Daily Debrief: Augmented reality transports us into the future of film and TV
Since the dawn of cinema, films and TV shows have allowed us to be transported to other worlds and other times, where we can see dinosaurs come to life or watch an astronaut’s flight to the moon and beyond. More recently, technological advancement is allowing viewers to immerse themselves even deeper into the stories they see on the screen, and one such technology – augmented reality (AR) – is increasingly playing a part in the way content is crafted.
Take experimental director Steven Soderbergh’s new HBO miniseries Mosaic. Released this week, the murder-mystery comes with a downloadable standalone app for Apple’s iOS and tvOS, offering users narrative exploration into various character perspectives and plotlines. Scenes are also augmented by “discoveries” – additional media such as PDFs or shorter video clips fleshing out the story.
As Marketing Dive puts it, “Steven Soderbergh’s mysterious Mosaic hints at mobile’s choose-your-own adventure potential.” Of course, the actual concept of AR technology in film is nothing new. Dr. Yue Fei, CTO of uSens, a company specializing in developing interactive and immersive solutions in AR & VR (virtual reality), told Film Daily: “Look back to the original Star Wars trilogy and, more recently, Tom Cruise’s Minority Report, to see this idea in action. AR capabilities have captured the imagination of audiences for decades.” However, as Fei pointed out, “now technology is finally able to translate these capabilities from silver-screen fantasy to daily reality.”
As such, there are a number of products adopting AR in order to offer viewers an interactive experience. For example, currently crowdfunding is Casey Stein’s Holy Night – a film about a preacher, a grandmother, and a teenager all struggling to stay connected to their community during Christmas due to their destructive relationships with prescription drugs. “Movie” may not be the right term, as Holy Night offers users the ability to explore the community of the film’s world, switching character perspectives at any point in time.
Lyron Bentovim, CEO of the Glimpse Group, a company designed with the specific purpose of cultivating entrepreneurs in the VR & AR industries, mused to Film Daily: “I think it goes back to the social aspect and our desire to play an active role in everything we come in contact with, including film and TV. With so many choices in content nowadays, creators are always looking for new ways to capture the attention of their audience, and what better way to engage than to actually engage?”
When comparing AR with its immersive counterpart, virtual reality, Lyron felt its particular advantage lies in it already having a familiar feel to it thanks to mainstream apps like Snapchat and Pokemon Go. “AR really bridges the gap between the present and the future in a more digestible way than VR due to these factors.”
From a marketing perspective, SVP for Global Media & Entertainment at Magid Mike Bloxham defined AR as not inherently better or worse than VR. However, a noteworthy advantage “is that it has the potential to deliver greater scale for movie marketers due to the sheer number of smartphones that are equipped to deliver an AR experience to customers.”
“For TV in particular there are opportunities to generate incremental revenue by using AR as an extension to program sponsorships, brand integrations, or advertising deals. A good example would be the app that was developed by AMC with Mountain Dew to link to the brand’s on-air involvement with The Walking Dead. The same opportunity exists for some movie franchises.”
So where does this leave film & TV production? Looking to the future, uSens’s Dr. Fei believes the popular definition of AR will evolve as technological capabilities are refined. “True AR will be thought of as a true digital world where you can see a digital object that’s smartly placed on a table, look away entirely from it, and have it still remain there when you look back,” added Fei.
This is something uSens is currently working on – hand-tracking software leveraging smartphone or headset cameras to make AR experiences controller-free, which Dr. Fei described as “an essential step towards full digital immersion.” If you’re struggling to picture this, perhaps think about the gopher gaming experience in Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror episode “Playtest”:
B2B Analyst with Verizon Business, RaShea Drake, who recently attended an “AR & VR in Entertainment” seminar at Silicon Slopes Summit in Utah, added to this vision of the future, describing how it will change the way we entertain: “Just imagine experiencing historical dramas like Schindler’s List or musicals like The Greatest Showman [in AR]. Technically you could watch the same movie over and over, but given the experience of AR, you could almost watch a different movie just by turning around and experiencing the angles and subplots you’ve never seen before.”
Building upon this vision of AR’s storytelling potential, Glimpse’s Bentovim believes AR “will develop in such a way that all of your favorite shows and characters can be ‘present’ in your home in a seamless, and uncanny, way.
“Being able to use AR via a web browser is a game-changer since it means that streaming services like Netflix and HBO Go can integrate a simple API for AR to be played on their platform. Once it’s in the hands of true artists, the quality and intrigue are going to grow faster than we realize. The final evolution step would be the introduction of AR glasses that would be both fashionable and effective – once these achieve mainstream status, Augmented Reality will be in full stride.”