A Made-in-Canada Solution to One of VR’s Biggest Challenges: Directing Attention

Liquid Cinema is a software that makes it possible to create a virtual reality (VR) experience where viewers never miss an important moment of the film, no matter where they look.

As far as storytelling mediums go, cinematic VR (or immersive 360° video) is the new kid on the block. It’s both immensely powerful (with the ability to immerse your audience in the story) and highly intimidating for many filmmakers who seek to properly harness its power.

Deep, a Toronto-based production company, faced these challenges head on when it sought to produce The Polar Sea, the world’s first long format 360° documentary film.

Four years later, with funding support from the Canada Media Fund (CMF), the company is pioneering new ways to make and distribute cinematic VR content using its Liquid Cinemasoftware.

“Liquid Cinema is a tool for any filmmaker, allowing them to create scalable cinematic VR experiences intuitively and easily. I wanted to create the foundation of a platform that solves some of the significant problems with this medium,” explains Thomas Wallner, CEO and founder of Deep.

Better Control of the User Experience in Cinematic VR

Liquid Cinema enables broadcasters and content providers to distribute cinematic VR content via the web, on mobile and VR devices, without having to re-edit and reformat it for individual devices. It’s also a powerful toolbox for filmmakers who want to weave narratives within 360° VR experiences.

“What has plagued cinematic VR is it does not have a frame. A filmmaker does not have the ability to direct attention like they do in traditional film. We have developed a patent pending system that allows you to reframe the shot on a cut. We basically reorient the sphere programmatically,” adds Wallner.

In short, Liquid Cinema’s Forced Perspective feature perfectly reframes every cut in a 360° film for the viewer, regardless of what the viewer was looking at right before the cut. The effect creates a narrative experience, just like in traditional film, while allowing the viewer to look around and live an immersive experience.

You can give this feature a try on Liquid Cinema’s website (please note that the demo version works only with Chrome): https://beta.liquidcinemavr.com/support-articles/forced-perspective-demo/

“Filmmakers are spending all this time using features like sound and graphical cues like arrows just to try to get people to look where they want. We’ve solved that problem completely. What we’re doing is expanding traditional cinema in a way to make it immersive while still preserving its essence.”

Combining 360° Video and Traditional Film in One Film

Liquid Cinema also allows filmmakers to combine traditional film (2D) and 360° film into one timeline (click here for an example). “What we have done is create a new form of visual communication that did not exist before,” explains Wallner, adding it is easy to create these multi-format experiences, even if you have no development experience.

“Somebody can author an experience like this in a matter of hours. Before, it would have taken a developer handling these unique Unity projects across several platforms for weeks. So I think it completely changes the economics of creating cinematic VR.”

Gaze-triggered Graphics

According to Wallner, Liquid Cinema also addresses another key problem facing VR storytellers: how can graphics and titles be effectively added to 360° films?

Viewers can look all around them in a VR experience, making it easy to miss important information. That’s why Liquid Cinema worked on a system that allows for graphics to always show up in front of the viewer’s gaze, no matter where he or she is looking.

“On our platform, all of these graphical layers are based on your gaze and on its timing. [It’s] a process of which the audience is completely unaware and it restores control to the filmmaker,” says Wallner.

Since Liquid Cinema allows filmmakers to edit using metadata, without having to create new versions of the film for individual platforms, creators can easily create gaze-triggered graphics with perfect formatting for each of the different devices that audiences are using to access content.

Canadian Creators, U.S. and European Markets

One of Deep’s first major Liquid Cinema projects was for Arte, the French-German broadcaster. Wallner and his team helped to develop an app that enables filmmakers to create and share content based on Liquid Cinema.

Since then, the project has evolved and Liquid Cinema has developed a considerable footprint in Europe. With the funds received from the CMF, Deep has been able to expand considerably into the U.S. as well, tapping a huge market. The Canadian market, however, has been slower to respond.

“It seems to us that American and European markets are a lot more active and beneficial to our trajectory, but there are innovators who are creating wonderful content in [Canada].”

Read also: The State of Virtual Reality in Canada

Reducing the costs of hosting and distributing 360° video

This year, dozens of 360° cameras will be released, and Wallner foresees that interest in cinematic VR will continue to grow considerably. He says Liquid Cinema is filling the gap in distribution and easy editing tools and that the program is gaining terrain continuously thanks to constant feedback from its user community.

“We’re seeing an explosion in imaging technology. Filmmakers, journalists, advertisers, and studios are turning toward this technology. What’s kind of missing are the tools to express that. We’re right here at the right time, and with the CMF we're ready to embrace the growing demand. I do think VR is here to stay since people love immersive media and interaction,” states Wallner.

Deep has now partnered with Vimeo, which will make Liquid Cinema more affordable for producers and creators.

“Hosting of 360° video is very expensive, and now anyone with a Vimeo Pro account is able to have access to a worldwide Content Delivery Network (CDN) at a very reasonable price. They can hook into Liquid Cinema and that lowers everyone’s entry barrier. It has created a new kind of customer base for us,” says Wallner.

“It essentially allows filmmakers to concentrate on the story they want to tell rather than worry about technical details.”

Patrick Faller
Patrick is a writer and creative producer with a passion for Canada’s media, technology and cultural industries. He brings with him many years of experience as a broadcast journalist, professional content writer and consultant in the arts sector. He really loves digital design, filmmaking, video games, and interviewing the multimedia creators who make the world a more magical place. He lives in Charlottetown, PEI with his boyfriend and a menagerie of animals, but you can catch him on social media.
Read Bio