It really boggles my mind sometimes how quickly technology is moving these days. Commercially available virtual reality is available now, though still pretty pricey. Computers that just a decade ago would have cost an arm and a leg are now small enough to fit on your pocket. It’s wild, and kind of scary. If I sound like an old fogey, don’t worry. You’ll get there. Eventually everyone does. I mean, just look at 360-degree video. With just a smartphone, you can basically have a tiny virtual-reality experience, and the technology has become easy enough to handle that it’s begun to find its way into the hands of filmmakers and artists, instead of just advertisers, and the results are pretty sweet. Just look at Pearl, a 360 degree short by Disney animator Patrick Osborne, if you still doubt it.
Pearl is set entirely in the car of a father daughter duo following their musical dreams, going cross-country and eventually settling down only to have the daughter pick up the dream again. It’s a great little short with some great animation and a lovely score by Alexis Harte and JJ Weisler. While it’s absolutely interesting and worthwhile as a short and a piece of art in and of itself, Pearl has also seemingly spurned on the discussion of whether or not VR shorts like this, and potentially fully VR films, are really the future of cinema. As Slashfilm’s Peter Sciretta brings up, shorts like this, which control in the hands of the viewer, can potentially undermine the intent of the filmmaker, who ideally should have absolute control over what the viewer sees and how they see it. But personally, I’m of a mind to say that control is never fully in the filmmaker’s hands. Is what the viewer sees and how ever totally under the filmmaker’s control? Two people can watch the same film and come away with totally different experiences, having latched on to different aspects of the film, even to the point of noticing different details. Total control from the filmmaker may not be as ironclad as we assume. I think if there’s any reason to be doubtful about this kind of tech, it’s that it raises some new problems when it comes to exhibition.
But what do you think? Check out Pearl below using the Youtube app on your smartphone and let us know what you think about VR as a storytelling tool in the comments below.