Immersive cinema

Figure 1.7: In 2015, Oculus Story Studio produced Emmy-winning Henry, an immersive short story about an unloved hedgehog who hopes to make a new friend, the viewer.

Hollywood movies continue to offer increasing degrees of realism. Why not make the viewers feel like they are part of the scene? Figure 1.7 shows an immersive short story. Movie directors are entering a fascinating new era of film. The tricks of the trade that were learned across the 20th century need to be reinvestigated because they are based on the assumption that the cinematographer controls the camera viewpoint. In VR, viewers can look in any direction, and perhaps even walk through the scene. What should they be allowed to do? How do you make sure they do not miss part of the story? Should the story be linear, or should it adapt to the viewer's actions? Should the viewer be a first-person character in the film, or a third-person observer who in invisible to the other characters? How can a group of friends experience a VR film together? When are animations more appropriate versus the capture of real scenes?

Figure 1.8: VR Cinema, developed in 2013 by Joo-Hyung Ahn for the Oculus Rift. Viewers could choose their seats in the theater and watch any movie they like.

It will take many years to resolve these questions and countless more that will arise. In the meantime, VR can also be used as a kind of ``wrapper'' around existing movies. Figure 1.8 shows the VR Cinema application, which allows the user to choose any seat in a virtual movie theater. Whatever standard movies or videos that are on the user's hard drive can be streamed to the screen in the theater. These could be 2D or 3D movies. A projector in the back emits flickering lights and the audio is adjusted to mimic the acoustics of a real theater. This provides an immediate way to leverage all content that was developed for viewing on a screen, and bring it into VR. Many simple extensions can be made without modifying the films. For example, in a movie about zombies, a few virtual zombies could enter the theater and start to chase you. In a movie about tornadoes, perhaps the theater rips apart. You can also have a social experience. Imagine having ``movie night'' with your friends from around the world, while you sit together in the virtual movie theater. You can even have the thrill of misbehaving in the theater without getting thrown out.

Steven M LaValle 2020-01-06