virtual reality

Q&A with New York Film Academy (NYFA) BFA Filmmaking Alum Ilya Rozhkov, Director of the Groundbreaking VR Film ‘Agent Emerson’

 Ilya Rozhkov Agent Emerson

NYFA BFA Alum & Filmmaker Ilya Rozhkov

New York Film Academy (NYFA) BFA Filmmaking alum Ilya Rozhkov moved to Los Angeles from Russia to follow his passion. He always knew he wanted to direct films, and he’s always been hungry to learn and expand his horizons, but it wasn’t until he experienced VR for the first time at a convention in Las Vegas that he realized the amazing potential virtual reality holds for the future of storytelling.

Rozhkov is putting that lesson to action, literally, with his new groundbreaking VR film, Agent Emerson. New York Film Academy spoke with Ilya Rozhkov about his film, the vast possibilities of virtual reality and VR filmmaking, and about how his studies at NYFA gave him the tools to evolve into a whole new kind of filmmaker:

New York Film Academy (NYFA): First, can you tell us a bit about yourself, where you’re from, and what brought you to New York Film Academy? 

Ilya Rozhkov (IR): I was born and raised in Moscow and all my life I wanted to direct films. In 2014 I was honored to be inducted into the Directors Guild of Russia as one of its youngest members. In 2013, after extensive research, I was excited to go and become a part of New York Film Academy in Los Angeles because of its intensive, practice-driven approach to studying film. LA has been my home since. 

While at NYFA I shot three short films (We Are Enemies, Dying to Live, and Sabre Dance, starring Greg Louganis as ‘Salvador Dalí’) which have been distributed worldwide, featured on NBC, and screened at over 50+ festivals winning numerous awards, including Best Picture and Best Director. 

I was also very fortunate to have met a lot of my collaborators at NYFA. I have been working with amazing alums—producers Radhika Womack and Jane Kapriss, and colorist Roy Sun—since my first short films. 

I have had the honor of being selected to participate in the coveted Oculus Launch Pad VR Bootcamp at Facebook headquarters and be a recurrent guest panelist at Digital Hollywood. 

In 2016, I set out to make on my first VR Film, Agent Emerson, and partnered with Academy Award-nominated veteran production studio CTB, along with The Rogue Initiative—a leading entertainment and technology studio driven by multi-award winning industry veterans.

Ilya Rozhkov Agent Emerson

Lyndsy Fonseca & Ben Aycrigg filming ‘Agent Emerson’
Photo Credit: Billy Bennight

NYFA: Your background is in traditional filmmaking. Why have you decided to focus on virtual reality?

IR: VR is a creative challenge, a whole new way to experience cinematic storytelling. With my knowledge of film and passion for technology I was truly excited to take on this challenge. And this wonderful medium is just beginning to grow—the current state of VR content feels reminiscent of the early 1900s in the history of cinema: so many things yet to be discovered. 

The future is happening today and cinematic entertainment is evolving to be bigger than movies, both artistically and as a segment of the entertainment market. 

NYFA: Can you tell us more about Agent Emerson? 

IR: Agent Emerson is an immersive 360 degree first-person POV VR film. It utilizes breakthrough technology—the Identity Capture Camera®—and other proprietary innovations to drop the viewer into a visceral, action-packed 3D cinematic experience unlike anything the medium has yet offered. It is a cinematic experience we are used to seeing in movie theaters, only this time YOU are the action hero.

We follow CIA Operative David Emerson, who awakens to find himself a subject of an experimental program with his body under complete remote control of the imperious General. With the aid of a rogue operative named Alexandra, David has to retake charge of his own actions and fight his way through the top security facility inside the most complex live-action VR film ever made. 

Directed by me, Ilya Rozhkov, and starring Lyndsy Fonseca (Kick-Ass, How I Met Your Mother) and Tony Denison (Major Crimes, The Closer), Agent Emerson was shot in Los Angeles and in Louisiana.

 


NYFA:
What inspired you to make Agent Emerson? 

IR: Virtual Reality itself is quite an inspiration. When I studied at NYFA I visited NAB Convention in Las Vegas to explore the latest technology of cinema, and this was where I experienced VR for the first time. My mind was blown with its storytelling potential. The moment I received my first Oculus VR kit, I stepped inside the virtual reality and took off the headset only after exploring all the content available. 

I kept thinking, what makes VR different as a storytelling medium? A theatre performance shot on a film camera does not become a movie. And in exact same way a movie shot on VR camera doesn’t automatically become VR cinema. So what type of storytelling is possible only and exclusively in VR?

Agent Emerson was one of my answers to that question. And finding tools to direct the audience within VR Film was a challenge I was excited to take on. 

NYFA: What are some difficulties of shooting in VR as opposed to traditional filmmaking that you didn’t anticipate? 

IR: It’s hard to anticipate every challenge when talking about a territory as uncharted and unexplored as VR from both creative and technological point of view. Before shooting the film on set with our amazing cast and crew, the majority of the film was shot and tested in a lab. We prepared and primed everything and were ready when unexpected challenges presented themselves. 

The biggest challenges were definitely in post-production. Every aspect of post was affected: CGI, editing, sound, color, and even music. A lot of the techniques and the toolkit used in traditional film were not enough. My team had to think bigger and beyond, creating new solutions which would allow us to make a better film.

To achieve the artistic goals of the film and the highest possible level of quality, many tools and workflows had to be created by us from scratch. It was like creating a painting and inventing a paintbrush at the same time. 

Not only does VR make the complexities of film more challenging, but also it introduces entirely new challenges, some of them from the world of game design. It’s an adventure which makes me thrilled to be a modern filmmaker. 

Ilya Rozhkov Agent Emerson

NYFA BFA Alum & Filmmaker Ilya Rozhkov

NYFA: Did anything surprise you when putting together Agent Emerson? 

IR: From the many discoveries and surprises there is a clear “top three” list:

1. VR can be considerably more intimate than film, especially when it comes to acting.

2. Understanding game engines and software optimization plays a big part, even though it is a film, not a game.

3. There is a saying that sound is 50% of the film. When it comes to VR and making a convincing Virtual World, sound might be even more than that. 

NYFA: What do you see for the future of VR in entertainment? 

IR: The potential of VR in entertainment is enormous and the medium will evolve in many ways we can’t even dream of today. It is the fastest growing segment of the entertainment market. 

We’re dealing with something completely unprecedented—humans as a species have been telling stories on a flat surface since cave paintings. But VR allows us for the first time to tell stories through worlds which are seemingly real. AND this is mass-accessible. 

Think about it—looking at a flat surface with moving images is amazing , it’s a great art form, a fun entertainment, and it is here to stay. But it’s not a natural way to perceive information. In VR we perceive information the same way we do in real life: it’s set in space around us, it is three dimensional, and we can navigate through it. Considering this, I believe VR will become a normal way to consume new forms of entertainment content, both interactive and non-interactive. 

Moreover, I believe that VR and AR are going to affect not only entertainment but a great many things. We might be looking at the new age of computing here. 

NYFA: What other projects are you working on or do you plan to work on? Are you looking to stick to VR-only content? 

IR: Under my Serein banner we have several VR titles in the works. My focus in storytelling is modern cinema which incorporates traditional mediums like film and TV, and cutting-edge technology like VR and beyond. 

I believe that to become a market leader one must bring impactful storytelling together with innovative technology. And that is the key to the future of cinematic entertainment. 

NYFA: What did you learn at NYFA that you applied directly to your work on Agent Emerson or your work in general? 

IR: Shooting on 16mm and 35mm film at NYFA was a phenomenal experience and, ironically, working with this wonderful and more-then-a-century old technology affected my work with a less-then-a-decade old generation of VR. 

Not only does working with film introduce one to a proper filming discipline, it also taught me that live playback is not a necessity. It gave me the ability to see the shot by seeing the blocking, the camera positioning, the lighting in the scene and knowing the lens specifics. That came in extremely handy when working with virtual reality where we had no technology for a live VR playback. 

Ilya Rozhkov Agent Emerson

Ilya Rozhkov directs stuntman Ben Aycrigg for ‘Agent Emerson’
Photo Credit: Billy Bennight

NYFA: What advice would you give to students just starting out at NYFA? 

