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– by James Burns

Virtual Reality has come a long way since the likes of Nintendo’s Virtual Boy. Today it’s everywhere; theme parks, video games, and even on film sets. Yes, even Hollywood is no stranger to the growing tech, having featured it in numerous Films and TV Shows; but has it been used to make a film? Probably not…until now.

LRM had a chance to attend a press conference for Disney’s The Lion King where Director Jon Favreau shared a very interesting story. Basically, a team at Disney built a giant VR world in which Favreau and his crew could come in and simulate a good, old fashioned film set. It had been described as a giant VR Game and apparently Disney is considering utilizing it for different experiences. When asked, Favreau said:

“It’s a very specific VR game that only works for making one movie. But we built all the assets from it. And so we’ve been talking. I’m not sure where we’re at about different VR type experiences. Because gaming and filmmaking, it’s all overlapping so much with so much change and disruption. And I think the effort here was to keep the tradition, not just the tradition of the film and stage production that came before us, but the filmmaking tradition. Oftentimes when new technology comes online, it disrupts an industry. But with just a little bit of effort, we were able to build around the way filmmakers and film crews work. So a guy like Caleb Deschanel, fantastic cinematographer who I’ve always wanted to work with, inviting him to do a very technically advanced film without any prior background in visual effects and just saying hey, we’ll make it so that you could just make a movie as you would have made the Black Stallion.”

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This sounds amazing. The fact a cinematographer without prior experience in visual effects could jump into the deep end with ease speaks volumes to the potential of this technology. Having experienced The Void and Dreamscape here in Southern California, I can attest to the wonder that is modern VR; but he didn’t stop there. Favreau continued:

“But then we would actually have cameras driven in VR space by a film crew that was in a room about the size of this room with dollies and cranes and assistant directors, script supervisors, set dressers. So we kept the same film culture and planted it using this technology into the VR realm. And so although the film was completely animated as far as performances went, it allowed a live action film crew to go in and use the tools they were used to. And so part of what’s so beautiful about the lighting, the camera work, the shots of the film, was that we were able to inherit a whole career of experience and artistry from our fantastic team. And I think that it’s nice to look at technology as an invitation for things to progress and not always something that’s going to change the way everything came before it. I think there’s a balance between innovation and tradition.”

As a filmmaker myself, the thought of this type of hybrid filmmaking excites me. Imagine stepping into a completely photo-realistic VR world and being able to control things like weather, angle of the sun, and every other natural detail. I can’t wait to see this type of tech integrated with practical live action film sets. 

That being said, I’m still a fan of practical over CGI. You can’t beat the real thing and I believe the greatest creativity is discovered in limitations; but that doesn’t mean we can’t utilize this tech to enhance what’s already there. 

What do you think about this type of filmmaking? Does it excite you? Do you hate the idea? Sound off below!

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