Here’s looking at you

In the movies, a character on screen is either looking at nobody in the audience or else is looking at everybody in the audience. So when somebody breaks the fourth wall, it has a huge impact.

As it happens, nobody in film history ever truly mastered the art of breaking the fourth wall other than Groucho Marx. Although Woody Allen had his moments.

In the theater, it is literally impossible for an actor to look at everyone in the audience simultaneously. Real life sight lines just don’t work that way.

We can all be acutely aware that an actor is staring intently at someone in the third row, but that is not at all the same as being stared at ourselves. And maybe that is good. Unlike cinema, theater allows every audience member to remain unique.

But what about live performances in virtual reality? If we are all wearing VR headsets and watching a performance together, then we will be able to combine the advantages of both film and live theater: We can all be standing around seeing an actor play Hamlet, and each of us can see that actor from our own unique perspective. In that sense, shared VR is much like theater.

But when the actor looks after gazing at the skull of poor Yorich, he will then be able to look every one of us square in the face. In that moment, we will all simultaneously feel that chill down our spines, that feeling of being singled out and recognized.

This is an effect that can be achieved neither in cinema nor theater. It will be something new in the world, part of an emerging visual vocabulary that has never before existed.

2 thoughts on “Here’s looking at you”

  1. I have another use case: being in a long-distance relationship, I use video chat a lot. One thing I cannot currently do is look my partner in the eyes. I need to choose between looking at his image and away from the camera, or into the camera to create the illusion on his side. I’d love to have a third option.

  2. This new kind of live experience reminds me of what is described in the making of for the vr demo “La Péri” :

    I rather agree that one of the most interesting thing for VR is its capability to connect peoples together, something that lack terribly in early demos but will surely come soon enough; and be able to connect with distant relative as Manu suggested as easy than with a phone call really seems futuristic (and quite awesome).

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