Shopping Malls Become VR Hotspots

WOW.

So after the mind blowing conference we had earlier this week and the exploration of reality and virtual reality, I decided to fall even deeper into the rabbit hole and I realized that virtual reality has not only invaded classrooms, but also, our shopping malls.

That’s right, virtual reality has been used to re-invigorate shopping malls that had a decline in attendance, using the empty retail space for VR experiences. According to an article from TechCrunch, The Gateway Mall in Salt Lake City, Utah, was created for the 2002 Olympics, and was once a bustling hub for shoppers. Ironically with the rise of online shopping, customers are spending more time buying from home instead of going out to the malls.

Ryan Burningham, founder of The Void, made the decision to move his VR facilities to the mall for it’s low cost. According to The Void, it’s virtual reality that is truly immersive, involving things that you can feel.

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They even have a ghostbusters game where you go around blasting ghosts with your proton streamer.SLIMER

And they say that it’s an interactive interface, giving you real-world objects that correspond with the ones in the game for you to interact with. On Wednesday, I briefly mentioned haptics, and man, does this deliver. SPLIT SCREEN

They even designed a specific gun for The Void, which is part of their Rapture series, to help users get a feel for the weapons they use in game.RAPTURE MARK IV GUN & HMD

Users can also team up with one another and enter the same game, with up to four people in each game. So family and friends can take on ghostbusters together, or search through secret tunnels. While we mentioned the total isolation you get with VR and lack of community, it’s interesting to see that they’re trying to incorporate a multiplayer aspect to the whole experience.

This team has gotten rave reviews on The Void experience, and are working on expanding the experience to other locations.

THE VOID co-founders

James Jensen, Curtis Hickman, Ken Bretschneider

The Fight for Film

Lately we’ve been talking about the transition from film to digital, and  I recently came by an article that said that The Lost City of Z, (a new movie about a hidden city in the amazon) was shot on 35mm and that the footage had to be flown from Columbia.

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Having watched the trailer, I do see how a lot of the colour of the Amazon comes through on the film stock. But for James Gray, the director, he felt the need to shoot on film in order to achieve a certain look– but that came at the cost of production. The movie was shot on location, in both Columbia and Peru and Gray stated in an interview, “To be candid about it, a certain madness kind of sets in. There’s no way to avoid it.” With scorching temperatures and a lack of hot water, shooting on film was an added challenge. Lead actor Charlie Hunnam had to take a day off of filming because a bug had crawled into his ear and he couldn’t remove it. Talk about tough. It also added $750,000 dollars to the production budget.

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James Gray said that it changed the process for him too, and in a way he was experiencing the story through Percy Fawcett, the real-life adventurer the movie is based on, because he had no way of seeing the footage immediately after it was shot, and that it became an immersive experience. But, he did get shots like this:

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These shots feel (at least, to me) like they benefitted from film. The hazy look, the slightly grainy texture, all create an image that makes you feel the heat, the dampness of the jungle, the tension in the air. But, it does beg the question: is it worth it? With the progression of digital, our capability to manipulate an image whether it’s in camera (with a lens, gel, or filter) or in post (through colour correction and editing) is reaching a point where we can (sorf of) recreate the effects of film. It’ll be interesting to see where it goes.

 

From “Tangerine” to the style of independent film

When I was at an interview, I said when I did my undergrad, the style of films we appreciated were very different from what USC likes. USC is more industrial with a Hollywood style. But at the time, we liked independent style better. Then the interviewer asked me with a questioning look: Can you describe what is the independent film style you mentioned? I was so nervous after hearing the question, thinking I said something wrong.

I do think there is a style of independent films. Sometime the style came without a choice, but sometimes they were choices made by the director. After watching Tangerine last week, I confirmed this thought.

Independent films, most of the time will be compared to Hollywood film by the audience. It normally means films that are not produced by major Hollywood studios, sometimes art films, experimental films.

With the appearances of cheaper digital cameras, non-liner editing softwares, sound mixing software and PC. Making a film becomes more and more easier.

Using non-stars, telling stories of normal life or social issues,showing the mundane details of daily life with low budget, independent films has its unique brand. Films this year like Manchester By The Sea is an example.

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As a result of less budget, independent films tend to use natural light, hand held camera or steady long shots, long dialogue or very limited dialogue.

Because of the usage of smaller cameras and limited lighting. Indie filmmakers are able to show what a real life looks like, bringing the film closer to the audience. Just like what Tangerine did. It shows the real Los Angeles which is very different from the glory DTLA in other films, thanks to the small iPhone 5s provides more instant reaction from the filmmaker with a smaller film set.

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I believe the difference of the style was determined by the different usage of film technologies at the first place.

VFX Not Enough to Redeem “Ghost in the Shell”

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After months of closely following the controversy surrounding the whitewashing of the lead character, I was eager to see if Rupert Sanders’ adaptation of Ghost in the Shell would fare upon its release. I myself watched the film last week in Film Symposium, and while I was not terribly impressed by Scarlett Johansson’s performance or the thin narrative, I believed that John Dykstra’s gorgeous VFX would find a sizable audience for the film…

I was wrong. According to the linked article from Deadline, Ghost was a total flop at the box office and, according to the author’s calculations, will lose at least $60 million. The article cites poor marketing, the lack of a “hands-on executive,” the controversy surrounding Scarlett Johansson’s casting, and an “exorbitant cost” for such a niche project as reasons for the film’s failure.

All of this makes perfect sense to me, though the phrase that stood out to me the most was the author’s assertion, “You need a story to sell well beyond the visual shock and awe.” In a time where action-packed blockbusters that are devoid of strong narratives seem to thrive (see: Transformers, Suicide Squad, Fast and Furious, etc.), I would have expected exactly the opposite to be true; as much as I hate to admit it, it often seems as if the majority of domestic and international audiences prefer big explosions and other digitally-enhanced visuals to nuanced, slow-burning character development.

Of course, part of the problem with this particular story is not just that it was thin but that it was based on a manga/anime franchise that is relatively obscure in the U.S. I was very intrigued by the author’s observation that it was irresponsible of Paramount to spend so much money on a “niche IP.” Of course, visual effects only comprised a fraction of the $100 million plus cost of the film, but I was fascinated by the idea that the familiarity of source material dictates, in part, the amount and quality of VFX in a film, especially in light of last week’s in-class discussion of the relationship between technology and economy. It is mind-blowing to think that an interesting concept alone is not enough to dictate the budget of a film and, by extension, the amount spent on special effects; not only was it a bit of a risk to invest so much in a niche project like this, but this article suggests that it was downright irresponsible.

Above all, I am shocked (yet pleased) that, this time, the too-familiar problem of a white actor being cast in a non-white role weighed out the special effects work of no less than John Dykstra of Star Wars, Star Trek, and Battlestar Galactica fame. This gives me hope as both a writer and self-proclaimed activist for onscreen diversity. Despite our current political climate (ahem) or perhaps because of it, the backlash to Scarlett Johansson’s casting as a Japanese cyborg-woman helped destroy what looked and felt like a lucrative blockbuster film. This aspect of the film’s failure, too, is a fascinating example of the relationship between film technology and broader social issues such as race, gender, and class. Though, whereas we’ve previously discussed how “racist” technology can be in class (i.e. 3D glasses), this is an example of how technology failed to mask the problematic depiction of race in a contemporary blockbuster.

Overall, Ghost in the Shell might be a box office failure, but it’s a fantastic case study in the many factors that can impact a film’s success as well as film technology.