HENRY ORPHANED

Written by Fred Bailey

 

That cute little porcupine Henry doesn’t have a home anymore.

Henry was the groundbreaking star of an eponymous animated Virtual Reality short that won an Emmy for best Original Interactive program in 2016.

Henry was born at Oculus Story Studio, the Facebook-owned content generator of VR headset manufacturer Oculus.

And now Facebook has announced that Oculus Story Studio has been permanently shut down.

Since the studio was focused on narrative-driven VR content, this is seen as a fairly serious blow to the burgeoning VR field, something that Hanhai Studio has been keeping a close eye on.

Oculus Story Studio, barely two years old, was responsible for the creation of other high-profile, award-winning VR content, such as Dear Angelica and Lost.

Those last two titles were helmed by a former Pixar director, Saschka Unseld, Creative Director at the studio.  He’s now out of a job.

Oculus VP Jason Rubin said the company isn’t deserting VR creative content, it’s just shifting its focus “away from internal content creation to support more external production,” meaning outside producers.

Rubin promised that Oculus is going to continue to “fund non-gaming, experiential VR content,” to the tune of at least $50M, with the money being funneled “directly to artists to help jumpstart the most innovative” VR concepts.

In the meantime, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg says that VR “won’t be a big part of our business for a while.” 

This feels like a bit of a setback, as Virtual Reality practitioners grope for ways to apply storytelling skills to the piping-hot new medium.

INVESTING IN A.R.

Written by Fred Bailey

4/6/2017

With Microsoft, Google and Apple diving in, by 2020 the combined annual market for AR and VR could be well over $100B.  At present, business-wide surveys show there’s a higher percentage of investment in AR than in VR, and the gap is likely to increase in the coming few years.

Bearing that in mind, here are three possible arenas for investment in the technology involved in developing Augmented Reality.

Dramatic shift from 2D to 3D computing
The vision is there.  We’ve seen it imagined in sci-fi content as diverse as Terminator 2, Minority Report and Black Mirror, where information and animation is overlaid on reality, either through an HUD (Heads Up Display) like a visor or helmet—or through some kind of miniature device actually implanted in the human eye.

The latter is still science fiction, but the HUD isn’t.  It’s like projecting pocket monsters onto a view of the street in Pokemon Go. Or Google Map directions being seen on your windshield instead of your cellphone.

But scanning, tracking and distinguishing the real world is not an easy task, especially when it’s on such a gigantic scale.  This involves mapping everything everywhere so that the hardware can track your location in order to overlay how you’re looking at it with AR content.  That’s going to take some prodigious technological growth, but the promise is there.

Dynamic shaping of what we see

Accomplishing the above provides the groundwork for content creators to customize, enhance and even intensify your world view with a virtual coating, and that’s going to require a new set of tools for capture and conversion.  It’s the next step in gearing up.

Decisive removal of long distance as an obstacle

Collaboration with co-workers on opposite sides of the planet…massive public events like 360o participation in a concert held somewhere across the continent…trouble-shooting in an industrial emergency hundreds of miles away…  Those are just some of the possibilities for specialization as AR technology morphs and evolves in response to demand.

All this is achievable through the transparent processing of data and having it right there in front of you, in your own field of vision.  You don’t have to look down at a laptop.

The prospects for constructive and rewarding investment are exciting.

HH&E Venture is taking a long-view look at this kind of expansion.  It’s a joint project of Hanhai Studio and Eagles Fund, based in California, and we’re focused on investing in the most influential tech and business innovations in the U.S.  We’re working hard to put the resources from both China and America to good use, delivering high profits through strategic development opportunities.

V.R. UNTETHERED

Written by Fred Bailey

3/21/2017

At last December’s HET Festival, NVIDIA general manager Zvi Greenstein, discussing the future of Virtual Reality in his keynote, told us, “We need a wire-free system.”

Now, just a couple of months later, Chinese startup Pico Interactive, with a base in San Francisco, is in the process of introducing an all-in-one system without a wire.

The Pico Neo CV headset is untethered.

There are a lot of headsets out there, but they’re either fixed-position, in which your point-of-view remains the same, or they’ve got a wire that you might stumble over when you’re feeling your way around the environment you’re exploring.

No wire is just about the seventh degree of freedom.

The VP of Business Development at Pico, Paul Viglienzone, notes the drawbacks and challenges facing users tied to a wire and then goes in for the kill:  The Neo CV is grab-n-go.

“There’s no challenge to enter.  You just put it on and you’re in VR.”

He says that’s the way VR ought to be.

“It’s no hassle.  You’re in there.”

The Pico headset, built on a Snapdragon processor with highly accurate inside-out position tracking, won’t be commercially available until later this year.