IR: BE CURIOUS. Enjoy learning, because learning doesn’t stop after graduation. Keep reading, follow the directors, producers, and content creators you admire. Always be expanding your knowledge on film industry, technology and beyond. You are as valuable to the industry as what you know and can accomplish. Grow your value all the time. 

DON’T BE AFRAID TO EXPLORE. Film school is the safest possible environment for that and NYFA will be there for you to lean on and learn from. Exploring is the only way to prepare and be ready for everything when it comes to the constantly-evolving landscape of cinematic storytelling. 

NYFA: Anything I missed you’d like to speak on? 

IR: With all its challenging complexities and unprecedented potential, I find it mesmerizing that VR is just a certain number of still images creating an illusion of motion. 

New York Film Academy thanks BFA Filmmaking alum Ilya Rozhkov for taking the time to speak with us, and encourages everyone to check out Agent Emerson when it is released on Oculus Rift (Go and Quest), HTC Vive and Cosmos, and PSVR on November 22.

VR in Real Estate: Seeing Opportunity in Enhanced Client Experience

While real estate isn’t traditionally known for being on the cutting edge when it comes to implementing technology in business practices, more and more brokerages and agents these days are seeing the value in virtual reality (VR). Home tours are among the most visible ways that VR is being used in the industry, but there are many other uses that are creating a demand for skilled VR specialists with an eye for design. Real estate professionals have exhausted those traditional ways of creating an experience for their clients and are searching for something more immersive, building upon a job market that may have been considered more “niche” (at least, for smaller operations) in previous years.

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Virtual Tours Becoming a Standard

When a home buyer – especially a more tech-savvy one – is looking for a home, they’ll look for sites that can provide the most information compared to others in their market. With the majority of home searches beginning online, this has created somewhat of an arms race in the residential real estate world. Online tours need to offer much more than just a few still photographs, and they can take a potential buyer around the home almost as if they are right there, seeing it in person.

With virtual tours becoming commonplace, buyers are beginning to expect them. The benefits are not so one-sided, though. Agents can spend more time showing homes that actually fit buyers’ needs as opposed to homes that were not properly represented in photographs.

As virtual tours feature becomes standard, agents and brokerages with enough resources are moving toward investing in virtual reality to further improve and streamline the showing process when meeting with clients in order to sift through those properties that “work” for their clients and those that do not before driving out to see them.

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Development and Construction Applications

It can be tough to imagine something that does not exist yet. Floor plans and blueprints can give buyers and investors an idea of what they’re getting into, but these methods still present a bit of risk to all parties involved. When builders offer the VR experience to clients, they can better communicate their desires and expectations before construction has begun.

Buyers, after seeing the home in VR, can make adjustments and changes, or even choose a different floor plan entirely, if they see that the home they were considering isn’t actually right for them. Sometimes it’s very hard to tell such things without seeing it “in person”.

In addition to VR assisting with home buyers seeing the homes, builders themselves are starting to see the benefits of using VR in their own businesses. Home builders are beginning to use VR for many purposes, though business employee training and safety are currently one of the biggest uses of VR. It is expected that home builders will increasingly utilize VR in the design and construction process in the coming years.

Helping Buyers See Into the Future

Buyers who are looking at purchasing a home may want to take their existing furniture with them. They may also want to buy new furniture, but aren’t not sure what will fit in the homes they are considering. When a homeowner measures their furniture, or furniture they like at a store, they can drop those dimensions and other information into a program and see where the furniture would go. By using Augmented Reality, or AR, they can also get a good idea of how well it fits in the space, and whether it’s going to work for the ideas they have in mind. It’s much better to discover before the house or the new furniture is purchased that something they had planned to use doesn’t fit the space at all. As Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality become intertwined with smartphones, tablets, and computers, having access to and an understanding of these technologies becomes increasingly important.

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A Changing Landscape

The majority of home searches occur online and, believe it or not, more and more buyers are purchasing property without ever seeing it in person. The real estate world is quickly changing, and businesses will have to adapt to the needs of their clients. Moving forward, VR in real estate may evolve much like the real estate website. When consumer access to computers and the internet were relatively new, professional websites were “nice to have”. After only a few years, they became an absolute necessity.

With this occurring in the not-so-distant past, real estate professionals may be eager to adopt VR technology sooner rather than later.

 

Anthony Gilbert is the owner of The RealFX Group. Anthony specializes in real estate lead generation and digital marketing.

Navigating the Maze of VR Scriptwriting & Storytelling for New Writers

Where Do I Begin?

Virtual Reality is an immersive computer technology allowing its participants the opportunity to partake in a simulated environment. The chance to immerse ourselves in a uniquely alternate reality certainly is enticing — but how do you construct the skeleton of a story for the meaty VR body to hang on, and hold your audiences’ attention?

A lot of the same principles of storytelling apply to VR storytelling and scriptwriting, as they do to its conventional counterpart. Yet in VR storytelling you must consider your audience as an immersed participant. What pitfalls do you need to look out for? That is the right question!

Storytelling Checklist

Pacing

The pace by which you reveal your VR world to your audience is crucial. For the vast majority, VR will be an entirely new experience — and at first, an uneasy one. You need to allow them time to adapt, ease them in gently so to speak. Oculus Story Studio suggest a 30-second settling in period, as most viewers will be more familiar with flat screen viewing. This time period is enough for the participant to relax into the new VR environment.

A slower, introductory pace at the beginning will allow the narrative to shine at the more important, later stages. If you rush your audience into the narrative immediately, the unfamiliarity with their VR surroundings will give them a sensory overload, causing many audience members to just walk away.

The Audience

VR is the medium for audience autonomy and freedom. Instead of writing your script with a confined narrative, your storytelling should embrace the space and explore the world you’ve built.

“There are, of course, plenty of tricks to use to navigate this pitfall  and their use depends on the autonomy you as a creator wish to relinquish to your audience,” explains Andy Hays, a Game Writer at UK Top Writers and Study Demic contributor. “Lighting cues, sound cues, the character’s POV, and especially the arc of additional characters can all aid in directing the attention of your audience along the path of the narrative.”

First Person POV

One of the more challenging aspects involves writing a narrative that a participant can lose themselves in, remembering that we still naturally assume ownership of the virtual environment with which we’re engaged. First person POV is certainly the more difficult choice, but has the advantage of looking through an active participant’s eyes.

The Reality of VR

This is not just important in navigating the pitfalls of POV, but we cannot forget that the participant must actively believe the environment they are immersed in. The reality of their Virtual Reality must be engaging.

Writing a story where supporting characters break the fourth wall, engaging directly with the participant, adds a sense of realism to the participant’s experience. The intimacy of these moments is more likely to leave a lasting impact on your audience.

Player Decision-Making

Nowadays, giving autonomy to your audience in terms of story is common practice — particularly in the gaming industry. VR should be no different.

If your audience desires freedom and autonomy of the world, give it to them. Ensure the character arc is engaging and the narrative is constructed with arc-altering decisions. Not only do these decisions develop a believable reality by giving your participant personified responsibility, but it also allows you to retain control over the story and direct your audience once more.

Spatial Storytelling

The key thing to remember here is that the VR space is not just background, or filler. It is an active component in your immersive environment. The world must shift around the participant. Use it to drag their attention in the direction the narrative desires; this again relates to the cues we mentioned earlier.

It is important to note the reverse sensory action of behaviours: How does entering a café, library, or school, affect you on a sensory level, and what then do you add to it to make it distinguishable?

Formatting

Regardless of the media you’re writing for, formatting should always be top of your list. If you wish to write in POV, you can add it to your scene heading. Others choose to write with a more theatrical freedom. Whatever your preference, there are some great tools to assist new writers in polishing off your VR script:

What Next?

Following these tips will set you on the right path to successfully navigating the pitfalls of VR scriptwriting and storytelling. The reality of VR is essential to your audience. And though they seek autonomy and freedom within the world, using the outlined tricks and skills above allow you to retain this power via the narrative, dynamic spatial design, and immersive character arcs you’ve written.

NYFA guest author Freddie Tubbs is a script writer at Paper Fellows. He regularly takes part in film conferences and writes posts and guides for Big Assignments and Write my Australia.

