The Westfield Century City Mall operates a dozen of the latest blockbusters in its modern cinema, but recently, some of the most innovative entertainment offerings have a story below, in a pop-up store across from Bloomingdale & # 39; s.  Here, groups of six people can enter a remote area, carry backpacks and headsets, and wander around the "Alien Zoo" in the dark, a 12-minute virtual reality space experience with echoes from Jurassic Park.
Zoo creator Dreamscape Immersive, who counts Steven Spielberg among his investors, hopes to tackle a new challenge with the Cinema Board.
With Cinematic VR viewers can live entirely in a movie. They put on glasses and look at the universe around them – behind, over, everywhere they look – and still see the world of the movie. Some in the entertainment industry consider it perhaps the greatest advance in entertainment since adding sound to movies almost a century ago, involving the senses in a way they are not involved when the real world is visible next to a screen is.
But while investors in Hollywood and elsewhere have shed hundreds of millions of dollars, attracted top talent, and produced a creative explosion, Cinema VR has brought little commercial success or popular acceptance.
"I think a lot of people I want to get involved," said Bruce Vaughn, CEO of Dreamscape, in an interview in the pop-up. "But the technology has to go out of its way."
Cinematic VR is trying to fundamentally change the pact between viewer and director, and his struggles show how little even state-of-the-art developments such as Netflix and computer-generated effects have previously revised that agreement.
The new medium promises to make a static experience more interactive. But there is a need to draw a line between the passive consumption of a movie and the fully immersive experience of a video game, and the developers have not decided how much control they want to give up, and consumers seem to be ambivalent about it
"A threshold, which has not yet been crossed is between stories that we see and stories that we live, "said Chris Milk, a former music video director who is considered a pioneer of VR content. "The right balance is very difficult to find."
That did not stop many creators from getting on. Ground Zero for Cinema VR, January's Sundance Film Festival, pointed to a future where consumers can regularly immerse themselves in rich participatory worlds. Creators celebrated a variety of short formats, including a Pixar adaptation of a Neil Gaiman graphic novel, social networking science fiction by animator Tyler Hurd, and a leap into the black holes of VR filmmaker Eliza McNitt and Hollywood author Darren Aronofsky. The last one was sold for more than $ 1 million to a start-up called CityLights.
However, if distribution problems are not resolved, a young industry could join forces before many even try their product – jeopardizing not only the abundant capital, but also the long-sought-after ideal of a newly invented cinema.
The disappointment is great, "said Anthony Batt, co-founder of VR incubator Wevr, with the phrase, which means disappointing tech experiments and shakeouts." Anyone who tells you they do not feel the pinch is insincere. "Batt knows that first-hand: two years ago, Wevr had raised $ 25 million as he funded a variety of content, including Jon Favreau's acclaimed Iron Man director, Gnomes & Goblins." But with few sources of revenue, it has declined.
Facebook has shown its commitment to Cinema VR when it bought headset maker Oculus for nearly $ 2 billion in 2014 and built Oculus Story Studio, a division where many ex-Pixar artists created original VR animations. But Facebook closed the unit last year and has since focused on supporting external vendors.
"We believe collaborating with independent creators will allow us a wider range of content," said Yelena Rachitsky, executive producer on Oculus VR on "Spheres" and other Sundance debuts, such as an interactive comic book by the musician .I am.
One obstacle was dedicated headset numbers, the optimal platform for both creators and viewers. (These are more expensive and technologically more complicated than the more common VR mobile platforms like Samsung's Gear VR and Google's Daydream, which make phones basically makeshift VR viewers.)
Dedicated headsets can cost $ 400 or more and often require additional hardware and intensive setup. And the lack of a dominant format means that customers have to choose between headsets that may not offer everything and can not stand.
"VR is a long-term game, and vendors must be well-invested to have developed a well-thought-out strategy to improve, grow and profit," said Jason Low, senior analyst at Canalys, a technology research firm that spans space explored.
The number of dedicated headsets in Die Auflage has increased – according to a report by Canalys, sales in the third quarter of 2017 reached the mark of 1 million copies sold. About half of these devices were Sony PlayStation VR headsets, with most of the remainder between Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. But even a few million headsets leave a limited customer base.
