Virtual Reality for a Very Real world

Immersive future metaverse experiences aside, what does VR actually achieve today? In the film industry, it’s far more practical than you might think.
EOS VR System
Photographer, Wanda Martin, Canon ambassador

Written by Marie-Anne Leonard

Writer & Editor – Canon VIEW

Immersive realities, gaming, the metaverse… it’s the vision of Virtual Reality that’s captured imaginations and shaped how we think the future is going to look. But right now, VR headsets are clunky, the metaverse is a bit, well… confusing and the truth is that Virtual Reality today is less about being the bridge between real life and online, and more about doing the things that we do anyway – only faster and cheaper.

Take, for example, the film and TV industry. When you think of VR here, you might envisage a world where you don’t just sit and be passively entertained, but you step inside the action. But in making movies, there are plenty of immediate and practical challenges that VR can solve – ones that the audience will never see. Barry Griffin, the Segment Manager for Broadcast & Professional Video Solutions at Canon UK, has been meeting customers and attending trade shows for the film and production industry. Since the launch of the Canon RF 5.2mm F2.8L DUAL FISHEYE lens, he’s discovered that there’s real excitement around this product for the problems it can potentially solve behind the scenes.

It’s a lens that’s small enough to fit on the front of a camera. Smaller, even, than the average VR headset today. And it can capture three-dimensional 180° VR content at a price point that’s got the industry in raptures. “At the moment VR is very much in the gaming arena, where it’s a bit of an experience, but from a B2B perspective, it’s still quite niche,” he explains. “And you might expect the interest would be around what kind of productions could be made, and how they would be delivered to the audience, but it wasn’t that – the initial interest was about pre-production.”

A set of white Virtual Reality goggles sat on a shiny table. The eye sockets of the goggles are illuminated, and this reflects onto the table. In the background are dozens of white and orange lights, blurred.

VR isn’t new technology, but it’s only now, as prices drop, that it’s finding its place as an effective business tool.

By ‘pre-production’, Barry literally means everything that happens before the filming starts. So, when he was speaking to Directors of Photography and others in the industry at the recent BSC Expo in London, he was taken aback to discover that the interest wasn’t around creating experiences but planning them. Location scouting for TV and movies takes up a huge amount of budget before any filming has even begun and it’s not uncommon for large numbers of crew to travel to multiple locations around the world to assess the suitability of one place after another. Equipment needs to be shipped, accommodation and flights booked, not to mention the time that this whole exercise takes. “Creatives and production houses reported whole crews heading to locations – forests, deserts, seafronts, whatever,” says Barry. So, where we see a camera and a lens, these filmmaking professionals saw massive cost savings. “Some of them were saying that this would be fantastic because you could send one person out with one lens and one camera – either the EOS 5 and the EOS 5C – and have them capture what was required in that location and bring it back to the production,” he explains. “Then others – the director, the producers, the lighting crew – could put a headset on and have a virtual walk around.”

Of course, VR isn’t a new technology, so why weren’t they already doing this? Simple. Until now, you’d need multiple cameras and lenses to produce VR compatible content. And a lot more budget. But, more importantly, it was really complex to process the images and present them in a format that can be viewed through a VR headset. So, while the lens is incredibly exciting, the speed at which the images can now be processed with the accompanying EOS VR Utility is equally game changing. “It’s a really simple process with software that people are really excited about,” Barry says. And this is where a little lens can have a knock-on effect that will make a huge difference because it’s not just about shrinking the cost and time of location scouting but creating collaborative experiences across the world for geographically dispersed creative teams. Imagine, for example, building sets in multiple studios and simply giving directors the opportunity to walk around them through VR before they get anywhere near them? It could mean that overall production time shrinks, budgets are more efficient and films and shows reach audiences faster than ever before.

Creating VR content is no longer the preserve of the huge content houses, with mega budgets and equipment to match.

Of course, we must caveat this with what is possible now, at this time. We know that Apple and Meta are already deep into the future, with Virtual Reality being very much front and centre of their visions. So, when the time comes for bringing ‘experiences’ to the Metaverse – however that might look – there have already been conversations around who will be creating them. And this is where things could get interesting. Creating VR content is no longer the preserve of the huge content houses, with mega budgets and equipment to match. It can now be made with a camera and a lens that could very easily fit into a rucksack. “Smaller freelancers, YouTubers and others have a way to create and sell VR products that fit in with what Apple or Meta are doing,” posits Barry. “So, more people will be able to churn out loads of content really quickly.” This might be experiences, yes, but will no doubt be the kind of business solutions that make life easier, cheaper and more efficient in the same vein as the film industry using VR for scouting. Is this the democratisation of VR? At this stage, it’s impossible to tell. But one thing we know for certain, a VR storm is coming and there are two eyes at its centre.

Learn more about the Canon RF 5.2mm F2.8L DUAL FISHEYE lens.

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