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Virtual Reality Experts Weigh In During Event at Linwood Dunn

Byline: Debra Kaufman

On May 25, at the Motion Picture Academy’s Linwood Dunn Theater, the Hollywood section of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers hosted a presentation on “VR/AR and other confusing names for a very exciting topic!” With virtual reality much in the news, it was no surprise that the event, which was organized and moderated by SMPTE Hollywood Secretary, Anthony Magliocco, quickly sold out, with Marty Meyer introducing the event.

“We aim to provide education, insight, understanding of what’s going on in the marketplace,” says Magliocco. “We pick topics that help our colleagues in the industry catch up on trends. We wanted to make sure we covered virtual reality because many people are trying to figure it out.”

Four speakers each addressed an aspect of VR.  Phil Lelyveld, who is the program manager of the Virtual Reality/Augmented Initiative Program Manager at the Entertainment Technology Center at USC gave a very informative overview of how to define virtual reality, the companies and technologies involved and the skillsets required to create it. “Phil did a great job of giving us a big picture, to calibrate the topic,” says Magliocco. “SMPTE is about engineering, but we have to deal with the whole ecosystem of entertainment. “What became clear is that VR is a term used for many, many formats including 360-degree and 180-degree video, 2D and 3D, for use cases in entertainment, games, military, research.”

The next speaker, Lucas Wilson focused on actual VR production and post. Wilson, who comes from a background of working in 3D and post, now does independent production for Jaunt VR, one of the many VR companies producing content with cameras ranging from GoPros to Nokia OZOs. Wilson also showed images from a recent VR project for musician Paul McCartney.

Addressing the topic of live VR production was Michael Davies, senior vice president, Fox Sports Media Group Field and Technical Operations. Davies reported that his company is working on VR content for the U.S. Open, its eighth VR production,; previous live VR projects covered boxing, golf and NASCAR. Working in collaboration with virtual reality production company NextVR, Fox Sports delivers both live VR and short VOD pieces as streaming media. “VOD complements the live,” he says, pointing out that people can engage in the VOD content when there’s a lull in the live action.

Although there aren’t many people now watching the VR sporting events, Davies says that as consumer devices proliferate, so will the viewers. “Videogames will drive the initial pickup, but live entertainment and a continued stream of new content will be what really fuels this medium,” he says. “In that way, sports can play a huge role in virtual reality.”

The evening’s program ended with Daniel Oberlerchner, director of content operations at Deluxe’s newly opened VR division. He noted that, just like the first automobile looked like a horse carriage, “VR looks like old media right now.” But that will change, he says, and VR becomes more advanced.

He described Room Scale VR, which “refers to the technology that creates a fully immersive 3D volume where we can keep the virtual world still while you can move around in it.” “Impeccable tracking is needed to deliver room-scale VR in an ergonomic fashion,” he said. “VR needs smart people, and lots of the necessary skillsets can be found in our industry.”

In the audience, Pickfair Institute founder Jonathan Erland, who dubs himself a VR skeptic, was among the many who declared the VR program “excellent.” “I found myself challenged by much of what I heard,” he said. “For an immersive experience, a travelogue, say, VR is wonderful.  For the gaming field, as well as driver ed simulators, VR is perfect.  For the photoplay it’s not so simple. Exercising such a fine degree of control over audience perception is going to be a whole new challenge in the cinema of virtual reality where the audience can look anywhere and focus on anything it wants. But the discussion at the SMPTE meeting suggests that it just may be possible to achieve something worthwhile.”

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