VREAL and the Future of Filming Inside of VR

Last week I visited the offices of VREAL for a pretty eye-popping demo of their new social gaming platform. But before I reveal what I experienced there, I’d like to talk a bit about video cameras.

My grandfather, Colonel John Harbert, was such an early adopter he actually used the ENIAC. His career in the army had him at the forefront of the military’s technical achievements over the course of three wars, and for the rest of his life he was quick to pick up the newest and best consumer technology. He was the first person I knew who owned a Macintosh, a VCR, an iMac, and a video camera. I spent a fair amount of my childhood with his cameras aimed at my face while he quizzed me on the significance of the Strategic Defense Initiative.

Video cameras seemed like a big deal when they started to creep into Amercian life. But if consumer video cameras proved anything, it was that the average person is a lousy filmmaker. Think of the typical vacation video, a group of genetically related people posed in front of some landmark, with the filmer, typically a patriarch, narrating almost entirely in redundancies. (“Well, here we are at the waterfall. What do you guys think of it?”) The vast majority of family movies are painfully boring or consist of someone’s legs walking across an airport parking lot while two adults bicker off-camera.

It took YouTube and editing software to help us understand what consumer video needed to be–typically really short, to-the-point, and ideally featuring a lady cracking up in a Chewbacca mask.

In a previous post, I mentioned my bewilderment about why Amazon dropped a billion dollars on Twitch, the place where people watch videos of each other playing video games.  I owned up to my ignorance of the technical and artistic sophistication of video games, and how and why people play them. Last night I spent a couple hours with John Marston as he fled the scenes of various crimes in a stylized nineteenth century Mexico, so I’m starting to understand. The future of home video, if you can even call it that, appears to be taking a page from the world of games.

Which brings me back to VREAL. They just announced a way to use a virtual video camera to film inside of a virtual environment. I’ve seen something a little bit similar to this with Don Alvarez’s Filmmaker Live, but that’s a product designed for filmmakers. VREAL is aiming at gamers and casual users. As their press fact sheet puts it, “VREAL allows for full native VR streaming, as well as 360 and 2D video streams from multiple POVs with both passive and active camera operators.”

Let’s unpack what this means, starting with the image below.

1

You’re looking at two avatars, Lizzie and Eva. In the foreground is a virtual video camera, which looks to be the exact dimensions of a Costco-sized block of Tillamook cheddar cheese. On the left is the viewfinder, capturing the scene in 2D.

You can use this virtual camera to record or stream footage and share it on YouTube, Twitch, and elsewhere, and VREAL promises a “full suite of tools for broadcasters to socialize with their audiences.”

I found the demo itself to be engrossing and intuitive. I followed Eva around an otherworldly mini-golf game, shrank myself down to the size of toy soldiers battling in some sort of RPG, and hovered, swooped, and navigated my way around while I wore the Vive and talked to the other participants, who wore Vives in other rooms of the office. I was completely impressed and left imagining what else this platform might allow me to do.

When I talked to VREAL’s CEO Todd Hooper after the demo, he impressed upon me the idea of making a flexible platform for people to use, rather than building native content. You can call this the old pickaxes-at-the-Gold-Rush philosophy.

To recap, here are the major evolutionary steps of filmed entertainment over give or take 40,000 years, with maybe a few steps left out:

  1. Images on cave walls. Flickering fire makes them appear to move.
  2. Stage increasingly elaborate theatrical ceremonies for human sacrifice events.
  3. Photography.
  4. Edison films some fellow playing a violin.
  5. Star Wars.
  6. VHS.
  7. Video cameras appear.
  8. YouTube.
  9. “Gangnam Style”
  10. Vine, Twitch.
  11. VR.
  12. VREAL.