Nina is the Media Content Producer for VRFocus, one of the biggest websites specializing in all things VR, where she heads up the presenting, filming, editing, and releasing of the site’s media content. We managed to borrow some time out of her busy schedule to get her opinions on VR and where she thinks it’s heading, with some first-hand advice thrown in for good measure!
What first got you interested in VR?
I come from a film-making background and have always been active in theater. Virtual Reality is a new realm for storytelling which not only integrates knowledge from film-making and theater, but from gaming as well. VR is an accumulation of everything I love doing. I used to be a massive online gamer, I even made a documentary about female gamers a few years back. Gaming gives you a different understanding of how the camera can work – it’s very similar to directing a drone shoot. You work in a 3D space rather than a 2D space, something that filmmakers have been taught and trained to think in. This made me realize that VR has a huge potential for immersive storytelling.
With my background I quickly realized the capabilities of Virtual Reality for storytelling and the blending of film and gaming. I’m extremely keen on exploring this realm. I tried to get funding for a project that was a mixture between a film and a game – however because there is no one particular term for this kind of media, it’s almost impossible for me to explain it to somebody for investment, let alone somebody who has never experienced VR before. I believe a new word will emerge for this, and once people start to grasp what it is they will start to fund and invest in projects such as these.
What have been your favorite moments at your job?
I love meeting exciting game developers. Passion really comes forward no matter what language, culture or background you come from. My favorite moments are when I’ve managed to make somebody comfortable enough in-front of the camera to make jokes, laugh and just be normal. That’s when I can really get the best out of them, for their game, the interview and themselves as people. Those are my favorite moments.
Can you describe your first experience of VR? How was it?
My first VR experience I can’t actually remember. It was actually AR that brought me into VR. I was at BVE (a broadcast, production, post, live, and AV systems integration event) in 2014. I had just graduated from my masters and there was a business card with a QR code which I scanned on an iPad and I could interact with, as well as a T-rex head. I’ve always been obsessed with gadgets and science-fiction, so the step to VR was seamless.
Have you ever encountered anything negative in relation to VR?
Yes. There are three big problems.
1) Explaining VR
To anybody who hasn’t tried VR before and has perhaps only glimpsed 360 films will be confused between the two. VR is different to 360 films. They are still virtual worlds, and perhaps the terminology for them is confusing. However, I brought my father to a VR cinema in Amsterdam and they showcased 360 films about refugees there. He came out angry that films like these were made and was disappointed that I worked in this industry. I had to explain to him that although it technically is VR, it’s different to what VR is capable of doing.
Truth is – unless you’re carrying around a high end headset and you have somebody try it on, you will not be able to truly explain what VR is.
2) Simulation sickness.
I’ve had a woman come up to me furious with a VR experience where you jumped around from location to location. There were quick cuts and the camera was at different heights – for people who haven’t done a lot of VR I can imagine that this can be pretty nauseating. She started accusing me, telling me that she hated what I had created. I apologized profusely (probably a side effect from living in England for too long) and she stormed off in a huff.
3) Tech backlash
You might have noticed that in today’s day and era, we are surrounded by technology. Not only has this made us more connected, it has also made us more isolated, depressed and narcissistic. Shows like ‘Black Mirror’ further help fuel fear for the unknown. A lot of people believe that VR is just another form of escapism and it will make us more isolated and alone. People often say that they see people with these headsets on and comment on how foolish they look. However there is always fear of the unknown. I always advise to try out a few things and if it’s not for you, it’s not for you. Just like many things in life, you shouldn’t force yourself to like something just because everybody else likes it. Once VR fixes simulation sickness and becomes more social, I believe things will dramatically change.
I also know a lot of creative filmmakers who detest VR, mostly cinematographers and established filmmakers. I understand why cinematographers hate it – with VR you aren’t in control of where the audience is looking, and in other words the camera is taken out of the equation. It’s more like theater, or immersive theater. I actually had a debate about this with an Oscar nominated director. He was showcasing a documentary about a piano concert and somebody asked why he hadn’t shot the film in 360 film if the most important element was feeling close to the pianists as they played. He said he hated it and I could feel all my friends look at me. We had a long conversation about it after, and we ended up both agreeing that VR is just a different era.
Where do you predict VR to be in the near future?
It’s difficult to predict this. You can go to as many conferences and talk to as many experts as you want, but nobody really knows where it’s going. A lot of people believe this is just like 4K TV’s or 3D cinema, and I completely disagree. Those are little add-ons to enhance your experience.
VR is a completely new language. Realistically I predict there will be contact lenses that will switch between real life, augmented reality and virtual reality. You will be able with a flick of a switch transport yourself to different realms as easily as clicking on the latest notification on your Facebook app. However, this is far into the future. Currently the language of virtual reality needs to be explored, the groundwork or blueprint needs to be tested and proven.
Do you ever use mobile VR? Do you have any recommendations?
I do not necessarily use mobile VR. I have to shamefully admit that I own an iPhone. It’s only recently that the Apple has started to even support VR. I actually prefer using high-end headsets, and therefore think it’s not fair of me to give any mobile VR recommendations. I did recently try an incredibly witty experience called ‘VIRTUAL VIRTUAL REALITY‘ on the Google Daydream, and I really enjoyed that!
What upcoming VR releases are you most excited about?
Although I didn’t necessarily enjoy it, because I hate horror, I thought that ‘Paranormal Activity VR’ was absolutely terrifying. The game I am most excited about, which suits my personality, is ‘Quill’ for the PSVR. I thought it was incredibly cute, and out of all the zombie and FPS games that exist, this was a refreshing change. It was also very green. I know that sounds very silly – but a lot of the games I’ve played are set on a dark science fiction planet with things that glow purple, blue or orange. It was nice to see a game that is set in a virtual world that looks and feels so earthy; it was beautiful in its simplicity.
Other than a video content producer for VRFocus, do you have any other dream jobs?
I dream of creating feature films and perhaps one day become a judge for the Sundance Film Festival. Hopefully in the future I am able to create more creative content. If I had the intelligence, I would love to work with NASA on the exploration of planets and galaxies.
What advice do you have to someone skeptical of VR?
Try a high-end headset, like an Oculus Rift or an HTC Vive. Then, try the ‘Google Tilt Brush’. Find the perfect experience for you. I wish I could show you the faces of the people who try VR for the first time and are blown away. It’s like watching a child receive an ice cream cone – actually, perhaps I should start making a compilation video of their reactions!