Cinefex: Westworld and VR
The Cinefex article on Westworld was compelling because of the relationship it depicted between technical prowess and practical effects that served to convince viewers of a reality. Jay Worth, a VFX contributor to Nolan’s series, elaborated on how they aimed for hyper realism in every detail of CG, from the way the muscles on faces move to the intracacies of an eyeball. Nolan held the idea that Westworld’s CG ventured to be nondistinguishable from real objects — the notion of it serving as a spice, not the main dish, remained consistent throughout the series. The effects were not intended to draw attention to themselves, which is worth noting because this approach successfully blurred the line between what was real and what was CG in the show. It got me thinking about how creators of these fictional universes actually exploit the ways in which we experience our collective reality in order to ensure that we can’t tell the difference between the two. Nolan didn’t shy away from that intention, either, as he elaborated on the show’s mission to hide its fantasy within a CG-layer of realism that was convincing enough to make us think that this could actually exist. Another aspect of the article that I found noteworthy was Nolan and his team’s dedication to complete integrity in establishing the rules and processes of Westworld, as they desired to enumerate each of the steps in how to create a host and the technological leaps that were necessary to make it come to life. Even though none of this is explicitly explained the show, they established these rules on how to create a host on their own for a more thorough understanding of Westworld. They even got to the details of how the organs would be built and installed, or how the eyeballs worked, or the robotics that were necessary to submerge the skeletons in the glue-like substance we see in their title sequence. I think this is worth noting because of the authenticity that they were able to demonstrate as a result of their integrity in creating the nuances of their fictional universe. That authenticity is something I think VR is aiming for as it continues to develop, with hidden nuances that serve no purpose other than to convince its users of a reality as complex as our own.
The Cinefex article on VR was certainly enlightening for me, as a filmmaker who’s interested in bridging the gap between 360 video and narrative cinema. The technicalities of how to create a 360 film were quite surprising, as I thought that the discipline was consumer-friendly. Although my understanding of 360 filmmaking is limited to consumer-level products, this article challenged my knowledge of 360 filmmaking to pursue a higher degree of technical understanding. The JAUNT rigs, 360 stitching processes in post-production, and the need for HMD editing softwares were all new concepts to me as an emerging 360 filmmaker. The questions raised about VR narrative were also compelling, such as whether or not the viewer should be acknowledged by characters in the story, or the lack of a fourth wall since the viewer is there with the characters, experiencing the story firsthand. The challenge of effectively depicting negative emotions from characters was surprisingly handled by distancing the character as much as possible from the viewer. I thought that these techniques in cinematic storytelling were quite progressive in the sense that they were actually establishing new paradigms. 360 filmmaking was postulated as a discipline with countless holes that need to be filled, and the article does a great job of showing us the process of figuring that out through a few short films it showcases.
The PBS Origami documentary was surprisingly interesting. I did not think that all things celebrating paper folding would be complicated and advanced in technology. I found the reconciliation between software, hardware, nature, and human ingenuity in paper folding to be the most compelling element of the documentary. The disciplines that origami managed to reach were far and wide, which is very much like VR. The most fascinating part for me was when the origami enthusiast demonstrated his software and printer that produced sheets of paper with premade creases for folding into elaborate shapes, like a black widow. The intersections of how nature functions through elaborate folds in its elements and how we can emulate that through handiwork and software were quite reminiscent of VR. The premise of VR is to recreate reality through artificial imaging, much like origami aims to recreate shapes with paper. VR demands a comprehensive analysis of specific elements that construct our world, so that it can emulate those details in order to create a hyper-realistic experience. The PBS documentary drove at this paradigm by highlighting the paper artist’s capacity for realism in their art pieces. I think it’s interesting that origami and VR share such a fundamental quality in their necessitated combination of nature, hardware, software, and human ingenuity in pursuit of realism.
Rheingold: VR Simulation
Rheinhold recalls a conversation about the dangers of simulation he had with a VR developer, who’s referred to as “Brooks.” Brooks offered some provocative insights into the implications of VR simulations for educational (or recreational purposes). The one that stood out to me the most was the reality that VR simulation simply could not replace the utterly unique experience of learning things firsthand, in person. Although this is reassuringly true, it is quite subversive (I would imagine) to VR developers who are aiming for VR software that completely hides itself in our reality by entirely conforming to it. It kind of makes me think of Westworld, but that’s an entirely different story since it’s actually in-person. Brooks examined Vr simulations within the purview of theory, which, I would argue, puts VR education in its proper place. It can’t (and it shouldn’t) surpass theory into actual practice. It is a great complement to education, but it should not be the only form of instruction. Brooks warned against the dangers of letting simulation completely mislead users into thinking that it substituted actual experience (this would be problematic in military training or car repairs, etc.) It reminded me of my first time paint balling — I walked onto the field thinking I was going to do great because I was so skilled at Call of Duty. I did terribly and was terrified at the reality of actually being shot and experiencing real pain. Brooks highlights a weakness of VR that isn’t highlighted enough, and that is its weakness in being unable to completely replace our reality. “There is no model can ever be as complex as the phenomena it models, no map can ever be as detailed as the territory it describes, and more importantly… ‘the map is not territory.'” (p 44).
Cool VR Stuff
Pretty scary short film on VR.
VR short film on racial identity by Google.