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Virtual Reality is Taking Over the Film Industry

Virtual Reality is Taking Over the Film Industry

Alejandro Iñárritu is working on a new short film — one that experiments with virtual reality. Here’s everything you need to know about the project.

Virtual reality film is becoming rapidly popular. Take, for example, the virtual reality short films created by Oculus Story Studio (such as Henry), or ILMxLAB’s experiments with virtual reality in the Star Wars universe. This year, Sundance saw their virtual reality film submissions nearly triple from the previous year. Even National Geographic has taken on virtual reality with its tour of Yosemite National Park.

Alejandro Iñárritu, a filmmaker perhaps best known for his films Birdman and The Revenant, is also taking on virtual reality film. The film has been in development for four years. It will focus on the experiences of a group of immigrants and refugees arriving to the United States by way of Mexico. Legendary Entertainment and Fondazione Prada (an organization that promotes contemporary art and culture) will produce Iñárritu’s film, while ILMxLAB will help bring the film to life by creating the film’s virtual world and characters. Emmanuel Lubezki, a cinematographer who has worked with Alejandro Iñárritu on Birdman and The Revenant, will also be involved with the film.

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Virtual reality, of course, offers a new form of storytelling. The goal is to get the viewer to participate in the story — to essentially “live” with the story. There is still debate, however, about whether or not the viewer should have a more passive or active role with this experience. As for how this will work in Iñárritu’s new film, it’s still unclear — not much is known yet about the film. Nonetheless, this will be an especially effective medium for Iñárritu’s topic, considering the current discourse on immigration and refugees, and the truly immersive experience of virtual reality.

The popularity of 3D films and augmented reality has helped to pave the way for virtual reality films. Currently, virtual reality is more popular in gaming than in film. But virtual reality film could be especially popular in fandom culture, for those who already pay to further celebrate their favorite TV show or film, for example, by purchasing merchandise, video games, and tickets to comic-cons and certain theme parks. Virtual reality film would offer another way to let fans interact with their favorite fictional universe.

With the release of Iñárritu’s new short film and his prestigious track record, maybe virtual reality film will soon be taking over the Academy Awards (perhaps, eventually, in the form of its own category). It is only a matter of years before the medium could truly catch on in mainstream culture, which means we might have some exciting films to look forward to in the future.