Virtual reality offers dramatic possibilities — and challenges — for the film industry

The Jaunt camera. Photo by Signe Brewster.

The movie shoot had all the usual marks of a Hollywood production: shouts of “action!” and “cut!” and a sound guy lumbering around with a bag of equipment strapped to his front. But it had one major difference; as soon as filming started, everyone but the actors needed to clear out of anywhere near the scene.

The reason was a 360-degree camera debuted by Palo Alto startup Jaunt this past April. Step within view of one of the lenses ringing the camera’s body and you too will be in the footage, despite not being in the center of the action.

The Jaunt camera. Photo by Signe Brewster.

The Jaunt camera. Photo by Signe Brewster.

Actors wait between takes. Photo by Signe Brewster.

Actors wait between takes. Photo by Signe Brewster.

The film, called “The Mission,” follows the story of a World War II soldier who parachutes into Russia and is captured by German forces before being rescued.

“It puts the audience essentially in the movie,” Gratzner said. “As opposed to being completely first person or being interactive in a video game fashion, it’s as if somebody could essentially step into the movie and have the ability to look 360 degrees all the way around to see the action.”

Actors wait between takes. Photo by Signe Brewster.

Actors wait between takes. Photo by Signe Brewster.

Actors wait between takes. Photo by Signe Brewster.

Actors wait between takes. Photo by Signe Brewster.

Avoiding the camera is just one of the challenges awaiting studios that choose to work in virtual reality, said Matt Gratzner, who directed the film for New Deal Studios this past weekend just outside of Petaluma, California.

“Your typical coverage in photography as well as just where somebody can stand and not be seen doesn’t necessarily exist,” Gratzner said. “Every perspective from top to bottom, 360 degrees, there has to be action and something going on at all times, otherwise the viewer can turn around and see there are people waiting for the take or turn around and see that basically nothing is happening.”

That requires creative equipment set ups too. Lighting and sound equipment need to be strategically placed outside the shot, just like people. One scene of “The Mission” took place in a dark bunker, where the crew rigged up giant mirrors and lights outside of cracks and small windows in the walls to direct a large amount of light inside.

An actor pretends to hit his captive with a gun during a practice run-through in the bunker. Photo by Signe Brewster.

An actor pretends to hit his captive with a gun during a practice run-through in the bunker. Photo by Signe Brewster.

The bunker. Photo by Signe Brewster.

The bunker. Photo by Signe Brewster.

New Deal Studios has created virtual reality films in the past for partners like Disney, but the tools continue to change and improve.

“We’re helping to build the visual language of virtual reality,” New Deal Studios CEO Shannon Gans said. “That we’re very excited about.”

A firm release date for “The Mission” has not been set, but presumably it will coincide with Oculus Rift’s launch to consumers sometime in the next year.

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