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VR At Your Fingertips

Sukriti Yadava inducts you into the fascinating and futuristic world of Virtual Reality films


August 17, 2016 | 07:08 AM

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With new technologies, I’m perversely proud of being a late adopter. I’ve yet to hashtag or Snapchat. I signed up for Instagram four months ago, but forget to use it. I downloaded Pokémon Go and deleted it on the same day. Unless I’m convinced that an invention is necessary and drastically life-changing, I ignore it.

And yet, I find myself utterly engrossed by the advent of Virtual Reality (VR)—in particular, Virtual Reality films. Because, for once, this feels like the real deal: a trailblazing innovation, funded globally by film giants, available worldwide for free, that is, most of all, tremendous fun.

Want to learn about VR films? Here’s Film Companion’s quick-start guide.

Can I watch a VR film right now?

You can watch a VR film at home, now, without spending a paisa. No fancy gadgets required.

The only way to understand a VR film is to watch one yourself. Click around this short (and very cute) VR film trailer to see how it works.

(You can navigate around the 360-degree video by clicking on the arrow wheel, or using your arrow key)

 Ta-da! You just saw a VR film clip, in its simplest avatar. Here’s what’s different:

Not VR Films VR Films
You’re watching a ‘scene’ from outside it. You’re inside a 360-degree ‘world.’
You look dead-straight at a screen. You look all around you: left, right, ahead, behind, up, down.
The director decides where you will focus, by setting up a scene. You can choose where you want to focus inside the world.
Everyone watches the same film—as the director meant them to watch it. Not everyone will watch the same film. By choosing where to look, people will catch and miss different details.


What films should I watch?

Options abound, but you could start with:

  • Clouds Over Sidra,” on the Within app. An award-winning VR documentary about Sidra, a witty, 12-year-old Syrian refugee, that doubled donations to the UN.
  • Stranger Things,” on YouTube.com/360. The VR short for Netflix’s runaway hit show, “Stranger Things,” is tickle-your-spine spooky.
  • Walk the Tight Rope,” on the DiscoveryVR app. This is a real rush—the film puts you in the shoes of a tight-rope walker, precariously crossing the Grand Canyon.

These are quick flicks; none of them runs for longer than ten minutes.

Who is making VR films? 

Everybody. HBOLucas FilmsDiscovery, and YouTube.  The New York TimesVice News, and the United Nations.

Anand Gandhi (who directed Ship of Theseus) just released “Cost of Coal,” a VR documentary. And S. S. Rajamouli, director of Bahubaali, is planning to create the film’s third installment in Virtual Reality.

VR films have been showcased at the CannesSundance, and Tribeca Film Festivals. Even Ola now offers cabs outfitted with VR goggles!

All the while, behemoths like GoogleSamsung, and Facebook are pumping hundreds of millions of dollars into producing ever slicker VR goggles and lenses.

What’s next?

In the near future, VR films are due to get even more exciting. We’re promised avant-garde VR cinemas, for example, so people can experience VR films en masse.

India is quickly gaining renown for its talented, homegrown VR studios. Expect to hear more about studios like MerakiLiminal, and Happy Finish (Mumbai), Digikore (Pune) and Digital Jalebi (Delhi and Bangalore).

I’m particularly enthralled by Magic Leap, a company based in Florida that’s projecting VR visuals onto thin air. Want a peek? Watch the 37-second video below. Just do it. It’s the best 37 seconds I’ve spent online.

That, film lovers, is what we have to look forward to. I’m opting in.