A Q&A With New York Film Academy Photography Conservatory Student Tanne Willow

Photo by Tanne Willow

Photo by Tanne Willow


Known for decades as a cutting-edge leader in crafting fine light-shaping and flash tools for professional photographers, Profoto is a Swedish company that recently
featured New York Film Academy (NYFA) 2-Year Photography Conservatory student Tanne Willow and her images in their Local News section.

A true representative of NYFA’s diverse international community, Tanne original hails from Sweden and has lived in Denmark, France, and the United States. With a background in dance and an obsession for motion, her work has a truly unique energy and it’s easy to see why she was chosen by Profoto to spotlight as a “Rising Light.”

In the midst of her fourth semester at the New York Film Academy, Tanne took the time to answer some questions and to share part of her story with our student community. Read on to hear more about her pathway to NYFA, her favorite photography equipment, and how surviving a busy semester is helping her create her own professional identity as a photographer.

NYFA: You worked for many years as a dancer before deciding to go back to school for photography. Can you tell us a little bit about your experience studying in NYFA’s Photography Conservatory, as an adult continuing education student?

TW: Before I came to NYFA I had quite a few years of experience but it had been a very long time since I had last studied, and I felt there were a lot of holes in my knowledge. To be able to come here and build it up from the base even though I had preexisting knowledge was completely a revolt. It changed everything.

Today I can say with confidence that I am a photographer and know that there is a certain professionalism that comes with that word that I possess, and I can now deliver on a professional level consistent work. I know my own limits in a completely different way, and I also know my capabilities after these two years. It has really meant everything in that sense.

 

Photo by Tanne Willow

Photo by Tanne Willow

 

NYFA: Can you tell us how your featured story on Profoto came about?

TW: I sent in my images for submission, and I was chosen. There was a call from my [NYFA Los Angeles] teacher Amanda Rowan, she was the one who put me in touch with the Profoto agency.

NYFA: What is your absolute essential toolkit for a shoot? Any equipment you can’t leave the house without?

TW: It depends on what I am shooting, and for every shoot there is a different toolkit. I shoot in very many ways. I shoot digitally but also analogically on large format — 4×5, and medium format also. The only thing I can say I can’t leave my house without is my camera! That’s the essential part photography can’t happen without — and me and my eye! As long as I have my camera, I can do something.

NYFA: What’s next for you? Can you tell us about any upcoming projects you’re working on?

TW: I’m currently in my fourth semester at NYFA and working on my thesis project, “Matriarch.” It’s a study about the definition of femininity — something I am quite unclear about. Growing up as a female in this world, I have experienced different countries. Being born in Sweden, living in Holland, France and the U.S., I have seen many variations of how femininity is defined and how females and non-females are defined by femininity. I have heard myself being described as feminine and I have used the word myself, but I have a very ambivalent relationship with it — because of that fact that it is so so attached to my being somehow, yet I see the difficulties that I have myself, in the world around me, in knowing what we mean when we use this term.

What I do is I work with performance artists. I search for the physical interpretation of their ideas of what femininity is. I discuss with them what they think it is and how they define femininity, then they improvise under my direction. And I photograph them. I document them both digitally, all environmental portraits. The cameras I use in my thesis are a Canon 5D Mark III, with a 24-70mm lens, and a Toyo 4x5in View-camera, with a 90mm lens. 

NYFA: What are your goals as a photographer?

TW: My main dream is fine arts exhibitions, also shooting fitness (dance background) and have lots of experience in shooting motion-filled images. My preferred way to work is with people in motion, whether it’s fine arts or commercial photography. This is my main interest. I thoroughly enjoy the analogue part of photography and I wish I could incorporate that in my career with lab and print work.

 

Photo by Tanne Willow

Photo by Tanne Willow

The New York Film Academy would like to thank Tanne Willow for taking the time to share a part of her story with our student community.

Ready to go back to school as a continuing education student? Check out the New York Film Academy’s Photography 2-Conservatory programs!

The Next Virtual Reality Frontier Might Be Ads

With many companies moving from brick and mortar stores to online showrooms, advertisers are turning to virtual reality to help sell products — especially those that most people want to see or test before buying. As the technology improves and more people adopt VR viewing devices, advertisers will have more options for getting their messages out.

Marketers are using VR storytelling to create short, immersive experiences that are quite different from traditional television and online commercials. These VR experiences tend to unfold and slowly introduce the product, allowing the viewer to “discover” the product within the experience.

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Being able to tell an immersive story through VR makes it more likely that viewers will share the clip online rather than clicking to skip the ad — at least until the novelty of VR wears off. VR can also be part of an event. Because the VR viewing experience allows the viewer to look at different things in their environment, they may choose to watch the same piece of advertising more than once so they can focus on different things each time.

Through VR, marketers can showcase products in an “ideal” environment and customers can choose what items to inspect more closely. In 2015, Target ran a series of Halloween ads using VR to show off its line of decorations and costumes. There are six ads, that taken together, tell a story. The Ghoulish Graveyard makes good use of VR technology to help create atmosphere and let viewers see how they might set up a similar lawn display.

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Travel and tourism are natural subjects for VR filmmakers. Dubai Here You Are presents a day in the life of Dubai while Best Western has a series of ads showing off the lobbies and rooms of its hotels across the U.S. Hiking boot maker Merrell produced what they claim is the first commercial “walk around” VR experience in 2015 with its Merrell TrailScape.

Using the immersive narrative techniques also gives more power to public service announcements and showcasing a company’s charitable efforts. AT&T has several ads pointing out the dangers of distracted driving. In a spot titled It Can Wait, viewers are placed in the driver’s seat as a series of texts becomes more of distraction. Experience the TOMS Virtual Giving Trip takes viewers to a school in Peru where the company donates shoes to the students. Companies with a social conscience use VR to take customers behind the scenes to show how their purchases can help people around the world.

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VR advertising can help show that even long-established brands are modern. McDonald’s and Coca-Cola are also dipping their toes in the VR world with packaging that can be converted into VR viewers and with links to games and shorts that advertise their products.

Luxury car makers have used VR for virtual test drives. Volvo offers viewers a look around the cabin of the XC90 and then an experience driving a scenic mountain route. Audi uses VR and sandbox gaming to let people build tracks and experience the ride in their Sandbox. Interactive advertising that appeals to young and old helps establish brand recognition that lasts a lifetime. Lexus and ABC teamed up to make QuanticoVR, which gives viewers the point of view of a rookie on the force—there is a chance to look at the interior and exterior of the Lexus and then immersion into the show.

Interested in becoming a virtual reality developer? Study virtual reality at NYFA.

 

 

 4 Books to Inspire You About the Future of Virtual Reality

To be very honest, it’s impossible to NOT be excited about the sheer potential of virtual reality. From the perspective of the user- it’s exactly like tumbling into wonderland and discovering a whole new surreal and interactive world. From the point-of-view of the VR developer, it’s like playing God- creating and designing a world as per your imagination. Whether you’re looking to work in the lucrative VR industry or just a scifi nerd, these books will inspire you about VR’s future by sharpening your imagination with futuristic fantasies or giving you theoretical knowledge you can put to test.

1. “Learning Virtual Reality: Developing Immersive Experiences and Applications for Desktop, Web, and Mobile” by Toni Parisi

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If you’re looking for an easy to read but extensive introduction packed with practical tips, this is your go-to handbook. Written by an industry expert and entrepreneur, this book gives you a lowdown on the 3 most important VR platforms- Cardboard, Gear and Oculus- and explains how to actually go about doing the stuff. After all to make your imagination into reality you need to learn UI design, work with 3D graphics as well know a fair bit of programming.

2. “Neuromancer” by William Gibson

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This seminal cyberpunk work of fiction, first published in 1984 that ushered in the world of cyberspace and VR, long before the Wachowski duo made the “The Matrix” (1999). Set in a futuristic America, the novel follows Case and Molly as they try to save the world from a rogue AI. So if you’re having trouble wrapping your head round the whole idea of VR and its consequences, this book should give you ideas.

3. “Masters Of Doom: How Two Guys Created an Empire and Transformed Pop Culture” by David Kushner

Of course, if Pokemon Go is anything to go by, the primary field to be affected by VR is the gaming industry.  Which means if you’re really interested in VR, you might as well be a geek when it comes to video games especially of the experimental variety. This book talks about how two random guys came together to form their company “id software” that went on to launch the famous “Commander Keen” and “Wolfenstein 3D” games. It not only gives a sneak peek into how the video games are designed and how the industry works in general, but it also highlights the importance of collaboration and the need to work in a team of complementing skill sets to make successful products.

