Blade Runner 2049 will once again push the tech envelope much like its predecessor in 1982. The original Blade Runner made heavy use of multi-pass exposure to deliver astounding visual fidelity and effects that are still considered the best of all time, even 35 years later.
True to its origins, Blade Runner 2049 will once again deliver a step up in visual quality while also breaking into new territory by being the first Hollywood motion picture to also deliver a VR experience designed from the ground up. This isn’t just a port of existing content to emulate a VR experience, but a full length motion picture, with a large Hollywood budget, that is targeting Virtual Reality headsets for optimum viewing pleasure.
Much like the future, where Blade Runner is set, viewers will be immersed in visual technology that will convey conflicts between humans and machines. We will be experiencing characters and scenes in Blade Runner as if we were actually there. This will be a first for Hollywood big-budget cinema that interestingly balances tried-and-tested story-telling and visual techniques with the new VR-based elements.
No longer will viewers seem like they are simply watching events on a 2D screen in a land far-far away. The possibility for viewers to experience a highly realistic immersion in a scene offers story-tellers and movie-makers alike a unique, and unprecedented opportunity to create deeper, more enduring, and powerful emotional responses. We’ve all experienced the wonder of watching the Death Star blow up for the first time back in 1979 with George Lucas’ Star Wars: A New Hope. But, imagine if that scene was filmed using VR cameras that allowed viewers to actually feel like they were orbiting Alderaan before it blew up. For example, picture chunks of a planet flying towards the viewer invoking a sense of fear and danger from the constant need to avoid flying debris around them, while simultaneously overwhelming their sense of wonder and curiosity.
But, as with all things, with great power, comes great responsibility……and effort! While it certainly will push story telling in movies to a whole new level, it will not come without cost. Providing viewers the power to view movie scenes from any angle comes with the added responsibility to ensure this does not break the emotional experience the director is trying to achieve. A good example of this can be seen from Indiana Jones’ first foray to our hearts: Raiders of the Lost Ark. Remember the iconic scene in the beginning where Indiana is running away from a gigantic ball of rock that’s chasing him through an old crypt tunnel? The feeling of imminent dread as the rolling ball got closer and closer?
Now imagine this scene using a VR headset that allows you to view the surrounding area as if you are taken directly down rails, towards the crypt’s entrance. Will this scene evoke the same sense of dread if the viewer decides to look around in a casual manner instead of witnessing the rolling ball hurdling towards them? Not likely. Now imagine how this scene can be re-envisioned with VR, providing the director additional freedom to create a sense of dread as he carefully planning towards emotional targets and how best to deliver them using new VR based perspectives. Returning to Indiana Jones, in this case it is easy to see that simply providing a 360 degree scene view will not always transfix the viewer with the emotional core that this scene is trying to convey. As a result, we can appreciate the need to better mold the viewer’s perspective and actions while still providing him with a first person experience that is afforded via the magic of VR Tech.
It’s clear that the malevolent boulder chasing you in the scene is trying to evoke a sense of fear by placing the viewer in an enclosed space with only one exit while an immense object comes barreling towards you at high speed. The key here is first to recognize what feelings you desire to evoke in the viewer (fear and dread), and then how best accomplish this (the power of VR, of course!).
In this case, the rolling boulder fills only 1/4 of the viewer’s field of view, and it is important to realize that if the viewer is permitted to veer his gaze, even for a small instant, this will dramatically reduce the emotional impact of the scene. Therefore, constraining the viewer’s field of view only to a limited portion of their surroundings will help ‘tunnel’ his vision toward the key screen elements. This can be achieved by ‘shading’ out’ the surroundings, or even using reflective surfaces and objects to keep the ‘threat’ in the field of view. Additional techniques, which would require increased effort, can be used to improve the emotional impact by ensuring all fields of view that are made available are complemented with visual and audio feedback that helps instill the targeted emotion – in this case dread and fear. As Indiana is runs away from the menacing boulder, additional ‘threats’ can be inserted into nearby surroundings that only serve to heighten the emotional intensity experienced. Should the user decide to divert his view from the boulder, he will now be assaulted with added audio/visual elements that enhance and reinforce emotional impact.
From a Samsung perspective, all this translates to a tremendous opportunity for increased hardware demand in the industry space which, in turn, will bleed into the consumer space. Providing top tier VR recording equipment and tools to help lower barriers to entry and the costs of creating content for this new technology will be required before mass consumer adoption can gain traction. But at the right cost, compelling content will eventually surface. If its quality matches expectations, we should see word of mouth prevail as consumers gain more interest in consuming content unique to VR aficionados, thus increasing demand for VR consumption hardware.