What happens when you combine an Academy Award winning studio with the emerging medium of VR? We are about to find out. Speaking with Ian Hunter, the co-founder of New Deal Studios – the award winning effects studio behind Interstellar, The Dark Knight, X-Men: Days of Future Past, The Avengers, Inception and many more films you likely have seen, I learned that the company would be making the jump from effects to content creation, with VR as a major focus.
When we last spoke with Hunter, he was at Sundance showing off his latest VR short – Kaiju Fury, which he produced with Jaunt. So this won’t be his first rodeo, but much like how Google realized that Cardboard needed to shift from a ‘20% project’ to a full focus project – Hunter realized the time was ripe to make the shift to working on content production full time. “We reached that penultimate level of winning an Oscar and now it’s time to really show people what we can do in the more traditional filmmaking world” says Hunter. “That’s one of the reasons we are shifting that way and because VR is at the point where it is going to become accepted and accessible. It just happens to be coincidentally at this same time, and with our backgrounds it seems natural to try and take a jump into VR and combine that with our desire to be filmmakers.”
Hunter wants to experiment with a lot of different things in VR, “I’m interested in doing action, interested in comedy, interested in a lot of things, there are so many genres that you could really apply to VR and I’m interested to try and see what really works.” Hunter believes there are certain types of scenes that may work in VR that didn’t work in traditional cinema as well. For example, he specifically mentioned long scenes where you are sitting around the table with characters talking as being something that he finds extremely boring in traditional cinema, “but in VR that might be really great if you are sitting at that table and you are a part of that scene.”
Right now, New Deal Studios is currently at work on three different VR projects – but they have a lot more in the planning stages. Hunter says the team is polishing up their work on Kaiju Fury and The Mission both of which should be done soon. New Deal Studios also has been worked with OTOY to help produce content for the NHL, which they are currently finishing up. Hunter also mentioned they were going to work with OTOY on “some lightfield stuff,” but not on the technical side. In addition to that New Deal Studios is also currently working with Brandon Zamel on a “narrative music video” for the group Galvanized Souls which they are expecting to be finished by the end of the month. What is coming down the pipeline, though, may be even more exciting.
Hunter told me about a horror anthology series – in a similar vein to Tales from the Crypt – that he was planning. The project would involve a collection of directors each of whom would be able to “take a stab – both literally and figuratively at that short form horror genre.” Hunter wants to draw from a bit more of an amatuer pool of filmmakers for the project, and intends for the project to stray away from Eli Roth-esque gore porn style episodes. “Rob Zombie might be more interesting to me as a style, Eli Roth is more… gross.” New Deal Studios isn’t just going to be creating wholly original content either, “we’re also liking the idea of reenacting history.” But noted that educational and historical content will be need to be very carefully crafted in order to represent it factually without biases “which could be dangerous.”
The current VR ecosystem in Hollywood involves a lot of movie tie in projects – like the one for Interstellar – and Hunter sees VR interacting with TV in a similar way. Much like web shorts on Youtube that fill in between episodes – like we have seen with Lost, The Office, and many other shows – New Deal Studios is talking with cable networks and studios about extending their shows into VR. “We’re not only looking to do tie in content,” says Hunter, “but to give them extended content that wouldn’t be possible in the constraints of the show.” Illustrating an example, “imagine you could follow the victim’s story before they were killed on a show like True Detective.”
One of the things that Hunter told me while I was geeking out with him over Interstellar was that the team really embraced traditional, natural effects over CG when possible, it was something that Christopher Nolan insisted on. It would seem that philosophy is carrying over into New Deal Studios’ approach to VR, “We are trying to go a little bit further and be a little bit more pure with the live action aspect of it,” Hunter continued, “but we come from VFX from a tool agnostic perspective, we go for whatever really looks good. So we will emphasize live action first, and supplement that with CG when we need to.”
Up to this point, the content we have seen from Hunter and New Deal Studios has been in partnership with Jaunt, who just announced a content studio of their own. That will not necessarily continue to be the case in the future. “We don’t want to be married to a singular solution, that’s why when we did the NHL stuff we worked with OTOY.” They are still working with them on their current projects – The Mission and Kaiju Fury, but New Deal Studios is looking to be “flexible and camera agnostic” in the future.
New Deal Studios’ shift to content production with a major focus on VR is potentially massive news for the industry. Virtual reality is getting big, like really big, in Hollywood and the buzz around the medium is getting louder every day. Virtual reality movie tie in projects have been the main driving force up to this point, but that is surely soon to change as content producers like New Deal Studios bring big names to the industry. New Deal Studios is easily the highest profile studio to cannonball into the VR cinematic pool full force, and like the movie cliche, when the popular person hops in the pool – everyone follows.