4. “Snow Crash” by Neal Stephenson

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Hailed by VR experts and scientists like Michael Abrash, this hard sci fi novel that came out in 1992 literally set the ball rolling for the virtual to be made real. In fact, most of the VR terminology we use everyday such as “metaverse” and “avatar” can all be traced back to this book that is a blend of history, myth, linguistics, computer science and politics and makes for heavy reading.  

5. “Ready Player One” by Ernest Cline

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As Variety puts it, Ernest Cline’s visionary dystopian novel “has been hailed by many in the VR industry as a seminal piece of writing about virtual worlds.” It’s inspired so many current industry leaders, VR developers, and artists, that Warner Bros. is currently producing a major motion picture version of the book directed by Stephen Spielberg, to be released in 2018.

So if you’re up for studying VR at NYFA, these books are a must-read to brush up your knowledge as well as to broaden your horizons. After all VR is one field that requires both technical skill and expertise as well as creativity and imagination. So while you’re reading a programming handbook on Unity, make sure you’re up to date with important sci fi literatures as well.

9 Big Names in Virtual Reality to Follow Right Now

Virtual reality is one of the hottest trends in entertainment right now. You’ve probably heard about tech companies investing in goofy-looking glasses, but virtual reality is more than just a headset. It’s about expanding the experience and stimulating the mind.

Here are a few pioneers in the industry that you may want to watch — they could produce the next big thing in virtual reality-based entertainment.

1. Julina Tatlock, Founder and CEO of 30 Ninjas

Founded in 2008, 30 Ninjas is a digital entertainment company that specializes in VR productions. Tatlock and partner Doug Liman are both award-winning pioneers in the VR industry; their projects have been nominated for multiple Emmys and have won both the Shorty and Social TV Grand Prize. Prior to her VR career, Tatlock worked in television at Oxygen Media and Martha Stewart Living.

2. Samantha Quick, The New York Times

Samantha, a video journalist with the New York Times, has been focused on the VR industry for over two years. Samantha provides updates on some of the Times’ recent VR projects and initiatives. A former developer for 30 Ninjas, Samantha now assists the New York Times in creating and producing 360 degree news and virtual reality projects.

3. Chris Milk, Filmmaker and Founder of Within

This legendary filmmaker worked on videos for clients such as U2 and Nintendo before becoming interested in virtual reality at a 2011 Coachella art installation show. He founded Within to portray the human experience by using virtual reality.

Users can now download the Within app to create innovative stories using only the app and a simple VR headset. Unlike gaming or fantasy that aims to create different worlds for escapist pleasure, Milk’s app focuses on capturing human emotions and experiences.

4. Ken Birdwell, Valve VR Engineer

While he started off skeptical about the future of VR, Ken — one of the creators of the immensely popular Portal and Half-Life series — eventually got pulled into the VR world. He was a major influence on the HTC Vive headset, which uses what Ken refers to as “room scale.”

Room scale is a design paradigm which allows users to freely walk around a play area, with their real-life motion reflected in the VR environment. Using infrared sensors for 360 degree tracking purposes, room scale takes the user’s movements into account and translates this into real-time within the VR world.

5. Debra Anderson, CSO of Datavized

Debra Anderson is a VR entrepreneur who debuted her cinematic VR piece “In/Formation” in 2015, which covered virtual reality pioneers. She’s the co-founder and chief strategy officer at Datavized, a company that is building a 3D publishing platform for the collaboration of creative ideas and stories across the Internet. As a major leader in the world of VR, she founded the Women in VR Meetup and teaches VR courses at Parsons School of Design. She is currently directing and producing a Web VR story about violence against women in Nepal.

6. Alex Kipman, Microsoft HoloLens

This Brazilian-born inventor worked on Microsoft’s software development for years before joining the Xbox division in 2008, where he created the Kinect. The fastest-selling consumer device ever made, the Kinect cemented Kipman’s reputation as a pioneer in the VR field, but he wasn’t done yet. In 2015, he debuted the HoloLens- a headset that displays 3D holograms that the user can interact with by reaching out and touching them.

7. John Carmack, CTO of Oculus

Tech wizard John Carmack isn’t just another software developer. He’s also a rocket scientist who was aggressively headhunted by Elon Musk. Carmack, co-founder of id Software, was the lead programmer for a number of popular games including “Doom,” “Quake,” and “Rage.” He took over the coveted CTO position at Oculus VR in 2013, and the virtual reality world can’t wait to see what he’ll come up with next.

8. Palmer Luckey, Founder of Oculus VR

Considered to be one of the most innovative thinkers in the industry, Luckey famously funded Oculus VR through a Kickstarter campaign where donors received a prototype Oculus Rift head-mounted display for $300. His campaign raised $250,000 in under two hours and had topped $2 million by the end of the month.

In 2014, Mark Zuckerberg bought Oculus VR for a cool $2 billion, proving that virtual reality was a hot investment. Luckey currently ranks #22 on Forbes’ 2016 list of America’s richest entrepreneurs under 40; while he may have sold his company to Facebook, he’s still a pioneer in the virtual reality industry that you may want to follow.

9. Bjork, Singer and Artist

Bjork has long been a pioneer in the visual arts as well as music. She famously dressed up as a giant swan at the 2001 Academy Awards. Now she’s getting into the world of virtual reality; her latest video, “Stonemilker,” features multiple Bjork’s singing in 360 degrees of visual space. Her latest art exhibition, Bjork Digital, showcases her four new VR videos for her new album “Vulnicura,” which will be released on VR platforms worldwide.

Who are you most inspired by in the emerging world of virtual reality? Let us know in the comments below! And, if you’re ready to learn more about virtual reality, study VR at New York Film Academy!

The 5 Ingredients of Successful Games and VR Experiences

By Felipe Lara, NYFA Game Design

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Image by Felipe Lara

What makes a game successful? The answer depends on your goals. Sometimes it is revenue, sometimes it is number of downloads, impact on your players, etc. However, focusing on these outcomes is usually not very helpful as a developer. It is much more helpful to define success in terms of engagement, because engagement can be linked directly to the kinds of decisions we need to make during development.

In a previous article (link to “A Roadmap…” article) we talked about how engagement follows a 4-step sequence: stand out, connect, engage, and grow. The next layer is to figure out which ingredients in a game can help you do that. In this article, we’ll look at five ingredients that will help your game or VR experience become more engaging in the long-term.

Your Ingredients

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Image by Felipe Lara

In the many years I spent developing MMOs for casual gamers (kids and families), I saw how there are four basic elements that can be combined very effectively to get the attention of players and make them want to stick around: art, fun mechanics, story, and community building:

  • ART: Art is what first catches your players’ eye and makes them want to take a closer look at your game. At first, players won’t know much about the specific mechanics and stories in your game. They decide to pay more attention after experiencing visuals that resonate with them.
  • FUN: Art by itself, no matter how cool it is, won’t keep your players for long. Finding fun stuff to do that is easy to understand, with clear goals, is what makes players want to stay more than a few seconds.
  • STORY: Even fun activities get repetitive unless there is a larger meaning and purpose behind them. Having a longer-term purpose or story that players can relate to is what makes them want to keep coming back. Shooting hoops is fun, but doing it everyday for hours can get boring quickly unless the activity is part of a larger story — like training to defeat an old rival team.
  • COMMUNITY: All good stories need an ending, but the meaning and purpose that you get from being part of a community can last for years. The games that we keep going back to over and over are the ones that let us form connections with people that we care about.

All these four elements are important to create a successful game that follows the sequence:

  1. Stand Out
  2. Connect
  3. Engage
  4. Grow

The importance of art, fun, story, and community may shift from one step of this sequence to another. For example, standing out depends much more on the art and how things look like than on the details of the story. Then again, engagement depends much more on the mechanics and story than the art, and growing depends heavily on the community building aspect. I’ve seen many good games that don’t succeed because they lacked one or more of these important elements.

