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What will films be like in 20 years?

For decades virtual reality (VR) has been prophesied as the future of filmmaking, capable of offering experiences infinitely more immersive than traditional cinema and television. In an essay written in 1955, titled The Cinema of the Future, the cinematographer Morton Heilig predicted that filmmaking would advance to the point where it can “reveal the new scientific world to man in the full sensual vividness and dynamic vitality of his consciousness.” Heilig outlined many of the properties of virtual reality – but didn’t use those words, given they hadn’t been coined yet.

几十年来,虚拟现实(VR)一直被认为是电影业的未来所在,能够为观众提供比传统影视更身临其境的体验。在1955年发表的一篇题为《未来的电影》的文章中,电影摄影师海里戈(Morton Heilig)就预言“未来的电影将会以生动活泼的形式为人们揭开新科学世界的帷幕”。海里戈概括了虚拟现实的许多性能,但当时他用的并不是现在人们所说这些词,因为当时这类词汇还没有产生。

Now, as the saying goes, the future has arrived – though filmmaking has a long way to go before it incorporates the mind-bending technology popularised in movies and TV shows such as The Lawnmower Man and Star Trek. With many filmmakers having swapped traditional cameras for 360 cameras (that capture views from all angles), the current moment is comparable to the intensely experimental early years of motion pictures during the late 1800s and early 1900s.

虽然要把《割草者》(The Lawnmower Man)或《星际迷航》(Star Trek)里那些匪夷所思的技术应用到电影行业还有很长一段路要走,但就像人们经过说得那样,“未来已经到来”。许多电影制作者已经用360度全景摄影机替换了传统摄影机。现在电影业尝试新科技的势头堪比19世纪晚期和20世纪早期电影勇于各种创新实验的阶段。
In short: we are in the early stages of a new filmmaking revolution. An array of rapidly developing technologies offer thrilling potential for the future of motion pictures – such as the rise of AR (augmented reality), AI (artificial intelligence) and the ever-increasing capacity for computers to power detailed digital worlds.


What will films look like in 20 years’ time? And how will the cinematic stories of the future differ from the experiences available today?


Getting personal


According to VR guru and artist Chris Milk, films of the future will offer tailored immersive experiences. They will, he tells BBC Culture, be capable of “crafting a story in real-time, that is just for you, that uniquely satisfies you and what your likes and dislikes are.”

虚拟现实艺术家谬可(Chris Milk)认为,未来的电影能为观众提供量身定制的身临其境的沉浸式体验。他告诉BBC文化频道,未来的电影能“为你量身打造一个实时故事,完全满足个人喜恶爱好”。

Milk prefers terms like “story living” over standard nomenclature such as “storytelling." He believes cinematic experiences will evolve to “feel as natural and as real as a day in your life, but have the amazing characteristics of the kind of exciting stories that we are used to being told.”


Milk gave a watershed 2015 TED Talk about the artistic potential of virtual reality. He believes that advances in AI technology will allow computer-created characters to respond to audiences in real-time. Imagine a much more advanced version of Siri – but represented as a character inside a narrative experience.


Milk acknowledges that “the technology doesn’t fully exist yet” for an AI character “that can be conversational and respond to you as if they were also human.” But, he adds: “I don’t think we’re 20 years away from it.”


Getting ‘volumetric’


The influential documentarian, journalist and entrepreneur Nonny de la Peña – who has been described as “the Godmother of VR” by The Wall Street Journal – says the first word that comes to mind when she thinks about the future of the medium is “volumetric,” providing a stark comparison to the two-dimensional screens of today.

颇具影响力的纪录片制作人、企业家拉佩尼亚(Nonny de la Peña)被华尔街日报称为“虚拟现实之母”。她说:“说起未来的媒介,我第一个想起的词是‘立体’,这与今天的2D平面电影截然不同。”

In the future, according de la Peña “flat media will still be there with us, just like the radio will still be with us. But there's no way that filmmaking is going to stay flat.”


