Virtual Reality Rodeo: A First Person Perspective – Part 2
In Part 1, I told you what my virtual reality experience was like. Deciding what I thought about it took a little bit of reflection.
The inaugural year of the Sheridan WYO Film Festival included a virtual reality (VR) “Rodeo.”
I experienced three of the four VR films and was absolutely giddy afterwards, thinking about the possibilities. While I enjoyed the firefighting film personally, I found My Africa to be the most well-crafted.
I previously mentioned the awkwardness and disorientation of being a disembodied viewpoint. In the film This is Climate Change: Fire, the effect was at its most surreal when I would turn around and inspect the individual whose arm was outstretched toward me; in other words, the cameraman.
The most effective scenes were those where the camera was stationary and the tripod was edited out, providing a complete sense of disembodiment. For one stretch of many minutes, my perspective sat in the middle of a burning neighborhood in the wild land/urban interface. It was eerie and impactful.
The verisimilitude of the 3D perspective was engaging enough to spend those minutes turning around at a glacial pace, taking in everything as buildings succumbed slowly to the devastation.
The use of specifically composed, stationary perspectives was why I enjoyed My Africa so much. The entire project was filmed in this way and, thus, harkened back to the elements of traditional film making, but with an extra dimension. I was allowed the luxury of seeing what would have been just off the edges of the screen in a traditional film.
In the firefighting film, I would often find I was so engaged in trying to take everything in that I would miss simple elements like titles floating in space introducing the next section. My Africa, about a young woman’s life herding goats, placed the perspective carefully for each scene, and then allowed the time for the viewer to take it all in before moving on.
I remember when I went to see Avatar in 3D and was surprised by how interesting it was to carefully inspect even the simplest of scenes, such as a group of people sitting in rows. The 3D was so convincing that I could get lost in the static details of a room.
VR takes this concept and ratchets it up a notch. The credits revealed just how many people worked to composite the data from the 360 degree cameras into a seamless environment.
I mentioned the idea, while deep in discussion with a documentary filmmaker at the festival after-party, that perhaps a differing perspective, and empathy, could be gained from VR films. She admitted that she was cynical about the prospect.
She said that she didn’t see VR could ever be as valid a form of storytelling as traditional film making. We had been discussing how documentarians struggle to find objectivity through the lens of a camera, and she posited that the novelty and shocking realism of VR mirrored the introduction of the original motion picture camera. Just because a piece of art seems very real, does not make it objective,or “true.”
Only the future will tell.