In the meantime, the company is working diligently with content creators to develop what we all hope will be some exciting VR experiences.

Greenstein at HETFest said it’s a long-term voyage.  We’ll be following VR for years.

Yet Pico started talking about building this headset less than 12 months ago.  It may be a long journey, but it sometimes seems like the technology is advancing with unimaginable speed.

What’s next?  A VR scene on a beach where you can feel the sand between your toes with the smell of salt in the air?

VR: HOW DID THEY SHOOT THAT?

VR: HOW DID THEY SHOOT THAT?

Written by Fred Bailey

3/13/2017

If you were at the Hollywood Entertainment Technology Festival last December, then you know Virtual Reality was at center stage.

VR is often 3D computer-generated.  Nevertheless, there’s such a thing as live-action VR, and it’s pretty much a mind-blower.  You get fully engrossed in it, and whichever way you turn your head, you’re still in it.

How the heck do they shoot that?

You recall the immemorial image of the guy with his camera on a tripod and his cap turned backwards as he leans in to look through the viewfinder.  That goes all the way back to the birth of the movies.

But where does the cameraman stand if the camera can see 360o?  And that includes up/down, left/right, backwards and forwards.

There are only a handful of VR cameras out there for professional use.  Some production companies are still using home-made constructions.

On the other hand, Nokia, the decades-old phone company, has re-imagined itself by offering a VR camera called OZO, a high-end piece of gear with a price tag of $45,000.  It’s a spherical contraption that captures a 360-degree field of view with eight lenses.

And the question of where the cinematographer stands is answered by including live monitoring.

On professional film sets, the director and crew can see what they’re shooting on a live video monitor, even if they’re shooting on film.

However, the computational muscle required in VR is prodigious.  It takes time to digitally stitch all that imagery together coming from several different cameras so it’s got a smooth and natural feel.  That used to mean you’d have to wait a good while after you’re done shooting to see what you shot.

But Ozo’s got dynamic rendering.  Which means filmmakers can put on VR goggles and see what’s being shot in real time right now.

And it means the camera operator doesn’t have to stand behind (or under) the camera.

How’s it look?  UploadVR editor-in-chief Will Mason calls Ozo’s output “some of the best VR live action content you’ve ever seen.”

Mason served as a panelist at the HETFest in December and was also a judge in the start-up competition.

THE THRILL OF VR – WILL IT BE THE DOMINANT ART FORM OF THE 21ST CENTURY?

Written by Fred Bailey

2/22/17

You know what Virtual Reality is. A fully-engrossing simulation technology that replicates an environment—real or imaginary.  It creates an immersive artificial sensory experience that stimulates the user as she interacts with it.

Is VR a genuine breakthrough, something with staying power—or is it a flash in the pan, something with a short shelf life, like the comings and goings of 3D over the years?

Some people find 3D movies irritating because of the glasses you have to wear.  Likewise, with VR, some people are not going to enjoy wearing the required HMD (Head-Mounted Display), once the novelty of the experience wears off.

The concept of VR has been around for decades.

Remember the Power Glove?  Originally released in 1989, it was a game controller accessory, an early stab at VR.  The slogan went, “Now you’re playing with power!” 

The public was told the glove was going to change everything.  It didn’t.  It was inexact and hard to manipulate.

But that was then.  This is now.  The technology has advanced in huge leaps and bounds.

At the Hollywood Entertainment Technology Festival, sponsored by Hanhai Studio last December, we got a glimpse of the future.

Zvi Greenstein, general manager of NVIDIA, where he leads VR business development, told us in his keynote, “We need a wire-free system.”  And it’s on the way.

Max Epstein, VP at DMG Entertainment, in his keynote said VR’s promise is “an extraordinary experience with interactive mechanics that further the narrative.”

And that’s where it’s at:  Using VR to enrich the Story…and vice versa.

David Attenborough was host of LIFE on BBC.  His First Life VR and Great Barrier Reef Dive are short VR adventure/documentaries, currently showing at the Natural History Museum in London.

Attenborough says, “We’re on the brink of a simply enormous change in visual communication.”

A growing number of VR production companies are sprouting up in California, among them: Oculus Story Studio, Vrse.works, Jaunt, VR Films, and The Virtual Reality Company. 

Because of the newness of VR as a medium, nobody has all the answers.

Which makes this a supremely exciting time to explore, experiment and discover.

“This is going to change everything…

The potential of virtual reality is truly limitless.”

—Rob Stromberg, director, Maleficent

now Chief Creative Officer, The Virtual Reality Co.

     The Kaleidoscope VR Film Festival held at LA River Studios in Los Angeles in September of last year.