Instead we will have “fully embodied, walk around, room-scale, volumetric experiences” because “younger audiences are coming up who are used to having embodied experiences...They're going to want to have their views, education, and everything else in an embodied form.”


A virtual copy of the world


Eugene Chung directed the critically acclaimed VR film Allumette, which has been described as a “masterpiece” and seen the filmmaker compared to the likes of pioneering US filmmaker DW Griffith. Set in a futuristic city floating in the clouds, the production uses technology called ‘six degrees of freedom’ (or ‘6Dof’), which allows viewers to physically walk through its world.

尤金(Eugene Chung)执导的VR电影《艾露美》(Allumette)广受好评,被称为“大师之作”。人们认为他可与美国电影先驱格里菲思(DW Griffith)等人相提并论。该剧以一座漂浮在云端的未来城市为背景,采用了名为“6自由度”(或称“6Dof”,指可以上下、左右、前后移动)的技术,让观众可以在电影的虚拟世界中穿行移动。

Chung believes that in the future VR will become increasingly blended with the AR Cloud, which is essentially a digital copy of the world.


“Think of a hyper-charged version of Google Earth,” he says, “where you're not just taking streets, you're copying the entire world. We’ll have that mixed with really high-end VR technology, which is already very impressive today.”


Chung says in the future there’ll be “stories all around you.” For example, “you could be waking up and next to your bed can be a table on which you can have a character you like. There are movies that point to this, like the movie Her.”


‘An art of consciousness’


The Emmy award-winning Lynette Wallworth, director of the VR experiences Collisions and Awavena, says the narrative experiences of the future, through virtual reality, will be able to offer new ways to explore neural diversity.

艾美奖得主、两部虚拟实景电影Collisions和Awavena的导演丽勒特‧沃斯(Lynette Wallworth)说:“有了VR技术的加持,未来的电影叙事体验能够让我们看到不同人眼中的世界。”

“We will have the ability to experience aspects of how somebody with autism for example experiences the world,” she says. “Levels of difference are able to be revealed through the senses in VR that are not possible in other art forms.”


Wallworth also envisions VR and AR expanding the purview of traditional film, partly through headsets that will allow viewers to toggle between watching moments and then experiencing them immersively.


“If you think about this in relation to watching George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road, for example, you could view the traditional film in a headset that allows you to see the cinema screen then switch modes,” she says, “so that you’re now sitting next to Furiosa in the cabin of her truck, as she drives headlong across the desert landscape at full speed.”

她说:“拿乔治‧米勒(George Miller)的电影《疯狂的麦克斯:狂暴之路》举例,你可以戴着VR设备观看电影并切换模式。因此当电影女主角费罗莎驾驶战车全速穿越沙漠时,你就仿佛坐在她的旁边一样。”

With virtual reality technology advancing at a rapid rate, the possibilities – to borrow a hackneyed turn of phrase – are endless. Describing virtual reality as “dangerous” because filmmakers operating in this space wield less control than they do in non-interactive experiences, Steven Spielberg in 2016 cautioned that the virtual realm “gives the viewer a lot of latitude not to take direction from the storytellers but make their own choices.”

用一句已被人说烂了的话来说,随着VR技术的飞速发展,这种可能性是无限的。2016年,美国著名导演斯皮尔伯格(Steven Spielberg)认为虚拟现实是“危险的”,因为与非互动性电影作品相比,电影制作人在虚拟实景电影中能够控制和操作的功能将会小很多。他警告说,虚拟世界“使观众更加自由,可以不按叙述者的套路走,做出自己的选择。”

Many would regard this kind of future – where viewers will have the ability to shape the narratives they experience – as a positive rather than a negative. Viewers being able to make their own choices concurs with Heilig’s prediction that "the cinema of the future will no longer be a visual art, but an art of consciousness." The difference, perhaps, between ‘storytelling’ and ‘story living’.

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