Coming Around to VR

When we began the semester, I felt like I was diving into a misguided niche. I didn’t believe it could be a viable medium for film and much less a medium unto itself. I think this attitude was informed mainly by a romantic feeling towards “traditional” film. In the same way there was massive resistance to color film, 3d film and even lighter cameras, I was truly against using VR to tell a story.

Throughout the filming of Knot for Sale, my attitude towards this medium only strengthened. Being one of the directors of the second unit “flattie” version of the film, I felt almost like we were directly competing with VR. Who could tell a better story? The people who planted an odd camera in the middle of a scene and attempted to guide eyes and interest to where important beats are being performed, or the guys who could change lenses, force the viewer to see what’s important, and of course, edit. Their camera could only move on an evil RC dolly. Our camera looked cool and was flown on an even cooler rig. They couldn’t check the footage without 30 minutes of rendering and stitching, we could check it right away and got to discuss options. We got to discuss focal length, depth of field, tone, atmosphere. We got to sound like filmmakers.

It was when Kate, Brendan and I went to Cloudhead studios when this attitude started to change. I have no romantic relationship with video games. The traditional way of creating games isn’t something I’m passionate about. This let me be entirely open to the VR experience, and I was blown away. At first I told myself that video games were the appropriate application of VR. That film couldn’t work the way games did. But Antony Stevens said it best when he explained that VR’s strength is the “sheer scale of presence and empathy.” Those aspects are just as important to film as they are to games. They’re crucial to any narrative experience.

I’ve changed my stance on VR. The trip to Cloudhead was the catalyst, and seeing how well the first cut of Knot for Sale came together solidified it. I believe that VR will become a strong medium for narrative. I don’t think it’ll be a new way to shoot movies the same way digital took over film stock. I think it’s an art film that has the potential to evoke a stronger emotional response than traditional film, and I think we’ll see VR evolve into the mainstream sooner rather than later. I look forward to experiencing narratives that are only possible in this medium, and when the “Avatar” of VR hits, I’ll be there on opening day.

— Rylan Gladson

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