GE, hoping to bridge a storyline between science and art, has just debuted a new documentary miniseries in virtual reality.
This week, the tech company released the first of five films that aim to show a different side of innovation beyond just labs. Shot by Here Be Dragons, the series—"The Possible"—aims to let people see the possibilities of science and tech within real-world settings. The films let viewers cruise across salt atop land speeders, fly high in the air on hoverboards and walk through the woods and in the lab with robots built by Boston Dynamics. (The first film," Hello Robot," debuted today on Within, an app that houses VR content from Here Be Dragons, The New York Times, United Nations, Vice and others.)
As a collaborator of the series, each film also comes with a post-roll companion VR film showing how GE helps "make the impossible, 'unimpossible.'"
"Sometimes you see something and it doesn't need to be in virtual reality," Alexa Christon, GE's head of media innovation, told Adweek. "VR is a really immersive experience, and to be able to get close to these things, to stand next to one of Boston Dynamic's robots just lends itself to a virtual reality experience."
At an event in lower Manhattan on Tuesday night, GE and Within gave demos of the films. But instead of having individuals put on headsets one after the next, the experience was set up more like a collection of mini-movie theaters, with anywhere from a handful to a few dozen people watching the same movie at the same time. (Each area also had a fourth dimension—water, wind or some other element—to help provide a slightly more immersive feel to the film.)
Speaking at the premiere, Filmmaker Chris Milk—who co-founded Here Be Dragons along with Patrick Milling Smith (producer of the hit Broadway musical Once)—said that all other storytelling mediums have been external experiences witnessed frame-by-frame. Within found co-founded by Milk and CTO Aaron Koblin.
"You see a movie and it's the story of two people in some other place than the theater you're currently sitting in, that this thing happened to them at some point in time," Milk said. "And that's the same for theater, it's the same for literature, it's the same for sitting around the fire in a cave. This is a show [where] we have told stories from the beginning, and I think what is so unique about virtual reality as a medium is it's a story about us here now."
Here Be Dragons is no stranger to VR. In fact, over the past couple of years, the production company formerly known as Vrse.Works has created VR experiences with USA Network (for Mr. Robot), The New York Times, Bono and Nike.
Milk said that while VR still has its own limitations—viewers still can't walk around within a scene or talk to its characters—that will soon change as technology gets better. He said in the near future, it will become even closer to another medium we're all familiar with: our real life.
"Our social bonds are built through shared experiences, and the most powerful experiences," he said. "It's not me at the fire and the cave; it's you and your clan at the fire in the cave. We go to the movies together, we go on vacation together, and we have these shared experiences together."
Virtual reality as a medium has been touted time and time again as a way to build empathy, but it's also been criticized as a way to build isolation. (After all, it's tough to interact with the people around you while wearing a big headset and headphones.) However, he said watching film with others can help change that.
That's partially what's prompting GE to try out the medium. While GE isn't necessarily doing as much in the VR space like its competitors such as Intel or Lenovo, Christon said using the medium still helps reach early adopters who might be interested in GE's other endeavors.
"Imagination at work goes all the way through to how we think about that as well. Is the medium as important as the message? Absolutely it is," she said. "I think the industry is in a really interesting place where experience is becoming really paramount piece. Experience and experiential is becoming really paramount of how a brand shows up."
For the series, GE also created its own VR film. Watch one of them "Fighting Fire With Fire," on YouTube. (For the full experience, pull open the YouTube mobile app and turn around in 360 degrees.)