Power Up With a Theme

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Image by Felipe Lara

What I’ve noticed through the years is that games are much more powerful and effective at engaging players when all the elements mentioned above (art, mechanics, story, and community) work together and reinforce each other.

Having a strong theme will help tie together the elements of your game and will make it much easier to connect emotionally with your players. But for a theme to do that, you need to have the right understanding of what a theme is.

Theme is not topic. Saying you want to do a pirate game is not enough. There are many different potential approaches to a pirate game: is it about gathering treasure? Is it about fighting the law? Is it about ship battles?

Theme is not about a conflict, either. Defining your theme as the conflict between pirates and the Spanish Armada is not enough. You need to pick a side, you need to have an opinion about the topic or conflict you are talking about, for example, “A pirate’s life is a wonderful life, because it is more free and exciting.”

When you state your theme as a clear point of view you get a much clearer idea of what you need from your mechanics and story. In this case, the elements would all need to revolve around the excitement of being a pirate and feeling free of responsibilities and commitments.

In his book “The Art of Game Design,” Jesse Schell relates an example from when we worked on a pirate’s virtual reality ride for Walt Disney Imagineering and DisneyQuest. In his book, he writes that as soon as they nailed down a theme for the ride, many of the design decisions about art style, game mechanics, story, and even technology became clear. As a result of clarifying the theme, all these ingredients ended up supporting each other to create a much more powerful and award-winning VR experience.

Conclusion

There are five ingredients that combine to help your game become much more engaging and successful: art, mechanics, story, community, and theme. When you put these ingredients together in a game or VR experience — art that resonates with your audience, mechanics that are fun and have clear goals, a story that adds meaning and context, a community makes you feel part of something larger than yourself, and a theme that ties it all together and connects to points of view with which your target audience can resonate — you get a much more engaging experience, and your chances of success grow exponentially.

Ready to learn more about virtual reality and game design? Check out NYFA’s VR programs and game design programs!

 

Virtual Reality Film Festivals to Keep an Eye On

Now that more industries and artists are exploring virtual reality technology, they are also showing off their work and products at conferences and festivals. One of the best ways to keep up with what is going on in any industry is attending events such as these where you can hear from the pros, take workshops, see films and test equipment and new products. While there aren’t many VR-only festivals, several of the major film and entertainment festivals are devoting time and space to VR practitioners. Here is New York Film Academy’s roundup of festivals to put on your list:

VR Fest

From the website: “The Virtual Reality Festival (VRF) is a community based organization dedicated to the development and expansion of virtual reality, augmented reality and other immersive entertainment technologies for use by both studio and independent artists, technologists, content creators, game designers and their audiences.”

Found by Christopher Crescitelli in 2014, VR Fest is a fully-curated touring Virtual Reality Film and Immersive Technology Festival. The festival co-sponsors with Extreme Tech Challenge (XTC) and MaiTai Global on a the global VR competition called the Extreme Virtual Reality Challenge, where VR/AR pioneers and entrepreneurs compete for a cash prize and a chance to display their work at the VR Lounge on Sir Richard Branson’s private Necker Island during the XTC Finals Event.

Tribeca Film Festival — Festival Hub

While the Tribeca Film Festival has film screenings, musical performances, and other events around Manhattan, the future of filmmaking is discussed and innovative work is on display at the Hub. In addition to Storyscapes, which features VR films, the Hub is also where you can learn about the intersection of art and technology in media, gaming, music, and documentary filmmaking.

On the festival’s website, Festival Director Genna Terranova explains, “Our experiential program is what happens when artists create wildly different adventures that go outside traditional methods. Here, stories are not passively watched, they are actually ‘experienced’ — you are a participant. Today, virtual reality offers a new landscape for creating worlds and stories. At its best it can be a powerful vehicle for magically transportive explorations that test the limits of our imaginations and psyches.”

SXSW

Founded in 1987 in Austin, Texas, SXSW is best known for its conference and festivals that celebrate the convergence of the interactive, film, and music industries. The SXSW Conference provides networking and educational opportunities as well as entertainment.

From the website: “Featuring a variety of tracks that allow attendees to explore what’s next in the worlds of entertainment, culture, and technology, SXSW proves that the most unexpected discoveries happen when diverse topics and people come together.”

The 2017 festival sessions included panels on funding VR projects, production in extreme environments, how VR and documentary filmmaking connect, using VR in live events and for global engagement, and several mentoring sessions  as well as demos and screenings.

Kaleidoscope

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Kaleidoscope produces events around the world that showcase the best in virtual reality from independent artists. Each season Kaleidoscope produces curated, traveling exhibitions of work from VR creators around the world. The 2017 Showcase Vol. 2 will be organized by local VR creators in the following cities: New York, London, Berlin, Sydney, Kyiv, Los Angeles, Paris, Leipzig, Seoul, and Hong Kong.

Sundance

The New Frontier section of Sundance features innovations in film and art. VR filmmaking has had an increasing presence at the festival. In addition to showings of new VR films, there are now panels about crafting narratives and audience interaction with VR films. On the festival website, you can also find a selection of films that were featured at the 2016 festival that can be viewed using Cardboard. From the website: “The line up represents some of the most compelling narrative and documentary VR storytelling being independently created today.”

SF Indiefest — CyberiaVR

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Imagine a film festival that you can attend from your own living room. That’s what the Cyberia Film Festival does for VR fans and filmmakers. The free, three-day festival allowed viewers from around the world to watch scheduled films and participate in Q&A sessions with filmmakers without having to travel anywhere.

From the website: “The CYBERIA Film Festival is the first conventionally-styled filmfest to be held in a Virtual Reality environment. CYBERIA seeks to explore a new frontier in cinema appreciation, reaching across the globe to bring together an audience as diverse as its content.”

VR Days Europe

Held in Amsterdam this year, VR Days Europe is a four-day festival that includes workshops, lectures, and demos that explore everything from feature film storytelling to business applications for VR filmmaking. The festival currently has an open call for the October 2017 event.

Dubai International Film Festival

The Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF) launched its VR program, DIFFerent REALITY, at the 2016 festival. The DIFFerent REALITY program offers festival goers an international selection of VR films, including fiction, documentary, and animation. There is also a business hub of the festival that includes panels with VR creators, interactive installations, and the chance to network.
On the festival’s website, DIFF’s Chairman, Abdulhamid Juma commented: “We have always been committed to discovering new talent and original storytelling to present exciting content that will entertain, educate and inspire DIFF audiences. VR gives filmmakers a new, immersive medium which is an exciting new direction for cinema and our compelling and engaging line-up of VR films push the technological boundaries of storytelling. We are extremely excited to bring some of the best VR experiences to DIFF this December and invite film fans to experience the future of storytelling firsthand.”

Raindance

Now in its 25th year, the Raindance Film Festival is the largest and most important independent film festival in the UK. In January 2016, the festival announced it was launching Raindance VR, a section of the festival dedicated to VR filmmaking. The 2017 festival takes place from Sept. 21 to Oct. 2 and is accepting submissions.

Festival organizers see VR presenting opportunities for low-budget independent filmmakers.

Raindance Founder Elliot Grove says, “We believe VR is the most exciting change in cinema and filmmaking since the onslaught of internet distribution which started with Youtube in 2005.”

FIVARS

FIVARS is the first Canadian festival dedicated solely to VR storytelling and filmmaking. The festival was started in 2015 and is the first VR festival to be listed on WithoutABox.com — a marketplace for filmmakers to submit their works to film festivals, owned by Amazon.com

VR filmmaking continues to evolve as the audience for it grows and the technology improves. Filmmakers and other creative professionals are exploring ways to use VR storytelling to expand the way they communicate and share ideas with an audience.

Whether you are interested in film, game design, or other ways to use VR technology, the New York Film Academy likely offers the perfect course or workshop for you. Start exploring our programs here. Who knows? We might see some of your work at one of these festivals in future!

How to Get Started in Virtual Reality Development

Many of us might have been familiar with the world of virtual reality development via simulation games such as Second Life, where users can choose and customize an avatar and meet new people in a virtual environment. One could even go for dates, explore new landscapes, solve mysteries and even get married — virtually.

