Intel has big stake in the success of virtual reality. It powers the high-fidelity, interactive, PC-based experiences you see on devices like Oculus and HTC Vive. But special effects aren’t enough to get consumers, or even creators, excited. What virtual reality needs now, says Intel VR Marketing Strategist Lisa Watts, is compelling storytelling experiences that show what the medium can do.
“There’s a lot of virtual reality content that gets churned out on a daily basis,” says Watts. “There’s a variety of quality. And what we really want to be showing is what the best quality looks like, as a way to influence the entire creative population.”
So Watts works closely with artists to develop high-quality content and explore what it takes to make it. “Working side-by-side at this stage, where everything is still so new, with these creators that are thinking about things in different ways, provides amazing insight to us,” Watts says.
For one thing, she sees a lot of people coming to VR from more traditional filmmaking backgrounds want to make interactive content, but don’t know how yet. “The barriers are somewhat simplistic for a lot of filmmakers. First and foremost, many of them may have started in the 360-video realm and there’s a lot of constraints in 360 video: it’s not interactive.” In experiences made as 360 video, you can stand in the center of a scene, but you can’t pick something up; you can’t navigate to a new setting. “Getting to that next level of interactivity is not only something that filmmakers and creators desire to do, but it is something that the population of people who are consuming VR experiences are expecting.”
To help filmmakers approach that level of interactivity, Watts connects artists to the equipment they need, but also the experts who can help them use it correctly. She opens the doors to developer support, Intel’s VR studios and other creatives who have worked with Intel on projects in the past. She also helps creators see how audiences receive their work, by taking it out to demo at film festivals and tech conventions.
Her work with filmmaker Eliza McNitt is a good example of how Watts aims to push creators into more advanced content. When they met last year, McNitt was putting the finishing touches on her Fistful of Stars experience, a 360 video that takes viewers through a tour of space. Intel showed a preview of it in their Consumer Electronics Show booth, then supported its South by Southwest premiere. From there, Watts asked “What’s next?” and the pair started discussing how McNitt’s next project — another celestial adventure, called Pale Blue Dot — could be more ambitious, and more interactive.
Working with Lisa from the beginning of the project, rather than at its release, was a markedly different experience. McNitt explains, “So, for Pale Blue Dot, we’ve been developing the experience for the Oculus Rift, using the touch controllers. And with their support, I’ve been able to use and gain access to technology before it was on the market — touch controllers, for example — and develop a deep understanding of what is interesting in virtual reality with that kind of technology.” And working with Intel’s team of experts, she’s also getting guidance on making a piece that’s really “linear, and narrative, and tells a story.” She says Watts has “opened up the doors for me in terms of looking at VR as a tool for storytelling,” and thanks to her help, “Pale Blue Dot is really about pushing the boundaries, and creating an incredibly immersive environment for people to explore.”
The five-episode series is slated to premiere in spring 2018, and a behind-the-scenes preview will go live this fall.
Watts hopes her work will accelerate the creation of quality content and inspire others to try their hand at it, too. “A lot of creators are trying by trial and error. The experiences that we’ve had with some of the film makers and creators we’re partnering with to help them tell the stories, we feel that we can inspire the entire population of creators to really think about how they’re delivering these experiences to tech users and consumers in such a way that we hope will really spur the creativity of the entire population of creators, getting them pushing the envelope.”