What filmmakers, storytellers and games devs are saying about the future of VR

The healthy debate around the future of this cutting edge medium
Wareable is reader-powered. If you click through using links on the site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more

2016 is VR's year for the taking and that means one thing: everyone has an opinion on the technology and its use in creative industries from Hollywood to games to everything in between.

Some opinions are more interesting than others. So we've rounded up some choice cuts from the respected, the famous and the downright magical below. The main question being - will VR be a thing and if so, what kind of thing? What are we going to do with it? If you've spotted any great VR discussions or op-eds that we've missed, let us know in the comments below.

Pixar's Ed Catmull: It's not storytelling

What filmmakers, storytellers and games devs are saying about the future of VR

Ed Catmull co-founded Pixar Animation so he knows a thing or two about working ahead of the creative curve. Despite the fact that ex-Pixar cinematographer and director Saschka Unseld now heads up Oculus Story Studio, Catmull is keen to draw lines between "experiences" and a new kind of cinema. Here he is speaking to The Guardian in December:

"It's not storytelling. People have been trying to do [virtual reality] storytelling for 40 years. They haven't succeeded. Why is that? Because we know that if they succeed then people would jump on it. Linear narrative is an artfully-directed telling of a story, where the lighting and the sound is all for a very clear purpose. You're not just wandering around in the world.

"Having said that, I think they should keep running the experiments. But the fact that we should run the experiments and the fact that the technology has changed doesn't mean that it's going to end up where they think it is

David Attenborough: It gives you a dozen different stories

Https://www.wareable.com/media/imager/5032 9b6a60c0773d574efd949e85268c2075.jpg

Speaking at an event at the Natural History Museum for his 20 minute, 360-degree Dive The Great Barrier Reef experience, Attenborough couldn't contain his excitement over the potential of VR and 360-degree video for telling stories about nature. In fact, he takes the exact opposite view to Pixar's Ed Catmull.

"I have been completely caught up [in VR]. It takes you to places you could have never dreamed existed. Suddenly you are completely immersed, and you have a vivid feeling of actually being there. It's an experience you don't forget.

"It means you have to think in quite a different way. It is a different way of thinking, and it is very different from the usual way where we as filmmakers direct the viewer towards the story we want to tell. Normally once you have seen that story, well you've seen it. You might want to see it again but VR gives you a dozen different stories. You are your own director. We can take you on one dive, but instead of looking down or straight ahead you can look behind, or to the opposite side. I might want to see what is happening over there!"

Chet Faliszek: You can slow gamers down

What filmmakers, storytellers and games devs are saying about the future of VR

When we spoke to one of Valve's writers, who has worked on the Portal, Half-Life and Left 4 Dead series, Chet Faliszek waxed lyrical about the power presence (not just immersion). But he also picked up on the way that VR can allow developers to slow gamers down and enhance their gameplay. The quotes below are from our December interview with Chet:

"Often when you're in a 2D game, people will eat up content very quickly. They do that because it's really easy to move and there's no risk to moving fast. So you blow through that. In virtual reality, you end up moving slower, especially if you're standing because if you're standing, you feel vulnerable. Much like you wouldn't go running through your offices at 40mph, you don't want to do that in virtual reality either.

"You can also just escape. You can go really deep, where you are just in that moment, in that world. I think that's something developers have lost. People have such sensory overload now, of being on multiple screens, never being in a place fully anymore. Virtual reality brings you back to that where you are fully in a place and fully engrossed in what you're doing."

Mike Woods: VR demands interaction

What filmmakers, storytellers and games devs are saying about the future of VR

Mike Woods is a Framestore alumni, where he launched the VFX company's VR studio and has since launched White Rabbit VR. As he spoke about in his Medium post, he has worked on a lot of virtual reality content so he is in a pretty good position to comment. Woods starts by - controversially - saying that VR storytelling doesn't work. He ends up arguing that it works in distinct circumstances which still may not be enough for the medium to flourish. The whole thing is a great read but here's one point that brings up the whole games vs films thing.

"This brings us to the elephant in the room with the current notion of VR Storytelling. Storytelling is a RETROSPECTIVE thing. It always has been. People didn't sit around the campfire telling stories in the timeframes that they actually occurred. And I'm not aware of realtime books. Linear narrative mechanisms have evolved to break down the constraints of time and emotive viewpoint. But herein lies the VR Storytelling anachronism.

"Virtual Reality is very different to the Internet, but not in one profound way. It DEMANDS to be interacted with. Like real life does, and indeed, demands... The work of Telltale Games, Naughty Dog and The Chinese Room have all proved that you can create wonderful story narrative within a user controlled world. But even something as marvellous as 'The Last of Us' relies upon cutscenes to further the narrative story arc. Why is this? Is it the only way? Do you have to disable interaction to further story?"

Nicole Stenger: Hyperreality is a trend


Back when we asked whether 2016 will be VR's breakthrough year, Wareable's Dan Sung chatted to VR pioneer Nicole Stenger who worked at the Human Interface Technology Laboratory in Seattle in the 90s. She sees VR as already mainstream and is even starting to pick out trends in how the medium is being used by filmmakers and games creators in both CG and 360-degree video.

"There's already a first VR trend which is what I'd call hyperreality. It's the reality we're used to but enhanced, so it gives you more emotions. It's the same but it's magnified. The same ingredients but pushed to the extreme. It's all about using images of reality like video. But you could look at VR as a dream world instead of reality as we know it.

"It's the same as at the beginning of cinema. You could have had dreamy computer animation-type film and people chose realism right away, like a train pulling into a railway station."

Werner Herzog: We might live in VR

What filmmakers, storytellers and games devs are saying about the future of VR

Trust Werner Herzog to be toying with the idea of virtual reality not only in terms of making movies, after his work on his 3D documentary Cave of Forgotten Dreams, but indeed in terms of life itself. From his amazing discussion with The New Yorker, first, VR's role in the future of movies and games:

"I am convinced that this is not going to be an extension of cinema or 3D cinema or video games. It is something new, different, and not experienced yet. Short forms that I have seen look fairly convincing and fairly good, but I do not see a real, big form of expressing the state of our existence. It happens somewhere else... What was more convincing was animated films. Digitally created landscapes and events made a better impression on me."

Then, it gets a bit weird but stick with him.

"The most fascinating idea—but it's deeply philosophical and very disturbing—is whether we do live in a virtual reality all the time anyway, in some sort of virtual ambiguity... All human encounters are ambiguous. Even the perfect personal encounters are ambiguous in all societies, in all age groups, in all historical phases. And you see this ambiguity very clearly, for example, when you are on Facebook. Do we already live in a virtual reality? Did Rome, in antiquity, live in some sort of virtual reality?"

A PS to the interview: "What reality is the cockroach at my feet in the kitchen experiencing?" he wrote in an e-mail. "It is not my reality, we only share the same space."


How we test


Sophie was Wareable's associate editor. She joined the team from Stuff magazine where she was an in-house reviewer. For three and a half years, she tested every smartphone, tablet, and robot vacuum that mattered. 

A fan of thoughtful design, innovative apps, and that Spike Jonze film, she is currently wondering how many fitness tracker reviews it will take to get her fit. Current bet: 19.

Sophie has also written for a host of sites, including Metro, the Evening Standard, the Times, the Telegraph, Little White Lies, the Press Association and the Debrief.

She now works for Wired.

Related stories