Before Neil Gaiman was a best-selling author or a TV producer, he wrote graphic novels, a.k.a. “comics for grown-ups” — he’s best known for “The Sandman,” which ran from 1989 to 1996. But if Gaiman were getting started today, he would be experimenting with a completely different art form.
“If I were like 19 or 20 right now, I would be probably messing around with the virtual reality stuff,” Gaiman said on the latest episode of Recode Media with Peter Kafka.
After a recent event in Seattle, he got a 30-minute demo of VR content that “blew me away,” including a vertigo-inducing simulation of standing on a skyscraper.
“They were like, ‘Do you want to do something with this?’” Gaiman said of the demo-givers. “And I said, ‘No, actually, I don’t. I will come to this with a 56-year-old head and lots of ideas about the ways that other things are done.”
In the audience for that same event, before the demo, was Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.
“I love having him in the audience because he has the loudest laugh of any human being,” Gaiman said. “If you have him laughing in your audience, half the battle is already won.”
Although the ability to make comics as thoughtful and respectable as adult fiction is what drew Gaiman to that medium, he suggested the same translation wouldn’t work for VR.
“If you try and go, ‘Ah, this is how we did it in movies,’ or, ‘This is how we did it in comics,’ or, ‘This is how we did it in books,’ or, ‘This is how we did it in video games’ ...” he said. “This is going to be its own thing.”
“There’s a little part of your brain going, ‘This is not real,’” Gaiman added. “And then everything in your brain is going, ‘Yeah, we understand you, part-of-the-brain-that-says-this-is-not-real, but by the way, I cannot take a step forward and fall off this 500-foot building, as I’m on the edge of a skyscraper.’”
Another part of Gaiman’s VR demo was a virtual sculpting application, by which he was “absolutely fascinated.”
“People were making art and sculptures and things that do not exist in the real world, although theoretically, I guess a 3-D printer could take that thing and recreate it,” he said. “They made me, as a gift, a Sandman, with stars in his eyes and stars in his cloak, and it was the most amazing thing. I got to walk around him and look at him and he was a piece of art that they made for me, that did not exist.”
“I thought, ‘That’s going to be a thing,’” he added. “VR galleries, stuff that there is no reason for it to exist in the real world, but that does not mean it does not exist.”
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