Polygon Window Productions are a company specialising in the capture of immersive movies. Their latest project leverages the power of the Oculus Rift to deliver a 360 video in which you can look around at will. We take a look at the teaser trailer.
Virtual Tourism is Coming
The Oculus Rift juggernaut has garnered most of its press, understandably, thanks to the heavy focus Oculus VR have given gaming before and since the original Kickstarter campaign. But, as we see more and more companies jumping into the realm of VR cinema it’s clear there are many out there who believe it’ll be one of VR’s biggest draws.
Polygon Window Productions were formed in 2012 by director Will McMaster and have focussed on this new wave of interactive movie making. Their recent immersive productions have both featured motoring. The now (in)famous Top Gear (in Europe at least) TV programme commissioned Polygon Window to capture their ‘tame racing driver’, the legendary ‘Stig’ tearing round their racetrack in a Mercedes SLS. Even in windowed format, the obvious power of the new medium is clear. You can, to an extent, direct your own movie, or at least your interpretation of it. Don’t fancy facing rigidly in the forward direction, tap the cursor keys you can gaze in any direction you like whilst the action continues to unfold. Effective stuff.
For their latest project though, the team have taken the concept to its logical next step. Film in 360, but then process it specifically for the Oculus Rift VR Headset. Take the mouse control away and instead replace it with extremely faithful head tracking. When you do those things, something curious happens. Even the most pedestrian (literally in this case) recorded excursion through Tokyo, something the latest generation (weaned on video travelogues) wouldn’t glance twice at, takes on a new sense of power. The film takes you through stations, riverside walkways and bustling city streets—but even when the trailer winds down by plonking you in a small room scattered with people in conversation and a collection of cats leering at you, it’s the sense of place that wows you.
So what inspired the shift in tone for their latest production?
“I’ve spent quite a big part of my life travelling to far away places, and as a filmmaker, I’ve always wanted to share those kinds of experiences,” said McMaster. “VR and 360 video allows me to do that.”
The video itself isn’t stereoscopic 3D, but the head tracking leveraged by the companion viewing software is pretty convincing in most cases, not to mention extremely comfortable. Rotate your head and the view follows without noticeably unwanted distortion. Of course, a 360 view is a clever feat to pull off with recorded video. The seams to show at times, depending on your head position. The stitching can briefly show itself, although this has been well de-emphasised when being rendered.
I’ve seen 360 videos in the Rift before, but this was something a little different. The film effectively dropped my brain into another city. Part of this was the way it was shot, as if you were quietly wandering around the city yourself. But the implementation is also excellent. Light head movements didn’t result in jarring motion and the directional audio was subtle but extremely effective. Camerawork was for the most part considerate—the last thing you need when in VR is lots of fast pans and stomach churning fast tracking shots. What fascinated me was that the experience genuinely gave me a flavour of the location without resorting to garish set pieces. VR cinema an immensely powerful idea and a frighteningly effective marketing tool. Why bother spending thousands directing a snappy ad campaign? Just film the location and put people into it for 5 minutes.
As we’ve written many times before, the list of possible applications for virtual reality are almost unfathomably long. Virtual tourism, in this most literal of forms, has the power to sell you a destination like no other medium. Furthermore, those who are unable to make the trip for whatever reason, could potentially sate their desire to travel in ways previously not possible.
The Polygon Window team, from Toronto, Canada, are planning on launching a Kickstarter campaign soon to fund a full production. They also hope to hit Oculus Share with the trailer soon.
McMaster encapsulates their hopes for the project thus: “…to do something which goes beyond the idea of virtual tourism. We want to recreate everything about a trip to Japan and present it as a first person narrative story. You will not only see amazing things, you will meet and interact with Japanese people. This demo is just a small taste of what we are planning on doing. Later this year, we hope to return to Japan to shoot the full project.”
As 2014 progresses, it’s very clear that non-interactive (in the traditional sense) linear immersive filmmaking is becoming a hot potato in the entertainment world. We’ve covered Condition One’s exploratory foray into VR moviemaking and just recently learned Jaunt VR has secured some serious funding to develop their 360 degrees camera hardware and toolset. This is a medium that has the potential to deliver far beyond the vapid experiences stereoscopic cinema has conjured. And as a movie fan myself, I cannot wait to witness what creative teams like Polygon Window come up with.
We wish the Polygon Window Productions team the best of luck with their venture and very much looking forward to sampling their next taster of their new project. We’ll of course let you know once we learn details of their Kickstarter campaign.