By now, in an age of Pokemon Go, virtual reality development has come a long way. Now, it involves actually interacting with a simulated environment, mostly using a virtual reality headset or HMD. A virtual reality developer is a lucrative career option for those who love creativity and computers. But keep in mind, virtual reality development is a vast field; it operates using different rules, and requires a particular skill set and lots of patience. So if you’re a novice interested in virtual reality development, you’ve come to the right place for information. Below, we’ve rounded up some useful tips to help you get started.

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1. Build a Strong Foundation.

Think of virtual reality technology as an advanced master course, meaning you need some preparation material and introductory lessons. Courses like NYFA’s virtual reality workshops are an excellent way to develop competitive understanding of the technology and discover your own voice within this burgeoning field. Get fluent in product design, video game design, 3D modeling and animation as well as design theory. For programming, it helps to know C#. In other words, for virtual reality development, it helps to know about the technologies surrounding and supporting VR. For instance, why not take some design courses and programming lessons with NYFA’s 12-Week intensive Game Coding Workshop? Engage with virtual reality as much as you can, whether in the form of apps or games. Study and try to figure out what makes certain virtual reality development projects successful.

2.  Choose a Particular Platform and Master It.

There are plenty of platforms, each with its advantages and limitations, for you to experiment with VR. The best and easiest one for now is Unity — you don’t even need the special VR hardware to start creating games. It is also freely available. Another engine you may want to check out is Unreal. Start out with Mobile VR and make a prototype using Google Cardboard and a Cardboard Viewer. WebVR is another entry point for VR developers, with many media companies and forecasters betting that a 3D, immersive internet is on the horizon. As VR devices get more accessible and affordable, content developed for the 3D web will likely become the most universal use of VR.

3. Make The Best Use of Free Resources. 

If you’re stumped, there’s always Google to help you out. Unity comes with its own tutorials for the absolute beginner here and there are plenty of online courses to improve your skills such as these and these. Once the prototype is ready, add appropriate sound and art to make the experience as immersive as possible. You also need to know how gyro and accelerometer sensors in mobile phones work as well as image processing and speech recognition.

4. Stay Up-To-Date With New VR Developments. 

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Virtual Reality is a constantly evolving field and, the more you explore, the more treasures you’ll uncover. If you want to be a virtual reality developer, it’s important to stay up to speed on the industry. Subscribe to podcasts, read interesting articles about the subject, and follow the latest news. Remember that the VR industry is still at its nascent stage, so even when you think you’ve mastered it, there will always be newer things to learn. That’s why this is a great time to become a virtual reality developer.

Finally, to make the most of this venture, you must meet up with other virtual reality developers. For instance, if you want to develop a VR mobile game, form an informal group, divide responsibilities based on everyone’s skills and test the prototype with each other. And most importantly, don’t be afraid to make mistakes and do enjoy the process of creating an artificial world.

Interested in becoming a virtual reality developer? Study virtual reality at NYFA.

Virtual Reality Evolution in 2017

Virtual Reality has made its presence known in the world of technology, and it’s building up to something big: a virtual reality evolution is in store in 2017. High image resolution systems like HTC’s Vive and Facebook’s Oculus Rift are pitted against more affordable systems such as Google’s Daydream and Samsung’s Gear VR. Vive and Rift allow semi-permanent installation, while Daydream View and GearVR allow users to carry VR with them for interactive, personal experiences. And 2017 may prove to be a year of paradigm shifts and major change in the world of VR.

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Google’s Daydream View and Oculus’ follow up to the Samsung Gear VR, which is powered by Oculus, will need to deliver the same anticipation, if not more, that previous VR systems delivered in the past year. The technology industry also needs people — who may not be technology savvy — to buy into VR.

Mark Zuckerberg paid $2 billion for Oculus, hailing VR as a new communication platform. So it may not come as a surprise if VR changes the social landscape in 2017. It appears that Zuckerberg didn’t purchase Oculus Rift to get a foot into the gaming industry; instead he is interested on focusing on something else entirely.

In a post announcing the acquisition of the Oculus VR, Zuckerberg wrote, ““Imagine enjoying a court side seat at a game, studying in a classroom of students and teachers all over the world or consulting with a doctor face-to-face – just by putting on goggles in your home.”

There is also a good possibility that people will be open to new opportunities and social communities through VR, ranging from activities such as drone racing to sports, including soccer, basketball and ice hockey.

AppReal predicts that there will be more than 43 million people using VR at the beginning of 2017. As VR continues to grow, developers will have two 3D engines to choose from — Unity and Unreal Engine.  But which one is the right VR development platform?

Google Daydream is one the most anticipated systems to bring VR to the majority of people due to its affordable hardware and its accessibility. Anyone with a smartphone will have access to VR content through systems such as Google Daydream.

In 2016, the inaugural VR cinema made waves in Amsterdam and it’s estimated that similar cinemas around the world will rise in 2017. Filmmakers are already using VR to do extensive pre-visualization for “live action” CGI augmented films. That’s generally included under the VFX heading. And of course, VFX are ubiquitous in games as well.

The dawn of wireless headsets is finally here and gone are the days of being tethered. The cord – considered an annoyance by most that have tried tethered VR – carries high-speed graphics to ensure a quality experience. But with wireless headsets, advanced Bluetooth and Wi-Fi capabilities will be able to deliver the same high-speed graphics. Regardless of what happens this year, 2017 will be a pivotal and perhaps decisive year for virtual reality.

How do you think VR applications will evolve in 2017? Let us know in the comments below!

A Q&A With VR Observer Founder & Entrepreneur Elena Titova

As a part of our continuing mission to keep our students at the forefront of the industry and offer real-world insights, New York Film Academy is pleased to have had the privilege to sit down with Elena Titova: thought-leader, entrepreneur, and founder of VR Observer magazine. Here is what she had to share with our burgeoning virtual reality community:

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Photo provided by Elena Titova.

NYFA: Hi Elena, thanks for joining NYFA to share your thoughts on Virtual Reality (VR). Let me ask, what was it about VR that first captured your imagination? And what inspired you to found VR Observer?

ET: What captured me is the opportunity VR presents in creating an entirely other universe. The endless possibilities. A dynamic shift in how we teach, how stories are told, how we learn, how we interact with information and each other. How we do things today will shift dramatically in the next few years.

I founded VR Observer to capture this change as it happens. To be on the frontline of a technology that will eventually impact all of our lives. That doesn’t happen all the time. It’s an exciting place to be and I’m happy to be a part of it.

NYFA: Tell us a little bit about your journey in creating a career for yourself in the world of VR? How did you get where you are today?

ET: When I was a little girl growing up in Russia I was fascinated by space travel, still am to this day. I believe this was the foundation to where I am today, wanting to explore and discover new places and technologies. I have a background in marketing and UI/UX design which merge perfectly in my work on VR Observer.

NYFA: How much experience does someone have to have to apply for/get a job using VR? In your view, what industries have most potential to utilize VR content?

ET: The experience level required will be dependent on what field and area of VR one is looking at. One thing I find exciting about an emerging technology though is the fact that so many people are learning as they go. This in a way levels the playing field.

The big one, of course, will be gaming. But we are really excited to see the utilization of VR in healthcare and the entertainment (movies/tv/news) industries.

NYFA: From what you’ve observed in the industry, what companies are investing in VR, and where are opportunities for growth within the next year?  

ET: Facebook’s recent announcement that the social network could end up spending over $3 billion in the next decade to improve virtual reality and make it accessible to the masses, pretty much set the gauntlet. That was Mark Zuckerberg essentially saying VR is going to be the next big thing, and they want to be in front of it. Of course Apple, Microsoft and Google all have major investments in both VR and AR. I find it interesting to also monitor the steady increase of VC money into VR/AR and MR startups. CB Insights has some great data on that.

NYFA: What exciting market trends have you observed in regards to both hardware and content?

ET: The hardware has been improving. Companies are understanding how individuals interact with the virtual world and are honing their products, both H/W and content to create a truly immersive experience. I’m excited to see companies looking at all the senses and how to incorporate them. There is a company that is working on incorporating smell into a virtual environment. Imagine walking into a garden and smelling the roses!

NYFA: You have a strong entrepreneurial background. How do you see entrepreneurship and VR working together? What should young professionals interested in VR borrow from the entrepreneurial mindset?

ET: They are peas in a pod. Anytime a technology comes along that has the potential that VR contains the entrepreneurial opportunities are everywhere.

