READ MORE: Meet the Metaverse (SMPTE)
The metaverse is the logical next step in the entertainment industry’s exploration of immersion, one that will “draw the viewer closer and closer into the content itself.”
Chaitanya Chinchlikar, the CTO and head of emerging media for Whistling Woods International, also believes content created and monetized specifically for the 3D internet will soon become the fourth main distribution platform alongside cinema, TV and streaming.
“If you study content over the last 50 to 60 years, almost everything we have done technologically has been to draw the viewer closer and closer into the content,” he explained in conversation with Michael Goldman for the SMPTE blog.
“We’ve tried to make content more immersive, whether by making screens really large, better-quality projection, more lifelike colors, stereoscopy, digital surround sound, spatial immersive audio, and even physically moving and rattling a viewer’s seat. In other words, we have always tried to draw the audience into the content as much as cinema-style viewing would allow.”
VR is the first opportunity where the technology itself “lets us literally immerse the viewer inside the content,” and the metaverse is essentially the next step up from “Cinematic VR.” It will enable users to “do” things in the real world while watching and experiencing what happens in the virtual world.
“Cinema involves captive community viewing; television is non-captive family viewing, since you are typically doing it in your own home; OTT/streaming is non-captive individual viewing, and now we have captive individual viewing, but with extensive immersive qualities,” Chinchlikar says. “That gives it a certain kind of impact that none of the first three can offer — it stimulates the immersion sense in your mind to the fullest.”
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Simple cognitive immersion has been used by filmmakers for decades to create more impactful content, he argues. For example, forms of spatial immersion (an IMAX perhaps) can make you feel like you are part of the visuals you are seeing.
Temporal immersion on the other hand is where you feel like you are actually part of the storyline you are consuming. “Content with a strong temporal immersion focus have the most impact when it comes to twists or sudden changes in storylines that you’re not expecting, because your mind is literally part of what is going on,” he says.
Spacio-temporal immersion is a form that director Christopher Nolan has played with in films like Dunkirk and Inception. And finally, there is emotional immersion, where you have a major emotional reaction to what you are seeing.
“Immersive content in the metaverse essentially takes these kinds of immersion and targets them to impact the mind as much as possible,” says Chinchlikar.
None of this will happen at scale without the parallel invention of sleeker VR wearables. Innovation in hardware is seen as inevitable with companies like Google and Apple pouring dollars into R&D.
“When almost all immersive world devices are nothing more than lightweight wearable sunglasses, you will start to see the VR content consumption experience explode,” Chinchlikar believes. “[When this happens] Cinematic VR content consumption explodes and so will the use of the metaverse.”
Creating For a Frameless Medium
Along the way, artists and content creators will have to get to grips with the new media. For example, the 360-degree VR Metaverse is a frameless medium.
“Some core entertainment concepts will need to be rewritten as content creators no longer have the benefit of the frame. [Filmmakers] will also need to learn to direct your attention to certain areas. That’s a new skill for everybody — screenwriters, audiographers, directors, editors, cinematographers. People have to learn what ‘directing your attention’ even means for this medium. They will have to learn a lot more about cognitive science to really master it.”
There could be a short-film renaissance of content purpose-made for VR.
“I expect the metaverse to help the industry create new overlaps and blends of content it can monetize,” Chinchlikar predicts. “It will finally allow the industry to monetize short films. The immersive experience is [best suited] for a 20-to-30-minute short fiction experience, rather than a two-hour film because of [how intense it is].”
The more immersive and emotive an experience becomes the more care must be taken be creators not to cross boundaries, he warns. He points to the recent news coverage of an incident in the UK in which a woman charged she was sexually harassed inside Facebook’s Meta virtual platform — meaning, essentially, her avatar was virtually groped by the avatars of strangers.
“Things like this makes the metaverse very tricky, and we need to get around to dealing with such possibilities,” he says. “And then, you also have to make sure there is little or no biological or physical strain put on the body, whether to the eyes, ears, or the neck from wearing a [headset].”
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Privacy issues will need to be addressed — such as safeguarding the use of iris tracking which is becoming standard in new VR headsets.
“Cognitive research will tell you that when the pupil is dilated the most, that is when the biggest amount of information is captured. We will have streaming VR services that are advertising based, and so, advertisers are going to want this information. They are going to start insisting on having their ads displayed when the customer’s pupil is dilated the most. Is that an invasion of privacy — trying to reach a consumer when you know they are at their emotional best or emotional worst?”
He calls this a form of bio-hacking. “It’s not just a Google or a Facebook tracking your phone to see what kind so stores you go into so they can tailor ads to [your interests]. This is hacking you when you are emotionally the most perceptive, feeding you advertising or political information during that time, because they have data that tells them when you are in that state.
Only the consumer and the company whose [equipment the consumer is using] should know your [preferences], but will they start keeping a record of it?”