360 Video Is Not Ready For Prime Time
By Charlie Fink
360 video is not ready for prime time. The main reason for this is not the headset (although frame rates are inconsistent, images often blurry, and sometimes you feel slightly nauseous). The main problem is that 360 videos are just meh. I would compare this moment to the first years of the 20th Century when movies were the next great thing.
Early cameras were placed in a fixed position and film gently cranked through it by hand. They filmed mundane things like city streets and vaudeville stage performances. The films ended when the camera ran out of film. People thought it was amazing. In 1903, Edison cynically filmed the electrocution of a rogue elephant using his rival’s AC power system in an effort to discredit Nikola Tesla. He made money doing it.
In Los Angeles, film director D.W. Griffith freed the camera from stage perspective and created editing, upon which our entire contemporary cinematic language is based. Every element of the modern film: The shot, the cut, continuity, camera angles, match cuts, intercutting, and parallel action originated with Griffith. The importance of the visual vocabulary he discovered cannot be understated.
Today it feels like this visual vocabulary is something we are born with, like an arm. It is always there. It’s just so obvious and intuitive. It makes sense. And everyone speaks this language. Someday, this is how we will look at immersive cinema, but the path is far from clear. Immersive cinema will arrive when it can put you in the middle of a movie like Saving Private Ryan. Your point of view would be one of the guys in the platoon on the beach. You’d “run” alongside your squad and advance amid carnage and confusion.
Everyone from the big Hollywood studios to Oculus Story Studios is trying to unlock the potential of full 360 immersion. Oculus’ short VR storytelling demo, “Lost”, was featured at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2015. They continue to support the collaboration of film makers and technologists, much like Pixar did in the early days, hoping for the breakthrough headset that cinema desperately needs to appeal to the mass market. Immersive 360 needs a big hit. Oculus Story Studio’s insipid, misguided short film was driven by a team from Pixar. Let’s hope the person who said this is the future of immersive cinema is wrong.
I’ve seen some of the expensive 360 videos that producers created to “expand” and “experiment” with the new medium. Oculus Studios went as far as creating a cartoon character from scratch. The character is adorable, but the story not so much. All you can do is look around and see stuff. It’s like being in line inside Disney’s Toontown theme parkf attraction. Meh. D.W. Griffith’s cinematic language doesn’t apply to immersive cinema because now the director doesn’t tell you what to look at. The creators need to think different. They need to put us in a situation. So you, the viewer, are a character, but without free will. You cannot move, touch, or shoot as in a video game.
Imagine being in the middle of the story, with people behind you talking to people in front of you and the entire action staged around you. This works well in video games. It would work particularly well for immersive 360 in genres like science fiction, animation, and adventure. But we are still waiting for the D. W. Griffith of immersive cinema to unlock the door. I feel this person is close, perhaps working on video games, special effects, or even live theater. Their 360 masterpiece is out there, waiting to be discovered.
Charlie Fink is an executive, writer and consultant with over three decades of experience in media, technology and the intersection between them. As an avid storyteller, entrepreneur, and award winning producer, Charlie has built a career building businesses across industries. With his tenure as an executive in companies such as Disney, Virtual World, and AOL, Charlie has honed an extensive knowledge and expertise.