Virtual Reality Film Production In "The Mission"

In addition to adapting the name of FDR's social program of the Depression era 30's, Matthew Gratzner's New Deal Studios is as progressive in its look to the future of cinema and VFX as anyone today. That's mostly because the co-founder is taking on the challenge of adapting cinema to virtual reality devices like the Oculus Rift. Last week saw the third VR-user gathering in Los Angeles to discuss the latest advances in the realm of VR. The meeting was held at New Deal Studio's facilities, and Gratnzer lead the discussion with a description of his experiences filming The Mission, a WWII short made completely for a virtual experience. The VFX supervisor has a pretty impressive list of work in feature films that includes Hugo and Shutter Island. While Gratzner's studio heads up the artistic vision and VFX expertise of the project, Jaunt VR provides the practical solutions of making VR work. Jaunt manufactured the omni-directional camera used on the project. It also developed the software that stitches together the camera's various inputs into a stereo image that you can then watch with an Oculus Rift. Gratzner's artistic hopes for the future of practical VR cinema is also getting an increase in financial support. Jaunt VR has recently received $27.8 million in a series B round of funding lead by Highland Capital Partners and Google Ventures.

Gratzner on set of The Mission with Jaunt VR's omin-directional camera


During the meeting, Gratzner pointed to some basic challenges in shooting omin-directional footage for a film. The most obvious of which is that you have to hide equipment and crew from the camera’s view. Many of the effects for The Mission project had to be done in-camera through more traditional FX like pyrotechnics and special effects makeup. Another issue had to do with the story itself. Giving the audience the power to turn their attention anywhere within a 360 degree environment runs the risk of having them miss narrative information essential to following the story later.

Whatever its challenges, VR cinema seems to have some very enthusiastic artist, technical, and financial backers to move it into a mainstream movie going experience. It’s usually smaller groups like New Deal Studios and Jaunt VR pushing the envelope of what’s possible that creates the practical solutions the rest of us come to take for granted.

We’d love to hear what you think about the potentials and pitfalls of virtual reality cinema and how you think this innovation will affect the future of movies in general.