Just do it. Go for it with no fear of failure. This is such an exciting time, learn from the best, but do it your own way. Always be learning and improving.

NYFA: As you watch VR evolve, what challenges do you anticipate the medium will face in the coming year? And how do you think those challenges can be met?

ET: Adoption. The early adopters have embraced VR. We now need the next wave of consumers to experience VR, and in turn purchase and utilize VR.

To touch further on what I said above, VR needs to be experienced. It cannot be described sufficiently enough to someone who has never actually been immersed in a virtual world.

Hardware and content providers will need to get their products in the consumer’s hands. Cost is also an issue, but I have faith in Moore’s law to rectify that in time.

NYFA: What do you wish everyone knew about VR?

ET: That is not just for games. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy fighting zombies as much as the next person. But I don’t think people outside of the VR world know how VR is helping soldiers with PTSD, how VR is helping train our next wave of surgeons, how VR is helping people overcome phobias. All of these [applications] and more will help individuals, and in turn, society. This is what excites me about VR.

Elena, it’s been a pleasure learning more about you and VR Observer. Thank you for sharing your VR insights with New York Film Academy!

Are you interested in learning more about virtual reality? Explore the New York Film Academy’s three immersive VR workshops.

What to Expect in Virtual Reality Games Coming in 2017

One of the best things about our industry is that each year brings something to look forward to. In 2016 we saw both the PlayStation 4 Pro and Xbox One S release, making it the first time consoles got a mid-generation model with added power and 4K support. Anticipated games like Final Fantasy XV, Overwatch, and two new Pokemon titles also gave gamers plenty to enjoy.

But perhaps the biggest reason last year will be remembered is for one thing, above all others, changing the gaming landscape: virtual reality. Ever since the Oculus Rift Kickstarter campaign raised more than $2.5 million in 2012, a race began to see who could create the best VR gaming device. Options you can buy today include the PlayStation VR, HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, and Samsung Gear VR.

But will 2017 be the year VR truly takes off … or will it fall into obscurity? Here are our VR predictions for this year:

Better Games Are Coming

The new VR devices have been received well so far. Their ability to trick our minds into thinking we’re inside vivid virtual worlds is an incredible experience. However, many of the games that released alongside these device received mixed feedback.

Although impressive, a lot of titles felt more like tech demos than actual games. Batman: Arkham VR let us become the Dark Knight himself like never before — but only for about two and a half hours. Gamers didn’t buy expensive VR devices to enjoy games that last about as long as your average Hollywood film.

This year we’re expecting developers to do more to convince people still thinking about investing in a VR headset. The good news is we’re already seeing regular games with added VR support, like the well-received Resident Evil 7. To sustain and grow, the 2017 VR craze needs bigger studios with higher budgets to invest in making better, more accessible games.

Prices Will Probably Drop

If there’s one reason more VR devices aren’t in more homes today, it’s the price. Almost every headset currently on the market will set you back a few hundred bucks. If you want an Oculus Rift or HTC Vive, be ready to pay $799 or $599, respectively.

And even if you drop the cash for one, your current computer might not be ready for it. According to NVIDIA, 99 percent of computers on the market in 2016 aren’t powerful enough to provide the best virtual reality experience possible. The PlayStation VR released with a price tag of $399, which doesn’t count the Move controllers ($50 each), camera (another $50), and console itself ($300).

Unless we see price drops on the current devices, or more affordable devices released, the VR market will struggle to turn a profit or take off with the average consumer. The fact that certain VR headsets have received discounts recently is a good start. Some affordable options are already showing up on the market for those who want to pay less for something more basic, like the Google Daydream.

VR Will Either Sink Or Swim

Despite many VR headsets being sold last year, many continue to doubt whether virtual reality is the next evolution in gaming. To many, it’s nothing more than a fad similar to motion controls made popular by the Nintendo Wii in the last decade. However, VR does offer unprecedented opportunities to revolutionize the way we explore video game worlds and stories.

No matter which side they’re on, experts do agree that 2017 will give us a greater sense at how VR will do in the future. It’s up to game developers to release groundbreaking VR projects that make everyone else feel like they’re missing out. Fortunately, companies like Google are jumping into the market with affordable VR headsets, making it easier to try VR before investing in a better product.

What are your predictions for how virtual reality with change games in 2017? Let us know in the comments below! Learn more about virtual reality at the New York Film Academy.

What is Virtual Reality (VR)?

First things first: virtual reality is a communication medium, not a technology.

Technologically speaking, there are three variants: virtual, augmented, and mixed. These exist on a spectrum of RL integration, or we can call it degrees of immersion.

  • VR refers to full immersion, entirely computer-mediated content presented in total isolation through a headset and optional headphones (although social exists through embodied avatars). Think Fruit Ninja VR and Oculus Rooms.
  • AR refers to complementary immersion — a screen projects computer-mediated information into the real world, where users can synthesize and contextualize the screen-based content. Think Pokemon Go and Google Maps.
  • MR uses light, projected into the eye via mirrors (HoloLens) or prisms (Magic Leap’s rumored approach), to present content that is completely integrated into RL, even interacting with/responding to the environment and actions of the user.

The future will likely see more points of RL+CG integration and synthesis, so I refer to the medium as “MAVR” when talking about aspects that are true across all the tech.

As a communications medium, it’s important to put the technological advancements of MAVR into context: this is a tool for sharing ideas, experiences, and information. Just like paint, print, photography, and film, it has limitless uses and applications.

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The early 21st century has seen the medium of video reach true saturation. We don’t even notice that we’re using it, and that’s what makes it a tool rather than a technology, or a novelty. And it’s no accident that along the path from flat screen ubiquity to the novelty of immersion (surround-screen? no screen?) is just a hop, skip, and a jump, technologically speaking. It’s just wrapping screens around your head or projecting the light directly into your eye, thereby forgoing the screen entirely. Once you know how to direct the light, it’s only a matter of where you put the projector

So here we are, back in Plato’s Cave, just seeing the silhouettes of the visual spectrum through a new medium. It’s an exciting time ripe with possibility. But understanding it and using it require us as creators to redefine our relationship to our audience, and learn some 21st century skills.

First, you have to understand experience design. There are a bunch of complicated ways to explain what that is, but I’ll put it to you the way it was put to me: Ever been to a city park? Everywhere through the park there are paths — concrete, asphalt, brick, what have you — designed to take you the scenic route. Crossing over and around those paths you see dirt tracks that cut right through the grass. Those are the user-created paths, and your job as an experience designer is to anticipate the use and put the paths where they are most useful (and beautiful — never underestimate the importance of beauty).

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The second characteristic you have to understand about immersive design is framing. Though headsets limit the area you can see in any momentary gaze (just like your eyeballs do, but with a slightly smaller periphery), the “camera POV” no longer dominates. You’re surrounded, not compelled to look at a rectangle of information dictated by the director/designer. So, if you’re telling a story, the whole world is “on stage.” Very Shakespearean.

As a user, the most relevant feature of MAVR is agency. Video game designers understand this, because even though your designs only create the illusion of choice, you are rightly vilified if those choices are merely superficial masks for a golden path. But even when we’re not talking about entertainment apps, you still need to make room for the user who will co-create a personal experience. Whether you’re learning anatomy or meditating with Tron fish underwater or overcoming post traumatic stress, no one user will follow the exact same paths as any other. A whole new vocabulary of symbols, gestures, and space is being formulated to move creators beyond the limits of the frame.

Once you establish a conceptual foundation from these concepts, you can start focusing on execution. You will definitely need a computer, so building a foundation in programming, 3D modeling & animation, VFX, post-production, and 360 sound design (all rapidly evolving, complementary skill-sets), is a good start. You can try out 360 video, and experiment with cuts and transitions to move through time and space. But you may also want to make that live footage interactive, so you’ll need to learn compositing and utilize a game engine or webVR app to add those trigger points. And while we’re talking webVR, just wait until you can surf through a 3D internet (yes, it is just like Johnny Mnemonic and The Matrix … what does Keanu know that we don’t?)! Not happy with the design of the headsets, headphones, hand-held controllers, and other wearables? Look into AI, robotics, mechanical engineering, networking, human-computer interaction, product design, and software development.

