Sundance panel tackles future of VR in entertainment

Sundance panel tackles future of VR in entertainment


PARK CITY — With a variety of movies playing in town, a couple dozen people lined up instead to hear about the future of virtual reality and interactive technology in filmmaking Saturday during the 2018 Sundance Film Festival.

The group crowded inside the bottom level of the Intel Tech Lodge, 558 Main St., for the 2 p.m. panel featuring three industry executives and a filmmaker, ready to discuss where VR and augmented reality are headed in regards to entertainment.

“This year, we have turned another corner in VR,” Ted Shilowitz, futurist-in-residence at Paramount Studios, said during the panel. “VR is maturing. The last few years at Sundance it has been more engaging.”

Award-winning filmmaker Eliza McNitt premiered her new VR series, “SPHERES: Songs of Spacetime” on Friday at the festival. The 13-minute film is an entirely VR, immersive experience of two black holes colliding in space. Narrated by Jessica Chastain, the film makes the viewer feel like they are floating in space, completely surrounded by exploding stars and bending light.

Despite the incredible visuals, music and feeling the film offers, McNitt said creating it was not without its difficulties. She said in some instances, the technology hasn’t entirely caught up with the artistic vision and that “we really need faster computers” because creating the visuals for her film took a long time to render and took a lot of processing power.

“It’s always a collaboration between the creator and tech,” she said. “During a black hole, it bends starlight. And we wanted you to not just see that, but to feel it.”

McNitt mentioned that she often had to have her developer on hand to ask if what she wanted to create was even possible.

Along with some of the other current technological limitations, Shilowitz also talked about how we still often think of movies as just being portrayed on a screen, in 2-D or 3-D.

“It all has a border and we are aware of the border,” he said. “You can sit close (to the screen) and pretend it’s not there, but it’s there. (We need to) advance the screen so there’s not a border and it’s more like real life.”

However, one issue with making movies a VR experience is not only the lack of proper equipment in theaters, but because we are also “bumping up against the limits of what computing can do,” Shilowitz said.

“How do you break beyond the flat screen to include temperature, wind and smells?” said Diego Prilusky, head of Intel’s new studio division. But despite discussing some of the current limitations, Prilusky said that industry experts and artists need to keep exploring immersive content and not get bogged down by the hardware.

Chris Bobotis, director of Immersive at Adobe, made the audience laugh with his paraphrase of a Jeff Goldblum line in “Jurassic Park” by saying that “artists always find a way.” And to shift from regular filmmaking to VR, he said: “instead of pointing one camera, you get a 360-degree array of cameras.”

Although challenging with the current limits, all four of the panel members felt that movies will continue to get more interactive, and that immersive content like VR and AR (augmented reality) would become more commonplace over the next few years.

Shilowitz said that the cellphone is a great example of technology that used to be non-existent, then it was really clunky and only used to talk on, and now we basically have small pockets computers. And where we used to put our phone to our ear and are now always staring at our smartphone screens, Shilowitz said he really feels that the next step is to have a good wearable tech for our face.

The current VR headsets, which Shilowitz referred to as the “box on face,” will become like the first model of a cellphone and will have a nice “historical place.”

When asked what Adobe is currently working on to help further the tech for VR and immersive content, Bobotis said he couldn’t say, but that there would likely be two big releases later this year — with one announcement expected at the National Association of Broadcasters Show in April and another at the Adobe MAX Creativity Conference in October.


Faith Heaton Jolley,

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