Thanks to widely-accessible platforms for virtual reality (VR) content, the medium is growing as a recognized format. Entire channels are growing around immersive video content, including Facebook 360 and YouTube’s official Virtual Reality channel, demonstrating the power of the format and the incredibly varied subjects that the format can excel at delivering.
Proving the acceptance of 360º content, a virtual reality film has been nominated for an Academy Award for the first time this year. The delightful short Pearl from Google Spotlight is nominated in the Short Film (Animated) category. Created by Patrick Osborne (who also directed Disney’s short film Feast that won the Oscar in 2014), Pearl officially debuted at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival and has since been released on both HTC Vive and YouTube (where it can be viewed by anyone on most devices).
The story follows a young girl and her folk musician father as they travel around the country, living out of an old hatchback. The virtual reality format allows the viewer to travel as an invisible passenger in the car with Pearl and her father and watch the relationship between them as she grows and leaves home.
The ability of virtual reality films to truly put the viewer in the center of the story is an example of how powerful 360º video can be. The VR experience is used as a significant part of the storytelling that makes Pearl so successful rather than just an afterthought. Content creators that treat a 360º camera as an upgraded version of standard video are not creating VR media, despite the ability to view the content in that way. Truly immersive 360º virtual reality, either animated, like Pearl, or recorded live video experiences, has clearly become its own medium with strengths and weaknesses like any other.
The 2017 Oscars will be broadcast live on ABC on February 26, 2017 at 7pm (4pm Pacific) – somewhere in there we will find out if virtual reality has hit the big time… in Hollywood.