California-based VR startup Wevr recently collaborated with Jon Favreau (director of The Jungle Book, Chef, Iron Man) to create the enchanted VR world of Gnomes & Goblins, as pictured above. Having just launched the Wevr Transport premium subscription tier, the team’s undoubtedly been busy. Co-founders Neville Spiteri (the VFX pro) and Anthony Batt (the business/development guru) recently shared their take on what VR really means for the future of storytelling, how the time for experimentation is upon us, and what the future might realistically hold for the VR sphere.
VR has thrilling implications for storytellers. Prior to founding Wevr, how did each of you go about telling stories?
Neville Spiteri: “I started my career in visual effects as a software engineer out of college at a company called Wavefront, where I worked on the 3D animation software Maya. I then moved on to working on the visual effects in the films Apollo 13 and Terminator 2/3D, and later the hit video game franchise Final Fantasy, before heading to EA to lead technology and production teams. Virtual reality is a natural extension of the VFX industry. Being good at visual effects requires you to think in a 3D space about what you are creating – what it looks like, how it moves, how it interacts with the scene around it, etc. All that is crucial in VR too.”
Anthony Batt: “I worked in digital media for two decades before founding Wevr with Neville. My expertise is on the business and development side of the storytelling industry – it’s great to have a good story, but you need to be able to distribute and monetize it too or no one will ever see it. I was also the founder of Buzzmedia, which is now SPINmedia, a consumer pop-culture company. This taught me how to build a startup from the ground up and recruit the best talent to work for me.”
What’s your most optimistic vision for VR moving forward?
NS: “We’re in an exciting time. It’s officially year-one for VR – the coming out party where content creators can express themselves in this new medium. It’s a time for experimentation and establishing the winning formats that will resonate with early VR adopters and consumers. Google’s Cardboard being in the hands of more than 5 million people is also meaningful, and higher quality mobile headsets like the Samsung Gear VR are also on the market, with others following later this year. We expect high-quality premium experiences on PC/Console to sell very well – creators will monetize starting this year. Demand will outstrip supply, both on the hardware and more so on the content side. We know from previous hardware and platform cycles that establishing yourself and your content early can yield huge leverage.”
What was your most surprising discovery in creating “Gnomes & Goblins: Preview?” Does it foretell more collaborative work with other big-name film directors like Jon Favreau?
NS: “What was really interesting about collaborating with Jon is that, despite his established expertise as a movie maker, he quickly saw what’s different about VR as a real-time interactive medium and was willing to experiment and take a fresh approach and mindset to shape how the story was told in VR.”
AB: “We’ll have more exciting collaborations to unveil in the coming year.”
Do you think there’s scope for existing stories/franchises to incorporate VR and thus give fans a more immersive experience into worlds they already love?
AB: “Recently, we’ve begun to see many filmmakers working with VR studios to create immersive experiences in conjunction with their new films. It makes perfect sense. As a filmmaker, you really want to immerse the audience in your story; for them to really empathize with the characters and feel like they are there. It’s one thing to watch a story unfold on the silver screen, but to actually become a part of the story in VR – that’s new and that’s incredibly attractive to filmmakers.”
Did 3DTV ever really have a chance? In light of what VR is able to achieve?
AB: “3D televisions didn’t add much to the viewing experience. It was kind of like a half-step to adding immersion to an experience, but you weren’t fully dropped into the center of what you were viewing. At the end of the day you were still an onlooker, and observer.”
NS: “VR takes the standard flat viewing experience that television provides and completely wraps it around you, to where you’re now part of and, in some instances, engaging with what you’re seeing. You have free range to explore your surroundings and see the story unfold from a variety of angles, yet you’re always at the center of what’s happening, as opposed to simply being an observer of the story looking on from the background.”
You’ve been exploring VR since 2010. Tell us how the last six years will compare to the coming six.
NS: “There will be significant changes in VR in the next six years. We have companies now like HTC, Oculus, Sony and Samsung releasing headsets to consumers, and they will only get better and the tech will become cheaper as the years pass, both of which will be huge drivers for mainstream adoption. VR will become more wireless, with less pricey equipment to run. We’ll see new emerging directors, producers and writers who wouldn’t necessarily have “made it” in the movie business creating stunning virtual reality experiences and making a name for themselves. We’ll probably see augmented reality move into the virtual reality sphere and create mixed reality.”
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