They have their exits and their entrances…” — Shakespeare
Analogies: Useful for trying to describe a situation, convey knowledge or explain an experience. The challenge, of course, is that an analogy is rarely a perfect explanation. Over the last year, many companies and Virtual Reality (VR) thought leaders have tried to express how 360 video and VR are like other experiences in which we are familiar. Some examples are movies in an IMAX theater where you can look all around, or viewing a performance in a "4D" theater. Unfortunately, there is a huge difference between intellectually understanding a technology and actually experiencing it.
So let's add another one to the list that might help: a live stage play. Not a high-school stage with smelly seats, sticky floors and kids saying rehearsed lines. More like a Broadway or Las Vegas stage where actors are colorful and engaging and action could be happening from all around. Better yet, a living play where the audience can go from room to room (like a haunted house) or place to place (like a renaissance fair.)
From the production side, preparing for staging and shooting a good 360 video or setting up the environment for VR is really similar to setting up the stage for a play. Ensuring props are appropriately placed, blocking of actors, sound staging and ensuring lighting is appropriate are some of the things that are necessary for both. The goal of the director is to do everything possible so that the audience “gets lost” in the world they are presenting. This brings an added challenge to the videographer-turned-360 video-enthusiast since most shots are set up to be seen in one direction and the audience is spoon fed one action at a time. I am sure with more observation and experimentation, artistic and innovative ideas about how to set up "around" the viewer will be discovered.
Give the Audience Time
In 360 video and VR, it is essential to allow viewers to “warm-up” to the scene, see where they are and what things may or may not be important to the scene. When the scene begins, invite the audience to casually explore and get into the role of a willing observer. Provide some time the viewer can use to see people walk around, perhaps interacting with each other. Maybe some light-hearted music in the background. All of which is used to give the audience some “bearings” of where they are.
Nothing is more disorienting than forcing the viewer to other scenes by jumping from one video to the next with no warning. Usually in plays, when going from one scene to the next (even in film), there is a transition to help the viewer understand when the action is ending and a new scene begins. Many times this is done through a lowering of the lights in a play or a brief shot of where the next scene is taking place in film and TV. We have started to see this more and more as a practice from 360 video producers fading out the scene and bringing up the next. Hopefully the “tasteful transitions” trend will become standard.
Certainly, every analogy is a three-legged stool. But perhaps we should seriously consider this new medium of 360 video and VR, not as another form of film, but as another form of performing art. Perhaps our audience (and investors) would thank us for it.