SIGGRAPH 2015: Talking About VR, 360 Degrees of Experience

Beneath the aura of excitement generated this year at SIGGRAPH 2015 by the prevalence of virtual reality, a number of panels drilled into the nuts and bolts of creating VR experiences, including managing the workflow and assets. From a Birds of a Feather interest group discussion to panels of senior artists from the major studios and visual effects companies, almost everyone agreed that VR represents creativity on the edge. SIGGRAPH offered a 360 degree look at the issues and lessons learned thus far.

Birds of a Feather meetings at SIGGRAPH tend to welcome a diverse group of professionals and aspirants. In the session Let’s Talk VR, the group got into specifics on the current state of the VR experience.

Cinematographer Andy Schulkind of HeadcaseVR noted that high frame-rate capture is a ‘gamer attitude.’  He finds that 30 fps looks more cinematic.

Mike Murdock of Other World Interactive recommended that you keep the experience design simple to reach the widest audience. Don’t even assume that the magnet on the side of Google Cardboard works, he said. Murdock is using gaze-based storytelling techniques. Since the viewer can look anywhere, his software monitors head motion and doesn’t advance the story until the viewer has looked in the direction of key story elements.

“When you are introducing a new technology, you should keep the story simple and timeless, so the viewer doesn’t have to figure out two things (e.g. tech and story) at once,” said Mirada’s Andrew Cochrane.

The game “Nevermind was mentioned a few times as an interesting niche experience using specialized peripheral devices. “Nevermind” takes data from biofeedback monitors and increases the scariness of this VR horror story as the player’s heart rate increases.

Never Mind game Opening_Butterfly1-1500x630

During the VR: Creating at the Edge panel, Walt Disney Imagineering’s Mark Mine commented that the resolution and FOV (field of view) in VR displays is still too low. He would like 60 pixels per degree, which translates to an 8K display, he said. He also stressed that vertical FOV is possibly more important than horizontal FOV. We look down a lot. His framerate sweet spot is 80-90Hz. Attractions in Disney Parks, like “Soarin’ Over California,” use 120Hz and have low persistence projectors.

Richard Marks of Sony Magic Lab reported that the Morpheus HMD has a 100 degree FOV, a 120Hz display, and a user-friendly design. The display tilts up so you can see the real world when you need to without having to take the entire HMD off. He pointed out that it is easier to design VR experiences for a game platform than for the PC, since the specs on the game platform are standardized.

As for user experience, Marks reported that a multiplayer collaborative VR experience is surprisingly satisfying. Enabling the players to talk to each other, and implementing spatial audio so each avatar has a sense of their position relative to other avatars, adds a lot. Their user tests also found that people enjoy simple physical gestures, such as waving to each other. Development challenges include creating more realistic movement, such as more natural gesturing, involving Inverse Kinematics (IK).

Be sure to check out Part 2 of our coverage of VR sessions at SIGGRAPH.