VR, the star of the show
Elsewhere at the festival, director Steven Spielberg hosted the world’s first public screening of his new film “Ready Player One.”
In the packed theater, Spielberg and his team discussed the spellbinding visual and narrative feat they pulled off. “We made this with a lot of ambition to really fill the screen,” Spielberg said to an enthusiastic audience.
The story, based on the 2011 dystopian novel by Ernest Cline, is set 26 years from now and depicts a dark society from which many humans are trying to escape. Through a VR game called the Oasis, characters interact with others around the globe. The main character wades deeply into this virtual world in search of something that will bring him a great fortune.
While the theatrical release of the film itself isn’t based on an interactive or VR element for the audience, it certainly begs some interesting questions about a society where VR becomes an integral part of how we experience everyday life.
In the past Spielberg has suggested that a fully immersive, VR movie experience might take away some of the power a director currently has. In short, the viewer, not the director, could one-day choose where in that filmic world to go next. At the “Ready Player One” screening, however, the acclaimed director offered a thought. “The side windows are for cultural references,” he suggested. “The windshield is for the story. If you look straight ahead, you can always follow the story.”
The future of digital storytelling
Back at the HP Digital Artistry House, surrounded by young artists eager to learn what’s next in their respective disciplines, Wall, offered this: “I think VR is going to have a radical effect on what moviemaking will become. Imagine if people can come in and have their own experience, within a directed or confined experience, but it's theirs.”
Where VR is concerned, the only given is that it will surely have a place in the production and the consumption of entertainment as we move forward. Exactly how is up to us.
“It's a really exciting time to have the opportunity to tell stories,” noted Jill Hopper, global head of production at DreamWorks Animation, as she answered a question from a an animator who had come to see the panel discussion. “Technology can change the experience, can challenge us to learn differently and really get lost in a story that the storyteller is trying to tell us. I think that's kind of fun.”
Furthering the drive to advance the interplay of film and technology at DreamWorks Animation is the recent appointment of “Ready Player One” executive producer Chris DeFaria as the company’s President. An innovator in the industry, he was president of animation and innovative technology at Warner Brothers Pictures and deeply involved in the CG-heavy productions “Man of Steel,” “Pacific Rim” and the final Harry Potter films.
“Some story tellers are daunted by the need to create more comprehensive worlds for VR — we aren't. We already do that,” says DeFaria of DreamWorks Animation. “I have heard filmmaker concerns about shifting to the non-linear storytelling capabilities VR allows — but that seems like an opportunity to us more than a challenge.”
What’s clear is that digital storytelling is fast evolving, providing the tech and entertainment worlds ever-more ways to collaborate. With another SXSW in the can all eyes are now pointed toward June’s Cannes Film Festival, where the industry as a whole can ponder just how VR might help it tell the next, great story.