Pop culture may offer the most compelling advertising for VR when Warner Bros. opens Spielberg's "Ready Player One" on March 29. The action adventure The film, based on the bestselling novel by Ernest Cline, sheds light on a 2045 American America in which people deal en masse with headset-enabled adventures.
Although the film is essentially a huge VR video game, the idea that consumers will eventually turn to headsets as the main means of entertainment escape will be carried home. (A VR-VR experience seen at selected locations intensifies the point.)
Whether such ideas could pave the way to gather more VR samples in the present remains to be seen. "Is that the moment of the … ignition?" Asked Walter Parkes, the former head of DreamWorks, who now serves as co-chair of Dreamscape. "Something happens," he added. "But we will not know where it will end up for two or three years or more."
Entrepreneurs are trying hard to push the field. Milk has launched the VR platform Within and the VR production company Here Be Dragons, and has raised more than $ 65 million. But he warned that VR as a new medium could take longer to make a profit than a new platform like streaming.
"House of Cards was a great show," Milk said, referring to Netflix's first hit. "But it could have been a great show on HBO or a cable network, VR is a new model in every way."
The disagreement over the right degree of interactivity has also permeated the room; too much and it becomes a game, too little and consumers are wondering why they are going under the headset.
Milk and his partner Aaron Koblin, founder and former head of Google's Data Arts team, have tried to solve this problem by emphasizing the social aspects of VR. Following the release of "Life of Us," in which two users experience first-hand evolution as a strong buzz in 2017, Within made Sundance debut that year's "Chorus" by Hurd.
The play focuses on a fight against a cosmic villain to a soundtrack of the French Electropop duo Justice. Six people experience the play together and enter into a modest interaction. "It's like you go to sleep and your friend goes to sleep and then you wake up in the same dream," Koblin said of the merits of social VR.
Location-based VR is another attempt to solve the adoption problem. This approach, which is championed by Dreamscape, says that people who already eat and shop there can enjoy the VR environment.
"We liked the fact that we did not think of anything more than a tourist, it's like walking on a zip line and just putting on the harness," said Vaughn, who, before becoming CEO of Dreamscape , Theme Park Attractions designed as Chief Creative Executive for Walt Disney Imagineering.
He said The "Alien Zoo" pop-up was sold out right away and was quickly extended by two weeks. Consumers pay $ 20 to make a 20-minute appointment for one of several dozen daily slots. A deal with the AMC theater chain could also place "Alien Zoo" and future Dreamscape content on stalls in multiplexes across the country. The company has raised at least $ 30 million from supporters such as 21st Century Fox, Warner Bros., AMC and Spielberg.
The director even visited Dreamscapts headquarters in Culver City, California, and gave notes during the production of "Alien Zoo" notes that declined to comment for this play.
Another consumer stumbling block, according to VR makers, was emotional distance; Many complain that they feel awkward or voyeuristic in the medium.
But these creators say obstacles can be overcome by cleverly involving the user. In "The Wolves in the Walls," the Gaiman adaptation of a brave young heroine, a start-up called Fable Studio has addressed the character and taken it on their adventure.
"For the VR [commercially] We need to solve the intimacy problem," said Pete Billington, a Fable co-founder and director of "Wolves." "Any decision we made in making this piece was solely for that Dedicated to the purpose of the connection with the viewer. "
" Wolves "has the advantage of a recognizable title. Also targeting the market are VR extensions to popular screen brands: HBO's dystopian Western "Westworld", "Ready Player One" and the Wes Anderson movie "Isle of Dogs". While many see it only as a marketing tool, others believe that they can acclimatize first. VR
The hope is that all these efforts will undo consumer hesitation. While this is going on slowly, insiders say that the history of new technologies gives them hope.
"Do you remember people in the early 2000s, right after the dot-com bubble burst, the Internet could just go away?" Said Wevr Batt. "And everything changed around 2003. It took some time for new models to come onto the market and consumers were ready, so I think VR may soon have its 2003 moment."