production on Zero Point. The group had to make custom rigs so they could get consistent 360 footage without appearing anywhere in the shots. They also had to build custom software that combines elements from movie editing and video game creation.

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Dennis says that the process has been rewarding but difficult. “As a photographer, as a cinemetographer, I've been framing things and guiding the viewer through the frame. But the frame is gone. We are now inside the frame. And the most basic element of film editing, the cut, it's too abrupt, it's not working. So we have to rethink. It’s an entirely new visual language.”

Zero Point addresses some of these issues as well as the question of what will happen when VR is so effective that it becomes an appealing alternative to reality. Dennis says he doesn't think VR will replace mediums like television and film anytime soon, but that he wants Condition One to be part of the tipping point toward immersive media.

Condition One has released an interactive version of the Zero Point trailer below, and the full 15- or 20-minute movie will be released later this year for Oculus Rift developers to purchase. Eventually, when the Rift has its consumer release, Condition One may work with third-party partners to distribute their films. 

“It’s not going to be that long until we have virtual realities that are indistinguishable from reality," Dennis says. "And we don’t know what that means. In this film we raise that question of what if there's this mass migration to VR because it's more attractive than our real lives." So there's your dystopian future anxiety for the day.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Lily Hay Newman is lead blogger for Future Tense.