While virtual reality tends to currently be aimed primarily at gamers, the experience goes way beyond creating more immersive gaming experiences. VR has the potential to change the face of media and content consumption as we know it. Filmmakers are getting into the VR scene and using the revolutionary technology to provide brand-new storytelling experiences the world has never seen before.
The following films are some of the best already available or scheduled for release in the upcoming year, from the family-friend Alumette to the nightmare-inducing 11:57. Just keep in mind that VR films aren’t exactly ‘full featured’ in length, and tend to range from just a few minutes to as much as 15 minutes in duration.
Alumette is the second production from Penrose Animation, the creators of The Rose and I. Alumette is the French word for ‘matchstick’; a fitting name, since the film is based loosely on Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Little Match Girl.”
The world of Alumette is beautifully illustrated, each character moving in unique stop-motion style. But more important than the animation is the way the story is told. Viewers can move and look around the world to see the story play out. The entire story isn’t immediately visible, however; as a viewer, you have to stick your head through the rooftops and walls of the buildings to watch plot points play out behind closed doors.
Alumette is roughly 20 minutes long. Even though that may be short, the film will need multiple viewings to ensure you don’t miss anything. Wired calls it the “First VR Film Masterpiece.” They may be right.
White Room: 02B3
The advent of 360 degree technology marks a new era in entertainment, and there may be no better way to experience this than White Room: 02B3. The film begins with six people awakening inside a white room as unwilling, reluctant participants in an experiment to influence the future of humanity.
Produced by Roddenberry Entertainment (yes, the same Roddenberrys of Star Trek fame), White Room: 02B3 is an experiment in filmmaking. The production of a 360 degree movie offers unique challenges to not only the writers, but also the producers and actors. As a viewer, you’ll need to keep your head on a swivel to keep up with everything happening both in (and out) of your view. Even the most eagle-eyed among you will need to watch the film more than once to take it all in.
White Room: 02B3 will be available in dome theaters as well as VR devices, allowing everyone the ability to watch it, even if you don’t own an Oculus, Vive, or Samsung Gear.
How many times have you looked away during a particularly scary moment in the theater? 11:57 seeks to rob you of that ability. In a revolutionary take on the horror film industry, this short places the viewer as the main character in a 360 degree horror film; you’re strapped in a chair in a basement, and the bad guys are coming for you.
There’s no looking away. After all, if you turn away from the terror in front, you may see something worse coming from the side. Produced by the Sid Lee Collective, 11:57 promises to change the way horror films are consumed. And possibly cause a few heart attacks in the process.
It’s just 4 minutes long and coming this Halloween to Oculus Rift and mobile devices.
Many VR films implement directional tracking as a way for the viewer to become more immersed in the story, but Colosse takes it a step further with its ‘gaze’ mechanic. Where the viewer looks will determine how the events unfold; each time you watch this film, things will play out slightly differently.
Colosse is an ambitious work. It tells the story through its unique, beautifully stylized art and sound. There is no character dialogue; all background information is given through a voiceover from one of the elders of the film’s village as he tells the story of the Colosse: the Great Spirits.
Colosse released March 28, 2016 for Oculus Rift and Samsung Gear.
Waves of Grace
(Above is the full movie)
The 2104 Liberian Ebola outbreak was the worst the world has ever seen. More than 4,800 died as the disease ravaged the land, leaving orphans and widows in its wake. While reading about the horrors may be one thing, listening to the desperate prayers of Decontee Davis and watching the events unfold first-hand is so much more powerful.
Decontee is immune to Ebola and use this ability to work with the sick and orphaned. She also uses her ability to educate the public; to inform them that Ebola survivors are not a threat. In one notable part of the film, viewers find themselves on the edge of a grave, so close to the edge it feels as though they may fall in.
Few mediums provide the cinematic punch that virtual reality does, and Chris Milk of Vrse is using it to bring the world into the middle of some of the greatest crises to face mankind in recent years in hopes of promoting change.
