by Rob Redman
Every year at FMX a theme develops, either intentional or not and 2015 was no different, although the topic that rose to most people's minds upon asking may be a surprise. This year almost everybody is talking about immersive technologies, meaning VR, AR and the one most people talked about MR (mixed realities). In fact looking back at the programme, over half the talks were either centered on, or included aspects of mixed reality.
The last two decades or more there have been attempts at VR, or at least stumblings in the right direction but the technology has never allowed the potential to shine and most efforts have dwindled. Or so we thought. It looks now as if the supporting tech has given a resurgence to the development of immersive interactivity in graphics. Disney's Mark Milne talked about how VR is used already in their interactive displays for narrative content at theme parks and that's just the start. Many talks ventured into this new area, from games to cinema.
We've all seen aspects of this on our smart phones, with road signs or direction hovering over our camera views and the massive uptake in the occulus rift has certainly brought some mainstream media attention but it's what is happening in the creative industries that excites.
The talks at FMX varied hugely though, starting with virtual production, the area I can see being used already, with virtual studios, allowing directors to control virtual cameras in an empty set but the monitors showing the full digital sets and characters driven by mocap. This isn't new but it's developing at a rapid rate.
The Rift is everywhere and is the delivery method of many for VR.
What is more interesting and still really an emergent concept as well as technology is narrative mixed reality. The tools are starting to become a reality but the design language and visual storytelling will need some serious evaluation. Imagine watching a film with the ability to look at something other than what the director chooses for you. Currently the set dressing, lighting and actor's markers only need to cater to one, limited, viewpoint. That leaves large areas free for gaffers, assistants, monitoring solutions and audio tech etc. The only way this can be countered for immersive storytelling will be the use of virtual sets but even then there still needs to be room for teams of people. I'm not convinced this hurdle will be overcome any time soon.
Mocap tech is ever developing & will be key to the success of MR
Imagine watching a VR film with somebody, not forgetting that cinema is fairly social activity, then trying to have the post-film chat. When you turn and ask what they thought of the vfx when the dinosaur bit off the head of the rampant penguin they might look at you blankly, as they were watching a beautifully crafted sunset because they are matte painting fans. This is where directors will need to learn new language for storytelling, helping audiences understand where to watch to see stories unfold. Or will the change be even greater? Will it be more like the old fighting fantasy books where viewers are presented with limited options to continue in a semi-free manner to play the plot out in different ways?
Some of the talks looked at the problem form a gaming perspective where entire environments are generated and rendered on the fly, with complete free reign over point of viewer, movement and interaction. There are certainly limitations to this but it may well be a good road to walk.
Whatever the answer the logisitcal problems are obvious. The computing resource requirements will be massive, the data storage and bandwidth equally so and will cinemas actually invest in the equipment to show this type of content, or will they die off, with individual viewers joining in virtual spaces, to watch different versions of the same story together but unable to share their popcorn?
Another question this raises is one of events? Will we continue to gather in groups of like minded artists, or will we meet virtually, checking out digital demos and watching talks by industry avatars? Many events already operate streaming services, for those who are unable to attend. It doesn't take much to see how that could expand.
For more thoughts and reports on FMX sign up for the newsletter and come back soon. This is one of a series of text, photo and video reports from FMX 2015.