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Everything You Need To Know About How Indian Filmmakers Are Experimenting With Virtual Reality

VR is the latest buzzword in the cinematic space. Here's what the noise is all about.

03/11/2016 3:45 PM IST | Updated 13/11/2016 3:45 PM IST
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I was standing on top of a massive statue in what appeared to be a sprawling palace. From nowhere, a cannonball hurdled towards me. I thought of jumping but the height was dizzying. In the end, I tried to duck when the cannonball came dangerously close. It didn't help. And I found myself falling along with the statue.

Stunned, I took off my VR headset. The AMD Radeon team which had designed this immersive VR experience was grinning at me.

"What you have seen today is less than 5 percent of what we are planning. For a grand movie like Bahubali, the experience should be equally grand. In the final product, there would be more participation from the users, end and we will have cutting edge graphics," Raja Koduri, Senior Vice President and Chief Architect, Radeon Technologies Group at AMD.

"There is enough content out there in Bollywood and India which can be turned into a great virtual reality experience. We are keen to set up kiosks in theaters when Bahubali releases for people to get an amazing feel," he said.

Other than creating an experience for Baahubali, Radeon group is currently developing one for the upcoming Hollywood film, Assasin's Creed as well. The group designed a new VR camera especially for Bahubali called BB360. The rig has 24 cameras which can shoot in all directions to capture the most impressive visuals. The team also worked on some cool tech to enable the director in evaluating the virtual experience in real time.

AMD

The AMD team and SS Rajamouli, the director of Bahubali, released the film's teaser at the recently-concluded Jio MAMI Mumbai film festival, along with a 360-degree video of the film's set.

The director seemed excited about his film being a part of the Virtual Reality experience as this was the first time where he experimented with such a platform.

"During the shooting of Bahubali:The Beginning, Raja who is my cousin, came on the sets and showed me the VR technology. I was really thrilled by seeing such a drastic advancement in the technology. I told Raja immediately that we want to do something around Bahubali. This platform gives a tremendous opportunity to capture the largeness of Bahubali," Rajamouli said.

While Rajamouli, who has constantly innovated in cinema, is one of the first to dabble in VR, a lot of other Indian filmmakers are also getting involved in creating VR content.

Shakun Batra who has directed movies such as Kapoor and Sons and Ek Main Aur Ek Tu spearheaded a section at MAMI that spoke about how VR could drastically transform narrative in film.

He even curated a session recently at the Mumbai film festival which involved Ship of Theseus director Anand Gandhi, UN's chief of VR content Gabo Arora and Raja Koduri from Radeon group.

"I first got a taste of virtual reality during the editing of Kapoor and Sons, and suddenly my own movie seemed boring to me. I though how much more I could have explored had the movie was shot in the VR format," Batra said.

Arora who is a creative director at United Nations believes that apart from hardcore Bahubali like entertainment you can generate different kinds of content, say a documentary on the Syrian crisis, to send the message in a more engrossing manner.

Arora has directed heart-wrenching VR movies such as Clouds Over Sidra, Waves of Grace, and My Mother's Wing.

"Most of us watch the tragedies of the world on a flat screen. Our eyes follow whatever that is reported on TV. If we present the story in 360 degrees, there would be much more to learn from the surroundings of the people who are suffering. Our aim at UN is to make people aware of events happening across the world and create more opportunities to help the victims. The VR experience can help us drive the point home very effectively," he said.

Koduri from Radeon told HuffPost India about advancement in technology in terms of its Indian context. He said that opening up Makuta VFX studio was one of the first steps to bring great graphical content in Indian movies at an affordable rate.

"In VR and in visual effects, image stitching is an important part. Whatever you shoot from the rig has to be perfect in a way that the person who experiences it later doesn't feel that she is in a world which is glitchy. Right now we have achieved 10 ms lag in the movement with our AMD Fiji hardware, next year we are going to launch a new hardware which will reduce that gap significantly," he said.

Earlier this year, Gandhi opened a VR studio called ESLEVR under his banner Memesys Culture Lab in Mumbai.

At MAMI, the studio released on of its first movies called 'Cost of Coal' which is directed by Faiza Ahmed Khan.

ELSEVR studio also presented 'Right to Pray' at MAMI directed by Khusboo Ranka who is also the editor-in-chief for the collective. The film was India's first VR narrative documentary and premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF).

Koduri says that Hollywood is also taking notice of the upcoming VR technology. Recently AMD held an event at Paramount Studios and found that many content creators are keen to explore VR from making movies to installing kiosks in cinema halls.

Beck Diefenbach / Reuters
Clay Bavor, VP of Virtual Reality for Google,

Arora tells us that products like Google cardboard, Samsung Gear VR and the recently-launched Google Daydream are going to make VR a lot more accessible.

He is also of the belief that the Daydream controller which the UN is experimenting with as well, will take the immersive experience to the next level.

While VR is surely going to change the way we look at films, it's not going to threaten it.

Batra feels that VR is not a competition to traditional cinema. "No one said that VR is going to blow the movie business away. The technology is here to stay and compliment the cinema as we know it."

Mark Zuckerberg Demonstrates Facebook VR

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