Three-D Issue 28: VR Symposium: what does immersion mean?

Gathering together an inspiring mix of creative practitioners, industry experts and cultural institutions, the University of the West of Scotland’s Creative Media Academy hosted a one-day seminar on virtual reality (VR) and filmmaking as part of the 2017 Glasgow Short Film Festival in March. Born out of a recognition that increasing numbers of narrative filmmakers and moving image artists have begun to explore the potential of VR and 360° filmmaking, finding ways to structure narratives and create experiences that incorporate the unique sense of agency that VR affords the viewer, the symposium posed the question, what does it mean to be immersive?

For industry experts, such as the visualization agency Soluis and the digital design agency ISO, the meaning of immersive goes far beyond the Oculus and Gear headsets and includes immersive caves and domes. For Paul Chapman of the Glasgow School of Art’s School of Simulation and Visualisation, the question becomes one of how convincingly can the mind be tricked and so far this sense of immersive virtuality remains limited, but not, he argued, for long.

33453123596_cc39d10d9c_kThe potential of the medium as it currently exists was explored by Christopher Hampson, the creative director of Scottish Ballet, who shared his experience of working with the BBC to create the VR short, The Perfect Place. The adaptability of performance was further extended by Tobey Coffey of the National Theatre who shared examples from the theatre’s Immersive Storytelling Studio.

The challenges and creative opportunities were further pursued on the practitioners panel where digital artist Dennis Reinmuller championed the need to make mistakes, whilst Dutch VR pioneer Steye Hallema shared production insights from his most recent high budget fiction production, Ashes to Ashes. Documentary practitioners; Darren Emerson (director of Indefinite) and Nick Higgins (director of The Circuit) discussed the difference of the VR documentary form and the ‘traditional’ 2 dimensional form and the empathy claims associated with this new kind of documentary ‘experience’.

BBC Scotland’s digital development executive, Jack Kibble White made the case for immersive journalism whilst accepting the delivery challenges faced by the corporation. A claim was also made for the role of immersive VR experiences within a higher education blended learning environment and possible directions of travel for collaboration with psychologists were elaborated by Nick Higgins director of the UWS Creative Media Academy and project lead on UWS Immersive.

The symposium was complimented by a VR Movie House where the VR films and experiences of the symposium speakers were exhibited for three days during the GSFF 17 festival.

The Immersive Filmmaking Symposium was delivered with the support of the MeCCSA Practice Network and the UWS Immersive University project.

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