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Career-wise, you can take one of two VR paths: technical or conceptual. Technicians will be the ones to build the content and solve the usability problems that will evolve into the same universal saturation for immersive content that we discussed with respect to flat screen media at the beginning of this article. Concept people will be the creative directors and storytellers of the immersive age.

The immersive age is upon us, how will you shape it? NYFA has programs in Game Design, 3D Animation & VFX, VR Filmmaking, Interactive VR, and VR Game Design. Choose your path.

How To Tell Compelling Stories in Virtual Reality (VR)

With improvements to virtual reality technology, many creative industries are opening up to seemingly unlimited new possibilities as we discover unprecedented ways to tell compelling stories through the medium of Virtual Reality (VR). Experimentation and opportunity are the name of the game in this thrilling new medium, which is why the New York Film Academy is launching three distinct  new VR programs this year.

Because VR allows for participatory experiences, it has pros like being able to establish empathy and allowing viewers to be engaged as more than passive observers. Yet VR also has its drawback, such as no longer being able to fully direct where the viewer looks and the details they choose to focus on. In many ways, these are the challenges the gaming industry has faced with first-person POV games where players’ decisions throughout gameplay lead to different outcomes. However, in most games that are structured this way, there is also an “ideal” storyline where players who make the intended decisions get the best experience from the game, and there are cues to get players to make different decisions in order to maintain the story. Cut scenes also help stitch together the narrative and keep players moving in the “right” direction.

Some of the decisions visual storytellers need to make include how to make sure the audience will stumble upon the right objects and details to make sense of the story. Unlike “Choose Your Own Adventure” books, which had set paths and a limited number of choices, VR potentially opens up a simulation of real life where 10 different people in any given situation will make 10 different decisions. This means storytellers still need to find a way to guide the narrative, whether that is staging the environment so that only truly key objects attract attention or creating compelling interactions with the characters.

How can filmmakers and other creative storytellers use VR in their own projects? Let’s look at a couple of examples that show how filmmakers are tackling these issues.

Henry” is a short film by Oculus Story Studio that centers on character interaction. In “Henry,” one thing that keeps the story unfolding in the intended direction is the interaction with the character. When he makes eye contact and recognizes the viewer with a little smile, it draws the viewer into his story and establishes empathy. There is also very little in the environment to distract the viewer.

Katy Newton and Karin Soukup describe their decisions for creating the narrative in “Taro’s World” as “influencing” rather than “directing” the storytelling. In their article on Medium, they write about how camera angles, the objects in the scene, the actions of other characters can be set up to guide the viewer’s interaction with the environment.

News outlets are also using VR to help take viewers on location. USA Today recently featured a 360° look at Joshua Tree National Park, which gives viewers a chance to “ride” on a zip-line through the park and have a face-to-fur encounter with a grizzly bear.

Perhaps documentary filmmakers will lead the way in making the most of VR as they put the viewer in a specific environment, allowing them to explore the world as the documentary subjects experience it. As Sir David Attenborough explains, one of the great advantages of VR technology is being able to immerse the viewer in the experience with audio and visuals in a way that can’t be done in traditional film. This piece from StoryUp about the lack of mobility options for the disabled in Zambia lets the viewer see how hard it would be to have to crawl everywhere and be dependent upon others for one’s most basic needs.

How can you get started? While this article from the NYFA’s student resources is about VR in game design, it will help you think about the possibilities VR offers. Charlotte Raymen also offers some advice on equipment and camera usage on the Raindance blog. Jesse Damiani has several tips for VR storytelling in this article for the Huffington Post.

How do you imagine VR will impact storytelling? Let us know in the comments below!

How Virtual Reality Might Impact the Future of Game Design

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Two decades ago, the video game market got its first taste of virtual reality thanks to the Virtual Boy. The device promised “true 3D graphics” that would immerse players into their own digital universe. As a Nintendo product, it was destined to sell millions of units just like the Game Boy and Super NES.

Instead, the Virtual Boy was a complete disaster. Players criticized the console for lacking realistic visuals, more colors, and head tracking. Its commercial failure would haunt the industry for years, convincing companies to avoid releasing their own VR devices even as technology advanced.

Skip forward to 2016 when virtual reality is once again poised to take the industry by storm. From the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift to Sony’s PlayStation VR and the Microsoft HoloLens, the stage is set to see who dominates a new market. Even more VR-compatible games than ever will be available to try at Gamescom 2016, Europe’s largest games fair.

But how will the rise of virtual reality change the way we design games? Just like when games made the leap from 2D sprites to 3D graphics, game designers are already preparing for the challenges that creating a fun virtual reality game will bring. Phoebe Elefante, chair of NYFA’s Game Design School in New York, notes that the possibilities in VR have barely begun to be explored: “The relative accessibility of VR equipment — especially through something like KitSplit — makes this technology super accessible for creators, and so it’s just as likely (maybe even more so) that a 3-woman studio from Poughkeepsie builds the ‘killer app,’ as the experienced game teams in major studios. Having expertise in the screen-based game industry isn’t necessarily the best qualification for exploring this new tech … much like the shift from stage to screen that movies created. Right now, most game designers — especially those porting games like Bioshock to VR — are building stage-on-screen games, because they don’t know the possibilities of the medium yet.”

So, what are the possibilities for VR games?

Traditional Games Will be More Immersive

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When we think about VR games, we imagine completely new experiences designed around the concept of being inside the digital worlds. While many titles will be made from scratch, it doesn’t mean developers aren’t looking to apply VR to “traditional” games. After all, if a game’s’ world already blew us away on a flat screen, it will probably be even more incredible with a VR headset.

Many games have already been made with VR support. You can use the Oculus Rift to play recent hits like The Witcher 3 and Dragon Age: Inquisition. Even older gems like World of Warcraft, Bioshock, and the Dead Space trilogy are now compatible. What could be more frightening than actually walking down the dark, necromorph-infested halls of the USG Ishimura?

Of course, VR compatibility doesn’t change the gameplay. Aside from moving your head to look around, you don’t have to worry about a new control scheme or any major change in mechanics. However, big-budget titles now supporting VR may at least push developers to create even better jaw-dropping visuals.

More Focus On Atmospheric Gameplay

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Many game studios have succeeded in bringing a specific genre to a platform that isn’t considered suitable for its style of gameplay. When it was announced that Ensemble Studios would be creating a real-time strategy game for Xbox 360, many laughed at the idea of using a gamepad instead of a mouse and keyboard. The developer proved it could be done after Halo Wars received excellent reviews from all major publications.

With virtual reality, developers are already looking at which types of games will work best and which won’t — and realizing that games consisting of simple mechanics and exploration are the ones that provide a better virtual reality experience. In other words, expect to see a lot of simulation games.

Edge of Nowhere, Windlands, Star Citizen, and EVE: Valkyrie are perfect examples of games that require limited button input so that seeing and exploring plays a larger role. If you were expecting the same complexity as our favorite Action Adventure or Fighting games, you may have to wait until better add-ons release.

New Gameplay Styles

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The only way virtual reality will have a major impact on game design is if it offers something unique: an interactive experience that can only be enjoyed through the lens of a VR headset. But unless designers come up with fun, groundbreaking gameplay styles, VR will only offer a “better” version of what we can play on other platforms. There are also some bugs VR game designers will have to address. For example, many users get headaches after VR experiences that last more than 20 minutes. That’s a big challenge, especially for gamers who want to immerse and play for extended periods of time.

Remember when motion controls became popular? Nintendo’s original Wii console has stood the test of time as one of the best-selling video game devices for offering gamers a different way to play. Microsoft and Sony followed suit with their own motion devices — Move and Kinect. 

Although motion control didn’t become the norm, these systems still had their day in the sun for offering a fresh experience. What does this tell us about the future of VR? Many, many things. VR may expand the very definition of what we think of as “games” — for example, lots of popular VR experiences don’t require a player to reach a certain outcome to progress forward, and are more experience-based. Designers will have new exciting opportunities to redefine what a game is, packing in more story, emotion, and meaning, something like this that gets people to play on a massive scale.

Designers who can think outside the box and take advantage of VR’s strengths will help this new, promising platform make a bigger impact on our industry.

What do you hope to see in the future of VR games? Let us know in the comments below! Learn more about Game Design and VR at the New York Film Academy.