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BLON 2022

Industry Report: New Media

The BLON Festival looks at the changing demands of VR experiences


Polish filmmaker and animator Paweł Szarzyński spoke about the current industry status of the VR experience

The BLON Festival looks at the changing demands of VR experiences
Paweł Szarzyński during his talk at the BLON Festival

Let’s do it in VR – that was the tagline for the session hosted by Paweł Szarzyński, a director, animator, graphic designer and the co-founder of the Kilku design collective, at the BLON Animation and Games Festival. The challenge for filmmakers and the first step, according to Szarzyński, is more often than not the question of whether a story fits into a VR (virtual reality) narrative. “Is my story VR-able?” is the first question anyone who is endeavouring to create such an immersive experience should ask him or herself. VR is a difficult environment, and the demands when fitting a story into it are manifold. Luckily, in Szarzyński's view, “There is an industry hungry for content.”

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VR has not only been gaining momentum at festivals, but its presence has also increased in cinema, via streaming and through lots of other creative doors that are opening. It is in those places where the film industry is hunting for new VR films. As Szarzyński adds, he was even contacted via Facebook once about his work. There is a perception, in his eyes, that VR is going to replace cinema in the long run. Therein lies the attraction for the film industry, as they are afraid that if they don’t strike and invest now, the window will start closing on them. Another advantage of VR in the current social landscape is that it is very inclusive and accessible.

The increasing presence at festivals now allows more people to experience VR worlds, but that shouldn’t stop filmmakers and animators from aiming higher than just achieving a showy effect. “Is it my goal to just deliver?” Szarzyński ponders, and encourages his audience to forget about the distribution of their VR content at first and focus on creating content instead - especially since the industry keeps changing. This is specifically true when it comes to the length of such VR animations. A few years ago, these virtual immersions would have been 12-13 minutes long, maximum. But this has not been the case for quite a while. Now, the content can last up to 45 minutes. What is still true, however, is the fact that for many viewers, this will still be their first VR experience ever.

To establish oneself with VR content on the market, the animation should always be something that is created to be seen and not sold solely as a “budget promotion”. The animator should know what the visual and immersive outcome should be, and only then look into distributors and financing. Furthermore, VR needs maintenance, like the addition of new languages, and this is where costs can be tricky. Szarzyński, who has worked with companies such as Prodigious, FCB, National Geographic and the Discovery Channel, further highlighted the possibility of internationally co-produced VR content as an easier way to implement productions. They can rely on the support of institutions from the outside that might not exist in one’s own country. “A lot of European productions are collaborations,” he concluded.

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