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Hollywood VR Darling Kite & Lightning Is Moving to Paris

"VR is a contact religion" -- but VR's next sermon will take nine months to write.

Shutterstock / Gianni Triggiani

Kite & Lightning, the cinematic virtual reality studio that developed well-liked VR experiences based on NBC’s “The Voice” and Lionsgate’s “The Divergent Series,” is relocating from Hollywood to Paris for nine months to work on a big-idea project.

Just what the big idea is, for now, is unknown — including to Kite & Lightning themselves. Co-founder Ikrima Elhassan told Re/code that the team has a big binder full of ideas and will spend its first few weeks in France deciding which one to produce. But it will take all of the planned nine-month trip to make that one idea a reality, Elhassan expects.

“Each idea in the binder is a nine-month project,” he said. “Our other projects have been about two to three months.”

Unlike companies such as Jaunt or studios like Felix & Paul, which specialize in live action, Kite & Lightning heavily integrates CGI and other special effects into its projects. Its most recent contract job, made for GE, takes users inside the brain of a musician and incorporates a real MRI scan into the climax.

Elhassan said his studio is trying to row against two bits of conventional wisdom in the nascent industry: That VR has to be realistic, and that games and movies must be segregated.

“The more VR develops, the more we feel it’s important for you to have some elements of interactivity,” Elhassan said. “And the more real it gets, the more immersive it is, the more you have this uncanny valley of VR.”

An example of the “uncanny valley,” he explained: Talking to a live-action character in VR, then looking or stepping to the side and realizing they’re not really talking to you, but rather to the virtual space where you were.

“Your brain rejects it,” said Elhassan.

CGI experiences, by contrast, might let those same characters be avatars who can follow a user around the room.

Although he pointedly avoided the rhetorical “what is a video game?” discussion, Elhassan said Kite & Lightning is less interested in live acton and more interested in “non-traditionally-classified games.” Computer-generated imagery also makes it easier to add interactivity, by way of the motion controllers set to be released by Facebook, Sony and HTC in tandem with their upcoming consumer VR headsets.

But won’t non-gamer viewers resist adding even more hardware on top of the headset?

“That problem will go away pretty quickly once you experience something,” Elhassan said. “VR is a contact religion. You have to see it to ‘get’ it. Controllers are going to be the same thing.”

“We think the types of people who can run these experiences are probably going to be hardcore gamers and gadget-ers,” he added. “The question really is, is it going to be just gaming out of the gate? Or is it going to be gaming plus other things?”

Perhaps not coincidentally, with both Facebook and Sony targeting the first half of next year for consumer-ready VR headsets, that gate should be opening in just about … nine months.

Bon voyage!

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