Outlook 2019: VR and the location-based experience
Nico Casavecchia & Martin Allais
Issue: December 1, 2018

Outlook 2019: VR and the location-based experience

1stAveMachine directors Nico Casavecchia and Martin Allais eye trends, challenges and future of Virtual Reality.

As 2018 draws to a close, it’s becoming clear that the VR industry is finally moving on from the demo stage, one in which showing off the potential of the technology, conducting tech experiments and indulging novelty fascination were all primary objectives. Truth be told, none of these are enough to compel users anymore, which is why we’re now seeing VR head into a more profound direction of real-use cases and artists having a better understanding of the language and how to articulate more polished ideas.

Photo (L-R): Nico Casavecchia and Martin Allais

Location-Based Experience Leaps Forward

As creators and brands are gaining a better understanding of how to effectively tell stories and market products through VR, we’re seeing the emergence of location-based experiences (LBE), which have perhaps impressed us more than any other VR breakthrough in 2018.

Through LBEs, which are site-specific VR projects that can only be experienced in combination with the physical interaction of a space designed by the creators, we’ve seen VR pieces that work with live actors as avatars, creating a level of immersion and interaction that is uncanny. It’s like interacting with artificial intelligence 20 years in the future, but in present-day. Also, the interaction with the physical space, such as mapping real objects in the VR world, is very compelling. LBEs allow for touching and manipulating real things in VR, which roots the experience in a way that is impossible with just the use of controllers. And as tracking technology also advances, we’re starting to see a convergence between the real and the virtual that will lead to an explosion of site-specific experiences for the general public.

The Advertising Appeal

While immersive VR efforts like LBE offer a direct connection with fewer audience members than a normal ad campaign would, they still create an intimate dialogue completely devoid of distractions, with content that draws people in and cultural experiences that users want to tap into. The impact of every one of these interactions compensates for the lack of scalability, which is something that LBE can achieve. While the limited adoption of VR is still the biggest hurdle for advertisers who want to invest in mediums where their message can be amplified, a site-specific installation can bring people in that wouldn’t normally be early adopters and get them interested in their brand. Immersive OOH advertising is a huge opportunity because nobody forgets the first time they were in VR.

Creating And Rendering An Immersive Experience

Immersive entertainment is just starting and we are trying to imagine and adapt a language that is unique to it, which is reflected in our creation of BattleScar. The biggest lesson learned in the film’s development was to adopt influences outside of cinema, our familiar medium. We took cues of theater and architecture to understand the use of space and depth to tell the story. In doing so, we tried to push the boundaries of how a story can be told using tools that are native to VR like Unity, a technology created for video games that now allows filmmakers to see work in realtime, more like a Broadway play than a movie. This ability to make changes and see them happening even during playback is a completely thrilling new way to understand the VR directing process.

Navigating The Virtual Road Ahead

As we look ahead to 2019, content will be the most important element of VR adoption. People need reasons to go into virtual worlds. There is a big investment of time and energy to get into an immersive experience so it’s important that we give audiences something compelling in exchange. 

Still, while VR technology is advancing, it’s not quite there yet. Sure, there have been peripheral advances like ready-to-go, lightweight mobile headsets replacing the old tethered versions. But in terms of the actual VR technology, there’s still room for more high-quality graphics and there is also a lot of friction to solve within the experience itself. Getting in VR should be as simple as getting into Netflix - a few clicks and boom. Right now, there are too many steps, but things are progressing fast. 

As we tell all those directors jumping into VR filmmaking for the first time — and it’s advice we still heed ourselves — be patient, you are an explorer traveling through uncharted territory. It’s not easy at first, but it’s always very exciting each and every time! 

1st Ave Machine (www.1stavemachine.com) is based in Los Angeles, with studios in Brooklyn, NY, London and Santa Monica, CA. The company specializes in creating sharable stories in film, TV, digial and branded content.