#Trending: VR storytelling grows up fast

The immersive tech is already proving there's a life beyond gaming
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If 2016 was the year that VR officially landed, 2017 is the time when those with their hands on the hardware and the software can prove that there's more to it than racing around in Hover Junkers on your Vive or pretending to be the caped crusader on your PlayStation VR.

It's already happening in the film industry as virtual reality invades the festival scene whether it's Sundance, Tribeca or over in Cannes. The idea of using VR for storytelling remains a divisive subject with big Hollywood names like Steven Spielberg still unsure about its value. But that hasn't stopped high profile filmmakers dabbling with the tech and it looks like it's already starting to pay off.

Read this: How Hollywood is starting to invade the VR scene

Whether Spielberg and Hollywood's other elite like it or not, VR films are happening and they are showing signs of breaking into the mainstream in a big way.

So what's happened?

VR got some serious love this week at the most illustrious awards ceremonies of them all, the Academy Awards - better known as the Oscars. Pearl became the first ever VR film to bag a nomination and is up for best animated short.

What's it about and who made it?

Pearl tells the story of a father and daughter on the road crisscrossing the country chasing their dreams. It's been directed by Patrick Osbourne who has already bagged an Oscar for his Disney animated short Feast.

Where can I find it?

It's part of Google's Spotlight Stories app, a hub for animated shorts and experiences, which also includes Help by Fast and Furious director Justin Lin and the recent Planet of the Couches VR couch gag created to celebrate the 600th episode of The Simpsons.

How do I watch it?

You'll need your smartphone and a VR headset like Google Cardboard. Once you've downloaded the Spotlight Stories app, you're good to go. It's also available on YouTube and we've stuck a link below if you want to give it a watch using the 360-degree cursor in the top left of the video to navigate around the scene.

Is this the first VR film to get big recognition?

It's certainly the first to make the Oscars cut, but VR films have begun to pick up other awards elsewhere. Oculus Story Studio won an Emmy for its animated short Henry, while the New York Times' VR film The Displaced, which looks at war from the eyes of young refugees, picked up an Entertainment Grand Prix award at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity last year.

What other big Hollywood names are making VR films?

Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu, who made a little film called The Revenant, revealed in September last year that he was working with collaborator cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki on a short virtual reality film.

The film looks at the pretty topical subject of immigration between Mexico and the US and will "explore the intense and excruciating experience of a group of immigrants and refugees crossing the border between Mexico and the United States."

Is it just all about shorts?

Things are getting longer as our features ed Sophie discusses in her look at the VR invasion at Sundance 2017. Oculus Story Studio's Dear Angelica went from demo to a 12 minute film while Miyubi, a film shot about a family in the 1980s from the perspective of a Japanese toy robot, hit the 40 minute mark.

Are VR films inspiring Hollywood?

They are indeed and the biggest example of this is six-minute animated VR short Invasion! being turned into a full feature movie for the big screen. Created by Eric Darnell (Madagascar) and his Baobab Studios, the story of the adorable bunny who tries to thwart two bumbling alien invaders was a firm favourite at last year's Tribeca Film Festival. The project has been taken by the same company that produced Snow White and the Huntsman, and Maleficent.

What other big VR films should I look out for?

Writer David S. Goyer (Batman Begins, Man of Steel) confirmed last year that he was working on a Star Wars film with Darth Vader as the lead character in the original story set within the Star Wars universe. It's being worked on by the same team that's putting together the live-action films. When will we see it? Well according to Goyer it could be a year or two before it's primed for VR viewing.

How we test

Michael Sawh


Michael Sawh has been covering the wearable tech industry since the very first Fitbit landed back in 2011. Previously the resident wearable tech expert at Trusted Reviews, he also marshaled the features section of T3.com.

He also regularly contributed to T3 magazine when they needed someone to talk about fitness trackers, running watches, headphones, tablets, and phones.

Michael writes for GQ, Wired, Coach Mag, Metro, MSN, BBC Focus, Stuff, TechRadar and has made several appearances on the BBC Travel Show to talk all things tech. 

Michael is a lover of all things sports and fitness-tech related, clocking up over 15 marathons and has put in serious hours in the pool all in the name of testing every fitness wearable going. Expect to see him with a minimum of two wearables at any given time.

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