Through the lens

This evening I watched the SIGGRAPH Electronic Theater. This is the part of the conference where they show the thirty top computer graphic short films, as judged by an esteemed jury.

It is a bit of a devil’s bargain, because intermixed with the brilliant shorts and student films are excerpts from the demo reels of the major special effects houses, showing how they did this scene from “Edge of Tomorrow” or that scene from “The Desolation of Smaug”. For the most part, these are all pretty identical and devoid of even the semblance of dramatic interest.

In fact, it’s hard to see who these are for. If you are into the technology, then you already know all this stuff, so it’s boring. If you aren’t, then an endless sequence of matte shots, wireframe models and lighting layers is boring and meaningless. I suppose it’s just one of those hallowed traditions humans sometimes get caught up in, like slavery or factory farming.

But the rest was totally delightful. I found myself thinking about how much of the power of the wonderful student films and indie animations came from the choice of shot — the exact placement and movement of the virtual lens, the artful edit on action.

And I realized that a lot of what I was seeing would not translate, in anything like its current form, to a Virtual Reality experience. Cinema relies, on a very fundamental level, on directorial control over what you can see when.

Which means that the art and craft of telling stories in VR, as that genre evolves and matures, will necessarily be something quite different. It will be fun to see what that turns out to be.

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