Blurring The Lines Between Real and Virtual Worlds

In an interview with Pickle, Ravi Velhal, Global Content Strategist-New Media Experiences, Intel Corporation, talks about the potential of VR filmmaking and how it is transforming the cinematic experience

Photo Caption: Ravi Velhal Global Content Strategist-New Media Experiences,Intel Corporation and VR Technology Producer of A R Rehman's Le Musk

Intel and AR Rahman launched Prelude to Le Musk at Las Vegas on April 24, 2017, powered by Intel technologies in multi-sensory ergonomic motion guided Cinematic VR chair developed by Positron, which seamlessly transports the audience to the incredible world of Cinema VR.

Portland Oregon-based Ravi Velhal, Intel’s Global Content Strategist, who first made headlines at Hollywood’s VR Society, is at the top of his game with his debut as VR Technology Producer collaborating with debut director AR Rahman and his team, creating world’s first multi-sensory and India’s first VR movie experience prelude to Le Musk, setting a new industry standard and continue to promote VR as immersive medium for storytellers globally and more on the way VR Technology Producer, Ravi Velhal deep dive into new immersive medium of 360-degree storytelling with the Le Musk. As Hollywood’s VR Society board member, Ravi is on a mission to accelerate the transformation, innovation and profitability of the Virtual Reality Content, Distribution and Technology Business globally and especially in the emerging markets.

How has computing and virtual reality evolved over the years? What is next in VR filmmaking?

Industry experts say the total VR market is expected to reach $80 billion by 2020 and $569 billion by 2025. The world of computing is radically expanding the epicentre of VR ecosystem. Technology is going to change VR filmmaking, as virtual reality has changed the equation; expanded boundaries; has defined new expressions for story tellers; and brought new immersive multi-sensory experiences for audience, making them a part of the story. Where existing experience primarily involves engaging with a screen, Le Musk VR Cinema project marks an inflection point where computing possibilities are bound only by two times Academy and Grammy award winner musical maestro AR Rahman’s imagination to completely immerse audience through multisensory- sight, sound, haptics, motion and olfactory (aroma) experience. The next frontier of VR will empower us to build, solve, create and play without limits – in a world that is indistinguishable from reality. It will enable content creators to deliver richer, immersive and more interactive cinema VR experiences to delight audience globally.

What are the key technology challenges for VR movie making? How can these be addressed?

The sheer file size and quality of the media moving through the VR workflow pushes most available technologies to the limit. While the vast majority of existing pre-and post-production processes have been optimised for standard HD and 4K media, 360 immersive VR format has to work with media that is exponentially larger in size, higher in resolution, and performs complex operation on that media. Sheer nature of current VR 360 camera, stitching and lighting requires CG correction in almost every frame.

Every component ranging from workstations, blade servers, network, graphics card, software stacks, storage, output monitors to VR system in the production and post production pipeline has to perform in harmony to deliver exceptional results. Workflow pushes the boundaries of technologies, requiring the latest equipment, software and creative talent to meet film-maker’s expectations to delight audience. From production (acquire and live preview) to post-production (edit, stitch, vfx, render, mix and encode) to secure delivery of VR cinema on motion chair and VR ready devices where Intel and ecosystem partner technologies play a very important role.

So where can I watch VR cinema?

Full length cinematic VR is in relatively nascent stage. Many location-based VR lounges are being created all over the world. However, space required for indi vidual VR setup, library and the duration of content that audience can watch without experiencing fatigue or motion sickness pose challenges for commercialising VR cinema. At NAB, while showcasing prelude to Le Musk we were able to address some of the key cinema VR challenges by reducing VR showcase footprint and combining multisensory experience in a mere 5x5 footprint using Positron VR Chair, a promising step towards multisensory Cinema VR theatre ecosystem realisation down the line. Such transition is not driven by one company alone – a number of important players across the industry have come together to make it happen. Our mission is to provide computing platform that is suited for developing such ecosystems and make it easy for people to build solutions on top of it.

How was the Le Musk project conceptualised? Please tell us more about the world’s first multi-sensory cinema VR movie.

AR Rahman entered into a new venture as a debut director in a pioneering attempt to make new episodic international VR film Le Musk. The film is directed, written and scored by Rahman in technical collaboration with Intel. Le Musk is considered as one of the world’s first multi-sensory cinema VR movie. Set in Rome and surrounding Tuscany, the musical aromatic story chronicles the Juliet, played by Nora Arnezeder, a prominent French actress, who has a smell fixation. The audience should be able to watch this high-resolution 360 degrees cinema VR story for an extended period of time without experiencing fatigue or motion sickness. From storyboarding to scriptwriting, content creation and processing to consumption, rules were re-written for VR flmmaking. We worked endless hours, learning, failing, and solving problems every step of the way. It had been a fascinating journey— we are just scratching the surface to unleash the real potential of immersive cinema VR experiences.

World premiere of Prelude to Le Musk was launched in NAB Show Las Vegas 2017. Please tell us about how this new movie watching experience unfolded for the audience.

Still VR is relatively new entrant in the nascent medium of 360-degree storytelling. Le Musk in many ways was a challenging experiment for AR Rahman and our entire production and post-production crew. The challenge was to bring several multisensory integrations together for its NAB showdown at Intel booth in Las Vegas in April 2017. High quality 360 degree virtual reality cinema with spatial audio, subtle haptics that responds to gesture, motion encoded movie to reduce fatigue and motion sickness associated with VR, combined with olfactory-aroma shooters that emanate various smell (including Le Musk developed by sensory director Grace Boyle) that depends upon particular scene sequence – all were combined together in egg shaped motion encoded VR Pod chair developed by Positron with Intel VR ready PC at its base that drives all the action. The viewer sits in the Pod chair with their VR HMD and headphone on with their feet off the ground. As the movie plays the pod rotates in 360 degrees, pitches forward, backward and side to side gently as the story unfolds. Overall experience guides you through different points of the story, letting you fully immerse in the Le Musk prelude story which dazzled NAB Show 2017 in its official premier of Prelude to Le Musk at Intel show floor in Las Vegas. With total amazement and rave reviews, people were standing in long lines with average wait time of more than 1.5 hours. After experiencing Le Musk, audience were thrilled about the VR movie technology breakthroughs achieved by AR Rahman, Intel and the hardworking Le Musk team.

The future of cinema VR is going to be totally immersive, where multi-sensory experiences powered by technologies will keep on multiplying but the lines between real and virtual worlds will keep on blurring.

We have been going thru amazing experience learning about VR Moviemaking in the last year and half discovering new techniques and new ways to tell stories, Le Musk is immersive project. As I have been trying to tell stories thru music so far and somewhere interest in virtual reality made the line blur and compelled me totake steps to visuals and directing. VR is a game changer and opened a new world of creativity - A R Rahman

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