Oculus VR wants you to know that virtual reality can be a medium for serious film and documentaries, and it’s first high-profile project, Nomads, is ready for public viewing on the Gear VR. Created by Félix Lajeunesse and Paul Raphaël, the duo behind Montreal-based VR studio Felix & Paul, Nomads takes you to three distinct parts of the planet to embed viewers in the fabric of a foreign lifestyle. You can explore the Mongolian steppes with a group of yak herders, visit the Maasai tribe in Kenya, and travel the Malay Archipelago with Borneo’s Bajau tribe.
Chapters of the trilogy, each of which are around 12 minutes in length, have already screened at film festivals like Sundance and Tribeca. But the full series is available now as an exclusive on Samsung’s Gear VR headset. Felix & Paul Studios has had a deal with Oculus since last year to create VR content, and so far it’s done so mostly in a marketing context. The duo released a 12-minute 360-degree video showing fans the training regimen and daily life of LeBron James in December. They also created tailored VR experiences for films like Jurassic World.
Yet Nomads represents their first earnest effort at documentary filmmaking in VR. The goal is, as Lajeunesse told The Verge in January, “really about making you feel like a part of that community, making you accepted by that community.” The duo see VR as a way to not only show you things you’ve never seen before, but to help you also empathize with other human beings and understand their way of life in a way 2D film can’t communicate. “We want them to integrate the camera as if it was one of them, so we really believe in that relational perspective,” Lajeunesse said. “We think of the camera in a very anthropomorphic way.”
Of course, Oculus tends to agree. The company wants as many filmmakers as possible to begin making live-action content for its Gear VR and Rift headsets. Right now, VR is considered an enthusiast passion, mainly for the gaming crowd. However, the more serious works of art like Nomads that arrive, the more everyday viewers will see VR differently. That, in turn, will attract more filmmakers and help VR mature. Speaking at a press briefing yesterday, Oculus’ head of mobile, Max Cohen, said a few directors are considering the format for feature-length films, but that it will take time for both viewers and creators to embrace the format.
The company says 1 million people used the Gear VR headset last month, a new milestone. (Oculus wouldn’t disclose how many people have bought the headset, or how that 1 million figure compares with the month before.) But of those that do use the Gear VR every day, they do so for 25 minutes on average. The idea of wearing a headset for longer periods of time, which is integral to how receptive the public is to content like Nomads and eventually two-hour films, is still an open question. Cohen thinks that as the technology and ergonomics of headsets improve, so will users’ willingness to spend more time in VR.
The company isn’t trying to send the message that it’s giving up on gaming. A new game, Tactera, is releasing for the headset at the end of the month. Game maker E McNeill, who Oculus has advised during the development of the title, says the process of bringing games from the Gear VR to the Rift, and vice versa, is improving. Oculus will also make it easier to find both new games and film experiences like Nomads with a redesign of Oculus Home in June. The revamp will include a “What’s New” section, as well as a way to navigate to recently downloaded apps.
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