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September 2017

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Page 33 of 43 32 POST SEPTEMBER 2017 SPECIAL REPORT: VR/AR Jaunt has moved on since those conversa- tions, and at what I would call a considerable pace. Recently, Jaunt VR's head of production, Scott Gemmell, discussed the launch of a number of HMD- delivered VR drama series, developed in conjunction with Hollywood writers and directors, and again shot with Jaunt's proprietary camera technology. At FMX 2015, creating dramas for VR was discussed by a panel headed by Professor Alex McDowell of USC's World Building Institute, where this genre was seen as one of VR's most difficult challenges, particularly how to direct audience attention along a coherent narrative. Gemmell is enthusiastic about the company's ability to meet these brand-new challenges in creativity and technical production. With only one series aired so far, Jaunt is still exploring and learning by experience, determining how to create material that will hold an audience, and Gemmell is confident the group is making solid progress. He made particular mention of heat mapping, software that allows them to track where the viewer is looking at any given moment, so as to prevent audiences from missing a crucial moment because they're looking the wrong way. But Gemmell suggests that's simply old-fashioned movie thinking, and believes a new form of storytell- ing will emerge that defies such assumptions. As he says, there are the technical issues of shooting in a 360-degree studio — for instance, no personnel or equipment can be in the room. For Gemmell, though, that only points to solutions that involve 360-degree narratives so that the audience's varying focus of attention can be met (which chimes with the World Building Institute's research work). Gemmell is confident of continued expansion in this market, with more and more product becom- ing available, and adds that his team is fired up at the possibilities of what they have only just begun. At present, the episodes in the Jaunt series run 5 to 10 minutes each. The team was concerned about how long people would be comfortable wearing a tethered HMD, but "a lot of people binge-watched the whole five-episode series at a sitting," says Gemmell, who hopes to produce 90-minute dramas in the near future. As Plumer said back in 2015, "It is such a new medium. In the past, to launch a new platform, you could acquire a library of content. But with VR, there's nothing out there that will work. We have to basically create it all ourselves." It seems they've already started. GOING MOBILE Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, Sony PlayStation VR, and the other head-mounted displays are tethered devices in that they attach to a desktop comput- er, requiring the user to be a cord-length away from the PC. Jaunt's entire current product runs on these devices, but industry expectation seems to be that mobile is the future platform custom- ers will demand. Tethered devices are still working to build an audience in the tens or maybe hundreds of mil- lions, but there are already more than two billion smartphone devices active in the world. And as the technology develops and as the screen resolution improves, it seems logical that mobile devices will be the preferred way to experience VR and all forms of media delivery. AUGMENTED REALITY Terrence Masson is the founder and CEO of Building Conversation, a company that has de- veloped the Building Conversation AR app for a target audience of architects and other design- ers involved in the construction industry. The aim is to solve the problem plaguing all previous means of communication at their disposal, from blueprints to Photoshop composites, where, as Masson says, "you're trying to explain a 3D con- cept in a 2D medium." The app aids the conversation between profes- sionals and their clients, who often find visualizing the final building from traditional sources difficult or even impossible. The app — which runs on an iPad or smart device — basically allows a person to review a design on a turntable, akin to a modeling program. Used at the construction site, the app will geo-locate the model as a hologram in the land- scape, fully textured and lit according to the time of day if desired. The structure also can be viewed as a simple polygonal model or at any resolution, with zoom/rotate and other features expected from these mobile devices. Although Masson spoke mostly of the con- versation that takes place between client and architect, clearly the application would work for designers, as well, enabling them to review their work in the real world. The hologram mode is already familiar, where a flat 2D image on a wall or table surface will trigger the app to grow a 3D model from the AR image when viewed through the iPad, eliminat- ing the need for foamboard models and offering alternatives to a client simply by toggling while viewing the hologram. For now, Building Conversation is still a 2D experience on the user's device screen. So, what about VR? On this, Masson is not yet convinced. It's difficult to work with it on a construction site where the risk of stumbling is great – even assum- ing that the HMD is tetherless, which, as noted earlier, they seldom are at this time. He also notes that headsets are bulky and uncomfortable, and most people are not at ease wearing them. At this time, those at Building Conversation are wary of the current wave of new devices, as Masson points to the short-lived life of Google Glass. They are waiting for a stable and widely ad- opted technology before taking their app beyond AR. They are aware of what may come, and "when it does, we will port to it," Masson adds. MIXED REALITY Mixed-reality HMDs place virtual objects — 3D holograms, if you will — within the world around the user. A person can place a TV screen (any size) on the wall or elsewhere and watch a show while walking around. Or, Skype a friend, surf the Web, or all of these at the same time, with the mecha- nisms placed by the user. It won't be long before this capability becomes a fully operational telecom system, with a switch between mixed and full-im- mersive virtual reality. It also includes the possibility of creating per- sonal holograms. This means designers can work together on a single virtual object, walk around it, change it and its position in the real world, as sol- idly fixed as the ground beneath one's feet. Compared to VR, MR has the potential for a wider audience due to its more immediate practical use. Mobility and practicality are the hallmarks of consumer choice these days, the one that everyone from a 10-year-old to an octoge- narian can relate to, given the appropriate apps. It took only 15 years for mobile phones to go from a rich man's toy to a universal necessity. MR, once perfected, could follow the same pattern. At pres- ent the HoloLens and other similar MR devices have a limited field of view, something around 45 degrees, but in time, 180 degrees of vision will no doubt be perfected. Patrick Osborne crafted Pearl, Pearl, Pearl the first Oscar- nominated VR short film.

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