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In Virtual Reality Movies, You Are the Camera. That Can Be a Problem, but Here's One Solution.

Good news: In VR movies, you can look anywhere. Bad news: In VR movies, you can look anywhere... and miss the action.

A lot of folks in Hollywood are excited about the prospect of movies made for virtual reality — so much so that at last year’s Oculus Connect conference in Los Angeles, movies seemingly eclipsed games in buzz.

But as they’ve started to play around in the new medium, directors have had to unlearn much of what works in traditional filmmaking. As I wrote last February after interviewing an early VR filmmaker, Condition One CEO Danfung Dennis, there were no clear answers to some fundamental questions.

A newly out-of-stealth Los Angeles startup called Visionary VR today took the wraps off its suggested answers to those questions.

A video explaining the venture’s thinking is embedded below, but here’s the simplified version: In traditional movies, directors can “frame” — control — exactly what movie viewers see, and editors can affect how they see it. In VR movies, viewers might look away from the most important stuff, so Visionary is proposing that VR movies have an invisible frame surrounding the main action; once a viewer’s head crosses that invisible line, that action pauses, letting the viewer spend time exploring the surroundings or even start an interactive activity.

“Imagine you’ve got this area of interest,” co-founder and visual effects artist Gil Baron said. “Look away from that, and they’re going to pause and wait for you. Look back, or hit a button to snap back to that view, and it continues from where it was.”

To gamers, this probably doesn’t sound all that strange. Dialogue and cinematically filmed “cutscenes” that interrupt gameplay are often triggered in modern games when the player crosses an invisible boundary. But it’s a dramatic departure from the techniques filmmakers have honed for more than a century.

“Guys like James Cameron are saying this isn’t even possible, that it’s all a video game,” Visionary co-founder Jonnie Ross said. “And Cameron, he’s a master storyteller. You’ve got to be able to get the attention of the audience.”

Ross is a longtime virtual reality believer, taking an interest in the mid ’90s “when I thought VR was actually going to happen.”

“I was the guy calling arcades looking for it, and getting laughed off the phone,” he said. “I was crushed when it didn’t happen.”

After building a career making commercials and music videos, he took an interest in Oculus VR. Oculus founder Palmer Luckey helped him get a developer prototype of the Oculus Rift after the two met at an event in Los Angeles, and urged him to think about narratives in VR.

Visionary is also developing editing tools that work within virtual reality, as shown toward the end of the video. Making a good movie in a medium, Ross said, means working in the same world that viewers will see.

Baron said the filmmaking techniques and editing tools, shown in the video with an animated film, could also work in live-action. The company already has a blueprint for what that might look like, he added, and a “proof of concept” is in the works.

This article originally appeared on

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