Unlike years past, the Academy of Motion Pictures Art and Sciences declined to give any nod — either through an award nomination or a special mention — to virtual reality effects for this year's Oscar nominees. The Oscars, arguably the most famous of the movie industry awards, has previously noted either virtual reality effects in feature films, in short films or given out special awards for using this kind of technology.
The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences did nominate a short animated VR film, "Pearl," in 2017, which people could watch on special HTC Vive VR headsets and also on YouTube as a 360-degree video with any extra glasses or devices. Filmmaker Alejandro G. Iñárritu took home a special Oscar award for his VR exhibit, "Carne y Arena" that same year in 2017. And director Guillermo del Toro actually created a special VR experience to enhance his 2015 film "Crimson Peak."
Virtual reality effects have yet to appear in feature films in traditional movie theaters Getty Images/iStockphoto
The Oscar nominees, announced on Monday, January 13, 2020 live from Los Angeles, California this year, however, departed from year's past in a few areas (women, for example, were left out of the Directing category). While virtual reality may be appearing more often in content— from gaming to shorts — the technology is not yet making an appearance in typical films that movie goers see at their local theater.
Instead, viewers tend to view VR shorts and content online at home through special headsets, or at locations such as Dreamscape, theaters located in Los Angeles, Dallas and Dubai, which are designed specifically for virtual reality experiences. At Dreamscape, for example, people walk into rooms that look more like the backstage area of a Broadway theater, with pulleys and marked areas on a blank floor. They don't see the space that way, though, as they're wearing VR headsets, glasses that play visuals into their eyes, and also have on haptic gloves and even footwear as they move through a space which allows them to feel objects, like a torch, and action, like a rocking bridge, around them.
Hollywood has toyed with bringing that kind of visceral experience into movie theaters during regular — non VR — films. At some Regal theaters, for example, viewers can occasionally select a movie that's offered as a 4DX option, specific theater rooms with chairs that add effects from moving with jolts and bumps, say as you're watching someone get hit in a car, to water that sprays on them if they're watching an ocean scene. The experience, while allowing someone to feel what their seeing on the screen, can be at times off-putting — particularly being sprayed, in the dark, in the face.
At Dreamscape, people can take part in short virtual reality experiences in a theater-like environmentGearBrain
But Hollywood filmmakers are also working on bringing VR effects to feature films, even as it's unclear whether these movies would eventually play in traditional theaters or in a home-environment. Certainly, viewers are able to see original movies at home, those that have never been released in a movie theater. The recent film from Martin Scorsese, "The Irishman," for example, just earned multiple Oscar nominations including Directing and Best Picture, and yet has only played, so far, on the TV-based subscription service Netflix.
Creating VR films that are only designed to be played or experienced at home, or in a special theaters, could be next. Virtual reality certainly played a big role at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival. But long-form VR feature firms? None appear to have been announced to date. Still, that move could spark the Oscars and the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences to more deeply consider a new category, or at least begin to give a more regular nod to this visual — and haptic — technology.