Virtual reality is not a new concept, but as the technology finally starts to come of age and makes its way into the mass marketplace, it has got the entertainment industry buzzing with anticipation about new possibilities it might open up.
VR films, VR video games, even VR mobile phones – VR is finally crossing over from science fiction and tech demos into the mainstream.
In December last year, the Dubai International Film Festival devoted a panel discussion to it, while Samsung demonstrated its Gear VR device, powered by the Facebook-owned Oculus VR.
The Sundance Film Festival in January showcased 30 VR films in its New Frontiers section, while leading consumer-technology shows, such as the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas and Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, have offered little in the way of new technology that doesn’t come with a “VR” tag.
Dubai-raised filmmaker Elia Petridis (The Man Who Shook the Hand of Vicente Fernandez) is at the forefront of the virtual wave.
Lebanese-Greek Petridis, who splits his time between Dubai and Los Angeles, runs production house Filmatics. He has collaborated with leading VR studio Wevr (pronounced "weaver") on a 12-minute VR horror film, Eye for an Eye: A Séance in VR.
Wevr might not be a household name just yet, but it’s aiming to position itself as an industry leader in producing VR content and delivering it to headsets through its Transport platform, which Wevr’s chief executive describes as “the Netflix of VR”.
This may sound like hollow PR hyperbole, but Petridis is convinced of Wevr's credentials in this emerging market. "Wevr is one of the most dynamic current VR studios working out of Los Angeles, and Eye for an Eye will launch on their Transport player across Android and iOS platforms this year," he says.
The film tells the story of three teenagers who take part in a séance to find a missing friend.
VR seems particularly well suited to the horror genre – and if we tell you that the spirit that the youngsters summon lost his eyes in a stabbing and is seeking replacements, and that the viewer essentially takes on the role of one of the participants sitting around the séance table, you may start to ask yourself whether this is really something you want to encounter in fully immersive, wrap-around 3-D.
You can be sure, however, there are plenty of horror fans who will relish the opportunity.
“The film is a 12-minute piece of cinematic narrative VR – one of the longest on the market,” says Petridis.
VR films have tended to be short so far. Filmmakers are still getting used to the new technology, and there are concerns about how comfortable the first generation of VR headsets will be to wear for prolonged periods.
“The film features real actors and locations, not CGI,” Petridis says. “It also features green screen [special effects] work, in-camera effects, object-based panning – positional audio – which makes the space even more immersive, as well as a focus gaze, which allows the viewer to explore a different room and find a new Easter egg of the story, should they choose, simply by looking in a spot to signify the change.”
Petridis had hoped to complete the film in time to submit it to the Sundance Film Festival, but was unable to meet the deadline. He did, however, attend the festival with the film to network with industry professionals, and says his sights are now set on another highlight of the US festival calender.
“We had an extremely fruitful trip and the piece is in current submission for Tribeca, as well as other VR festivals such as Kaleidoscope,” he says.