Interview: Oculus Story Studio Producer, Edward Saatchi
Tom's Hardware: What is the progress so far of getting the big studios involved in creating content? What are their barriers, and what is Oculus doing to make the barriers lower?
Oculus' Edward Saatchi: With Story Studio, we’re looking at original new made-for-VR cinematic content that we hope inspires other to take the leap into this exciting new medium for storytelling. We’re already seeing major studios starting to get involved in the space and producing excellent content 360-degree content like Wild with Reese Witherspoon and the Jurassic World VR experience by Universal Pictures and Felix and Paul [Studios]. This is just the beginning.
Tom's Hardware: When does the content get longer? [Note: Henry is only about 15 minutes.]
Oculus' Edward Saatchi: Given how new the medium of VR is, we feel that we can learn more by creating more short pieces rather than investing in one large film, is the most effective way to learn as much as possible. Moreover, shorter content is less expensive to produce and overall less risky, especially when everyone’s still learning.
Tom's Hardware: When did Oculus create Studios? How many people? Where is that part of the company located? What are the company’s expectations of this division? How much has the company invested in this aspect?
Oculus' Edward Saatchi: Oculus Story Studio has been around for about a year. The team’s still relatively small - roughly 15 engineers, artists, designers, and storytellers - but with an incredible amount of talent and experience. Our mission is to inspire through the creation of VR films and to educate by sharing everything we learn with the community.
Tom's Hardware: I understand Unreal Engine was used for this. Why was UE 4 used?
Oculus' Edward Saatchi: We chose Unreal Engine 4 by Epic Games as the engine for both Lost and Henry. It’s an incredible toolset for real-time graphics and storytelling, and we’re working with Epic on building more cinematic tools on top of it. The real-time nature of the engine and film is key, as it allows us to walk around and explore Henry’s house, as well as enabling Henry to react to the audience and their movement.
Tom's Hardware: To run Henry are we talking the same level of hardware for the PC as will be required to run a video game on Oculus?
Oculus' Edward Saatchi: Yes, it is roughly equivalent to what’s required to run a high-quality video game on the Rift. You can learn more about the Rift’s recommended spec on the oculus.com.
Tom's Hardware: Going to the movies (and yes, I know plenty of us watch them alone on an airplane with headphones on or at home or on iPads) is a community and family event. The Oculus movie event kind of changes that. That’s a big cultural shift. What does Oculus studios think will become of the future of movies in light of the immersive aspect of this experience? Will it hurt the family/community nature of movie going?
Oculus' Edward Saatchi: We don’t think so; rather, film and storytelling can be more social than ever with virtual reality. At Tribeca, we debuted a new version of our first short film, Lost, in which two audience members could watch the film together at the same time. Each audience member was embodied as a firefly in the forest, and you can see the other audience member moving about the scene as well as where they’re looking. Sharing the experience with someone else is just as powerful as it is in real life, and when you imagine the story being able to interact with you, we expect VR films in the future to achieve some remarkable things.
Tom's Hardware: Does Oculus see this kind of content beyond animation? The VR movie experience with real characters?
Oculus' Edward Saatchi: We are excited by the opportunities of live action. Having real life actors looking right at you in a film adds a level of presence that traditional 2D and 3D films can’t offer without breaking 4th wall and in VR, there are no walls. We have experienced exciting experiments in live action already, and although there is a lack of positional tracking in live action, we think it presents powerful possibilities for the future of storytelling.
Tom's Hardware: It seems to me that there’s a much more real intersection of movies and games possible here. How is the movie/entertainment group working with the game creation group at Oculus, or aren’t they yet?
Oculus' Edward Saatchi: Oculus Story Studio is actively experimenting and researching how to tell a story using virtual reality. We, along with the entire VR community, are literally inventing the language of VR right now. And we are sharing our best practices with the community at large, including film, gaming, etc. Games convey a story to the user, whether very complex, or very simple, and with VR, we need to be able to use this emerging medium to its maximum potential. And its potential is vast. So we are sharing best practices, both successes and failures, that we hope will help developers in the story telling process as they continue developing games. We are inspired by the genre of narrative games, such as Gone Home, Stanley Parable and Dear Esther.
Fritz Nelson is the Editor-In-Chief of Tom's Hardware. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.