My name is Bryan Howard and I have been working in the Visual Effects (VFX) industry for over the past 15 years. Visual Effects is the art of creating realistic looking content for film and television that would be too expensive, dangerous, or impossible to create otherwise.
Virtual Reality is a new form of media that is created in a similar manner to 3D content used in visual effects, except that it runs interactively in real time for the viewer. The last couple of years I have been working in this growing and challenging area.
Virtual reality (VR) is a computer generated scenario that simulates a realistic immersive experience. Current VR technology uses virtual reality headsets and external tracking technology, so the user can move and manipulate the VR environment in a natural manner.
Realtime cinematics is a method of displaying 3D content similarly to traditional cinematic cameras. The viewer watches as opposed to interacting with the content. The computer generated camera is animated and can have special effects applied to mimic a real camera.
First Person View
First person view is a method of interacting with the environment without requiring extra VR hardware. The most common use of this technology is in 3D video games, as well as online tours of virtual environments. The trade-off is that it is less immersive than virtual reality.
Virtual Reality (VR) has been around for a while but nobody ever talked about it until recently. This is because we have not had the hardware to make the virtual reality experience as capable as we can today.
The only way to truly understand what virtual reality is would be to try it for yourself. It is an immersive experience that feels like you are in a completely new environment forgetting your surroundings.
In a virtual reality experience, when you move and look around, your surroundings change as you would expect. VR is naturally an immersive experience as it brings out the emotional reaction or feeling like you are actually a part of the environment. This is done by tricking your senses into thinking you are somewhere you are not.
Realtime cinematics is also known as real-time rendered cinematics or cutscenes. The word “rendering” means converting a computer generated 3D scene to a 2D image.
We say that it is “real-time” instead of being “pre-rendered” because realtime is directly displayed on the screen compared to pre-rendered that is saved to a video file.
Realtime cinematics are non-interactive and often used in conjunction with interactive media. Because the camera has been animated, special effects like depth of field, motion-blur, and color grading are applied to give that “film-like” appearance.
First Person View
First person view takes everything we talked about with realtime cinematics and gives control of the camera to the viewer. This is an interactive 2D experience of a 3D environment and it is best known for use in 3D video games.
First person view experiences are more interactive than realtime cinematics but less immersive than virtual reality. The benefit of this media is that it can be viewed without needing any extra hardware like VR headsets, as any hardware (computer, mobile phone etc.) can be used with it.
How they are similar and different
What makes the three of these experiences similar is that they can use the same 3D content. Generally it is good to have a blend of interactive and non-interactive portions in the final product. For example a cinematic can be used to show the viewer notable points of interest. Afterwards they can go explore by themselves using the interactive camera or VR handset.
The main difference comes down to the camera used to project the 3D environment to the viewer. Realtime cinematics are designed to depict a traditional cinematic film in which we watch instead of interact with. The other two we talked about are designed to be interactive and they differ by how the viewer interacts with them.
We see the real world in stereo vision. Things look 3D to us because when looking at an object near to us, the position of that object differs slightly between each eye. This is called parallax and it is what gives us the sense of perspective or seeing the world in 3D. The difference between a VR and non-VR in this context is whether the 3D environment is rendered with one camera (non-VR) or two (VR). For virtual reality, we render the output twice, once for each eye.
How we interact with virtual reality is different as well. When interacting with non-VR media, we would generally use controls like keyboard, mouse, finger gestures or game controllers. But for virtual reality, we would use our bodies to look and move around as we naturally would. To interact with objects we would just reach out and grab them with our hands. This is all possible because of the many sensors in the hardware of VR setups.
The head and hand controls typically track the rotation on their own. The position in space of the head and hands is tracked externally using camera or laser tracking technology.
How virtual reality is used today
There is no other technology that can give a preview of a real space in the same way VR can. Architects use VR to get an accurate representation of size, perspective, natural lighting, as well as many other aspects of a given space. VR can also help a client give more direct and meaningful input during the pre-visualization stage.
In real estate a client can determine how a condo unit looks and feels during pre-construction. They can customize things such as flooring or countertops in virtual reality before making a purchase. Walking around a condo in VR allows the client to get a feel of the size. This can help them decide if they need a condo unit larger or smaller before ever purchasing.
VR can be used for existing condo resales as the potential buyer does not need to be physically there to see it.
The biggest market for virtual reality is in entertainment and that goes without saying, but there are many other uses seen today.
The aviation industry and military have been using VR to train pilots in flight simulators for decades.
A number of museums have created VR experiences to transport the audience to another world or time. With VR, you can take a ride inside the human body, or experience walking with the dinosaurs, to living on the international space station and many more.
Designers, engineers and marketers in car manufacturing use virtual reality from the creation of an initial concept to finalizing their marketing strategies.
Medical sciences apply virtual reality concepts to find tumors, treat PTSD, anxiety, phobias, depression and so on. VR can be very helpful for fighting anxiety in public speaking.
VR is used in marketing, retail and advertising.
In the tourism industry, you can “try before you buy” a vacation package.
Lastly education and job training can benefit from VR products.
As we can see, there are many uses for virtual reality and the list keeps on growing.
Virtual reality today is still in its infancy and is similar to the first mainstream cell phones. In order for a VR product to be successful it requires a high degree of artistic and technical skills as well as knowing the limitations on the senses of the human body.
I created this site to shine some light on how virtual reality and interactive media works and how we are using them today.
I hope you enjoyed the topics covered here. If you have any questions or business inquiries, please feel free to contact me.