Written by - Clyde D'souza
I haven’t paid for a VR movie before; I felt no need to as most experiences were free. But when a big name Hollywood pioneer like Robert Rodriguez jumps in with a VR film, a $5 ‘ticket’ would be worth the price… or so I thought. A 4gb download later, I have an opinion. TL;DR, this won’t be a flattering review.
Those who can’t… criticize.
If I had a dollar for every time I heard the line, I’d be rich enough to well… fund a big budget VR film. There’s no point easing in, so let’s get down to it:
VR Films need VR Cinematography:
You’d think this is a no-brainer. You’re creating for an immersive medium and yet somehow Directors still fall prey to advisers with vested interests, and end up shooting 2D for 3D Scratch that … they end up shooting 2D for VR.
A 2D cinematography mindset is the singular reason why Cinematic VR is lagging.
It was bad enough in regular 3D films, now it’s rearing it’s ugly head in 1/2 VR films too.
2D to 3D conversions in VR, suck:
They suck big time, for exactly the very reason Robert Rodriguez hopes to evangelize VR as an immersive platform, better than Imax (paraphrasing his words in the featurette with the film). In VR, yes, there is no distance between the viewer and the screen. One is wearing the screen on their face and so it’s even more obvious when something’s “off” with the characters in front of you.
I’m not talking about the technical caveats of poor conversion either, as seen in the closeup image above (look at it though anaglyph glasses and see the background pulled into the male characters neck area)
No, that is not the main problem here. The problem is de-immersion. Why?
In VR you can’t cheat…
A lot of Cinematic VR films are actually flat 360 panoramic video; Apple called it QTVR back in the ’90s. In choosing to shoot with a single camera with a fisheye lens and converting the whole thing in post, Robert Rodriguez has fallen victim to the same thinking that plagued 3D filmmakers:
Pacing for 2D — When you’re wearing an Imax Screen on your face, *YOU* are a camera strapped to a roller coaster. If you have a hard stomach, by all means go for that ride.
Pitch/Yaw and swish pans work for 2D not VR — I’m all for the “break the rules” mantra, but not at the cost of common sense. If you shoot for 2D, you have no idea what happens to the human vestibular system and senses when viewing in 3D (even if converted) in a VR headset.
Scale: — When converting in post what you gain is less ‘retinal rivalry’ but at the cost of scale and ‘realism’. At the very least, the conversion could have been tuned for a VR headset. It’s not impossible to sculpt depth in post to maintain a semblance of 1:1 scale for VR and headset. However, it looks like the stereo-post dept. on The Limit, created the 2D-to-3D conversion for traditional cinema screens.
We are Voyeurs in VR: Once filmmakers understand this powerful “presence” tool [viewers becoming voyeurs in a film], they will kick themselves for not using VR for the medium that it is — A way to truly break the 4th wall and draw the viewer into the story
What is the use of converting flat 2D pictures into “VR” when powerful binocular cues are lost in the process? People ‘connect’ with people when they are face to face. If characters necks and faces are victims of post-processed “depth”, it’s uncanny valley on a whole different scale (even if at a subconscious level)
When wearing a VR headset, the film world becomes the real world…
This film was shot in 180 and while I don’t have anything against 180 films passing off as video based “VR”, some of the lessons, especially the one on “Wobble Cam” outlined in this article would have helped the producers of “The Limit” understand the medium, better.
Sidenote: “Think in 3D” is as relevant to VR filmmaking as it was/is to stereoscopic 3D filmmaking