No one can deny the impact David Attenborough brings to wildlife documentaries, but how much better would it be if you could swim alongside him? In First Life, you can do just that. This virtual reality adaptation of the 2010 miniseries First Life places the viewer in the depths of the prehistoric ocean.
First Life is produced as a collaboration between Alchemy VR, Atlantic Productions, and Zoo VFX. The 15-minute film first debuts at London’s Natural History Museum on June 19th, but will be released to the general public shortly thereafter.
Projects like First Life are a way for the VR industry to demonstrate its utility to more than just gamers; the ability to look around the prehistoric ocean floor provides tremendous educational benefits.
Music can make a bleak experience more enjoyable or launch an already amazing film to new heights. In Philipp Maas and Dominik Stockhausen’s SONAR, it does both. Alexander Maas provides a majestic soundtrack that underscores the experience, enhancing every moment of the film. As the first film from Filmacademy Baden-Wurttemberg, SONAR sets the bar high.
The film begins with a view from the cockpit of a spacecraft in mid-descent to an asteroid below. A control panel beeps steadily, locked onto a distress signal some eight miles inside the asteroid. SONAR is a sci-fi horror film, using the vastness of space and the fear of the unknown to tap into something equal parts thrilling and terrifying.
SONAR is available in all its stereoscopic glory for Gear VR, but an older monoscopic version is also available for Oculus Rift.
Cute bunnies, aliens, and a love of H.G. Wells. Toss virtual reality into the mix and you have something like Invasion!, the adorable seven minute short film from Baobab Studios. Despite the lightheartedness of the animation, the studio has several big hitters involved in the film, including Ethan Hawke.
The film opens on a frozen lake as a bunny emerges from its warren. Curious, it approaches the viewer, but is distracted by the arrival of a spaceship with two impish aliens. Their intentions are mischievous, but it quickly becomes clear their plans may not work the way they intended. Invasion! wasn’t written for hardcore VR enthusiasts; instead, it was designed to be accessible for a broad market. Baobab Studios wanted to make a film that allows newcomers to VR to dip their toes in without getting overwhelmed. By all accounts, they’ve succeeded.
Invasion! is available on Gear VR, Oculus Rift, and HTV Vive.
Presence: The Abduction
Almost everyone is familiar with the famous scene from X-Files when Mulder’s car comes to a sudden halt on the road, shortly before bright lights fill the interior and he ‘wakes up’ missing time. If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to experience that for yourself, Presence: The Abduction makes it possible.
Produced by the award-winning HammerHeadVR, Presence: The Abduction puts you front and center in the driver’s seat of a vehicle as a group of grey-skinned aliens slowly approaches the vehicle. What follows is an intense, gripping story that may cause you to reconsider everything you’ve ever thought about abduction stories.
Presence: The Abduction is going to be released sometime in 2016. The “Part One” that appears at the end of a trailer hints that this may be the first part of a miniseries, which means there is even more alien abduction goodness to come.
Oculus Story Studio has already produced two films that generated a lot of buzz on their own, but nothing they have done so far comes close to the scale of Dear Angelica. The story is told from the perspective of Jessica as she explores her mother’s memories. The film promises to be a surreal, exploratory journey of the story. Although there are no interactive elements, each viewing can be different as you move at your own pace throughout the various memories.
Dear Angelica touches on a more human theme in a beautiful way. The art is rendered in real time; until you turn your head to look, nothing exists behind you. In a way, the world is created by your gaze, adding yet another layer of surrealism to an already stunning film.
Dear Angelica is scheduled to release for the Oculus Rift later this year.
Yes, it’s the Netflix show, and no, it’s not the same. Netflix has taken their most recent runaway success and turned it into a two-minute 360-degree experience. Like many other VR films, Stranger Things is incredibly immersive. As it stays true to the source material, it’s also incredibly creepy. It’s hard enough watching the clip in the browser, much less through a VR headset.
The clip uses silence in a way that is just a step below psychological torture. Several times during the viewing, I braced myself for something to jump out and send me running from the monitor. The truly brave will enjoy the ability to look around the room and experience Stranger Things in a way that a 2D interface could never dream of.