There isn't even a consumer-ready virtual reality headset on the market yet, but that isn't stopping a few filmmakers from thinking it's the future. One of the pioneers in the area is Condition One's Zero Point — a film that's as much a discussion of VR's potential as it is a showcase for new technology.
According to Condition One founder Danfung Dennis I was the first person outside the company to sit through the full twenty-minute version of Zero Point, which had me walking through the Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles, cowering in the midst of a military training exercise (with a full 360-degree image and head-tracking), and flying off a cliff attached to a drone.
I caught up with Dennis to ask him about some of the challenges associated with VR filmmaking — and they are numerous — to get an idea of what this new medium will look like five or ten years down the line. Read on for details on binaural microphones, sickness-inducing escalators, and the limitations of capturing a GB of data per second.
TechHive: I had a hard time telling on that pair of headphones — when it was the military training, was the audio actually positional?
Dennis: Yeah, we're recording with binaural microphones. We think audio is essential for immersion and creating a sense of presence, so we've been experimenting with different types of binaural microphones.
In that specific Marines scene I had some binaural mics in my ear canal — one in each ear canal. It uses the shape of your ears, your head as a stereo source to create that positional audio. So you hear gunshots coming from behind you, you hear people shouting from different directions. It's actually quite subtle, but it brings the level of immersion up a huge amount. Most people don't even pick up on it, but it adds so much.
A lot of the footage in here right now cuts off around 180 degrees. Were those filmed with earlier tech?
Dennis: Yeah, we've been working on this for a couple of years already so our earlier camera systems were only 180 degrees. We wanted to get first the 180 feeling right, and then we moved to stereo and then to 360, and we still have to figure out the tops and bottoms and filling in. As we've been filming our camera systems have been getting better and better, and will continue to get better and we'll have coverage of the entire 360 degree scene.
That hang-gliding moment...I assume it was a hang-glider. [Referring to the part where the camera flies off a cliff]
Dennis: It was actually a small little remote helicopter... drone that we attached the camera to.
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