[InKunming--China] Even if tech companies and analysts have repeatedly preached their belief that virtual reality (VR) is the future of entertainment, Chinese filmmakers are taking a wait-and-see attitude.
At the ongoing 6th Beijing International Film Festival, a panel discussion was held on VR in filmmaking. According to iiMedia Research, China's total VR market was worth 1.5 billion yuan (237 million U.S. dollars) in 2015. It is expected to exceed 5.6 billion yuan this year and 55 billion yuan in 2020.
Fantawild Holdings, a producer of children's animations, operates more than 10 theme parks, many with VR built into some attractions, but balks at melding VR with filmmaking.
"I agree that VR has promising applications in gaming, training and education, but I'm cautious about VR's role in film," said senior vice president Ding Liang.
A VR films require a totally different way of storytelling. If viewers are able to explore the environment themselves, their minds can easily wander. Ding said he loves the traditional movie-going experience when the audience sees what the director shows.
Jin Wenjun, co-director of a 12-minute thriller that is allegedly China's first VR drama film, said the biggest challenge was to keep the audience's attention given that they are free to turn their heads wherever the wish.
"This means that all plots must be carefully designed to attract viewers' sight. For example, when the heroine spots something with a look of horror look on her face, you'll naturally turn to what makes her frightened," Jin said.
There are also technical problems. Ding said he would give just a pass mark to today's VR technology despite rapid development in recent years. "The technology is very far from offering convenience and comfort, especially headsets. They are so clumsy."
Xu Fei, CEO of Illumina, a visual effects specialist, believes the limit of VR movies is around 10 minutes. More than that causes nausea. He makes the point however that a 10-minute VR film might suit people's fast-paced lifestyles.
Li Jie, in charge of VR business with China's popular video site Youku Tudou, said films would be the last wave of VR entertainment and it may take five years before VR films emerge in China. He believes science fiction will be the biggest beneficiary of VR, as clips with a space theme attract most clicks, along with webcasts of dance, on the site's VR channel.
"We'll be watching VR this year, but it's too early to come to a conclusion. We should be open to new technology, as technology has always led revolutions in the film industry," said Rao Shuguang, secretary-general of the China Film Association.
China's film market has grown well in recent years with box office sales reaching 44 billion yuan in 2015, up 48.7 percent from 2014. Annual box office receipts are could surpass North America as soon as 2017.