SINGAPORE: Virtual reality (VR) is relatively new to the film industry, its potential is yet to be clearly established and it adds more work and costs to the filmmaking process. However, one Singapore director, Pok Yue Weng, said he is embracing the challenge of integrating the technology into his storytelling.
In a recent interview with Channel NewsAsia, Pok said he is currently working on a VR project, with actual production expected to start next February. The veteran, who has been in the industry for well over a decade, said he has been playing around with the technology since November 2015, in anticipation of securing the deal to produce the project.
Viewers could get the immersive experience using equipment such as Facebook's Oculus Rift or Samsung's Gear headsets. Alternatively, the 360-degree element is already available on YouTube and Pok said his VR project could be hosted on the video streaming platform.
Filming with VR is just taking off though, and not everyone is convinced the technology is worth the effort.
Multiple Oscar winner Steven Spielberg, for one, said in May this year that VR is a potentially dangerous development for directors as it gives a lot of freedom to viewers not to take the direction of the filmmaker and make their own choices of where to look.
There are also practical challenges to overcome. Pok said that while the equipment costs for filming in 360-degree virtual reality is almost compatible with conventional filmmaking, the preparation and planning as well as the process of filming adds extra layers of complexity.
"It is more tedious," Pok explained. "When filming, only actors involved can be in the room and we can only monitor in another room. Each take is also longer - about 10 minutes continuously - so you shoot less per day and need more time with the actors to get them ready."
He added that in general, filming in VR costs about "10 per cent to 20 per cent more" than the conventional method of filmmaking.
The 44-year-old said looking at the types of content being produced, VR is "very effective" in immersing the viewer into an experience they may never otherwise experience. For instance, National Geographic produced a documentary allowing viewers to explore a ship wreck using the technology without having to get wet.
That said, using the tech for storytelling is a different application and challenge that not everyone will readily embrace, the Ngee Ann Polytechnic Film, Sound and Video alum acknowledged.
"Serious filmmakers may think of VR and 3D as gimmicks," he said. "They might take a lot of convincing."
On his part, Pok is looking to raise awareness of the tech in the filmmaking circles. As part of the Singapore International Film Festival (SGIFF) programme lineup this year, he will be giving a talk on exploring VR in short films together with Lionel Chok.