For the last few years there has been an on-going debate as to whether there has been a convergence or a further fragmentation across the creative industries. Are the VFX, gaming and animation industries really converging, and if so what is causing this change?
One of the first issues that is proving decisive is storytelling and the rabbit hole of conversation around this topic. This debate focuses on whether games can ever provide the same rich experience as traditional storytelling in which film does so well, taking viewers on a journey that has been artistically created in a precise way for maximum impact. However, is this really a null argument? One format is passive and one is interactive, so there is an impossible challenge to compare these apples and oranges. How do we get to an answer?
I would argue that both formats have their merits and strengths. Whilst traditional film and animation takes viewers on a pre-defined journey, which can be incredibly polished, games allow viewers to consume in modular form and make their own decisions, although these are within a predefined set of options, this could arguably been seen as more immersive.
The real driver behind the convergence conversation is technology, and what is now possible with mass-market consumer devices like Oculus Rift and PlayStation VR. Already this year so much industry conversation has revolved around VR. I believe that more accessible technology will, and is, driving further convergence between disciplines. With a simple cardboard holder, every smart mobile phone on the planet can now deliver a good VR experience, which has facilitated the opportunity for mass adoption. Now, we just need the content.
Although VR has a natural heritage that originates in games, this doesn’t mean that it isn’t applicable or practical for linear storytelling. The high fidelity visuals and ability for the user to look anywhere creates a whole new experience that can absolutely still work in linear form. Whilst some of the best examples of VR content to date is in the non-hyper real environments, such as Minecraft, there is a huge opportunity for the hyper-real that can absolutely be delivered via technology that is now available.
If the industries are converging through the drive of technology, what does this mean for the people within it?
Taking a step back and looking at what is possible, to create the ultimate environment that will not only look incredible, but also be as interactive and active as we expect in game formats, is going to require the talents of multiple disciplines and professionals. We need to bring together experts in narrative, interaction, game design, cinematography, VFX, animation and gaming to create the best experiences.
Currently, no one has emerged as a leader in the field and been able to bring these seemingly separate elements together, so the challenge still remains. However, this is an incredibly exciting time for the industry and the opportunities are stark. Game worlds have provided us with interactive stories, so will this be the discipline that leads VR? Or should we look to visual effects experts, who have been responsible for creating stunning images and absorbing characters. Should they take the reins?
Whoever takes up the challenge and takes charge, the skills required are disseminated across the wider industry, and we need VR practitioners to bring all of these together to create the inspirational worlds that we are all looking for.
Dom Davenport is the Founder of Escape Studios. The company teaches students the art of film-making and specifically VFX/animation. Escape also runs the annual VFX Festival
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