VR is a wild place. Time to plant your flag.
As Unity engineer Lucas Meijer said during the Unite Europe keynote, the kinds of VR experiences and interaction models that will set standards in the near future have yet to be invented. Which makes now a perfect time for fearless and visionary artists and developers to jump in and help define this emerging genre.
Brenden Gibbons is a Narrative Designer and student at NHTV, Breda. He jumped into VR filmmaking without a life vest when he made Dyskinetic, a VR live action short film for the Oculus Rift that screened at the international film festival GoShort 2014 in Nijnmegen. He came out of the experience with more problems than solutions, which is why he gave a talk about it at Unite Europe: in the hope that others in the audience would be inspired to solve some of the challenges he encountered.
The current paradigms don’t work
“There are so many things left to do that I can’t do, and it was such a fractured experience to make a VR film. I probably used about seven different types of software to pull my film together, including separate ‘housekeeping’ software to rename files in bulk, or to convert the footage into OGG files for Unity. The workflow I used to turn the footage into frames was especially clunky; we need better solutions.”
“VR is still a future piece of technology, at least regarding entertainment content. The ability to put something on your head and feel like you are somewhere else? That sounds like we’re in the future! But we’re using current paradigms to design for this future. We keep asking questions like ‘how do we port an FPS to VR?’ Or the problem of presence. Today we still find it difficult to design an app or make a film that just uses this concept of presence in VR. The real challenge is in figu
ring out how to make pure, VR only content.”
Brenden’s workflow to get his film footage into Unity
“Presence is the difference between knowing and feeling”
Paul Hannah comes from a different background then Brenden, but just like him he’s trying out ways to develop VR content that feels real. He’s a Lead 3D simulation engineer at Airbus DS Newport in the UK. He spoke at Unite Europe about creating Heliskape, a VR helicopter simulator that allows the user to experience flying over London within the cockpit of an Airbus EC135 helicopter.
“We thought to ourselves, how can we create a sense of wonder? The input mechanism plays a key role in that, in creating presence. For Heliskape, we looked at designing the right physical controls that move with your hands just as they would in real life if you were flying a helicopter. For example, a physical control to move the throttle forward can get you much closer to presence in the virtual world.
He recounts how a student who tried out Heliskape experienced the sensation of vertigo even though she was sitting in a chair. “She felt as though she were flying high up in the sky; she was blown away by the experience, it was just brilliant.”
“I don’t think we are far off from being able to more widely develop true VR experiences. VR has moved faster than any other new input medium. The spatially aware controllers that Oculus and Valve are working on could be a big breakthrough.”
Innovating with Unity
As part of the Unite Europe keynote Lucas Meijer talked about the new features in Unity 5.1, including the out-of-the-box support for Oculus Rift and Gear VR. He said the way forward with VR is “to try many different ideas and see what sticks. Unity is the best development environment to experiment with VR, to fail fast and just try hundreds and hundreds of things on this search to find the experiences and interaction models that will work.”
At Airbus Paul and his team use Unity mainly to prototype. “It helps us to innovate quickly, to try out the ideas in our head, to see how it could work on multiple devices.” He says Unity 5 has greatly streamlined the artists’ workflow, especially with the Standard Shader and Real-time Global Illumination.
Brenden says that bringing his VR film together in Unity was “super simple. I used the footage as a texture feature in Unity 5 and just dragged the prefab in and it worked.”
Setting up Dyskinetic in Unity
Cross-industry exchange of knowledge is key to shaping a successful future for VR
Paul says in serious games “we have to embrace the real-world, whereas game developers often create their own fantastical world. Our approaches are different but we can and should learn from each other because VR is going to change games, films, how people buy real-estate and choose holidays; it’s going to change everything.”
“VR film is a real mixed-bag of disciplines,” says Brenden. “You can learn from interactive theatre about how to position your actors; learn from film about how to frame your shots; learn from game development for level design, for example, how to place your lights, how to use color, how to animate elements in the film all so you can force the viewer to look where you want them to look in your film. Be inspired by everything! It’s unexplored territory; we’re creating all-new styles of storytelling.”
For more info on VR development in Unity, watch these the talks from the popular VR track at Unite Europe: