YouTube Uses Virtual Reality to Let You Be the Terminator

terminator 360
Courtesy of YouTube

Ever wanted to see famous YouTubers getting hunted down by a ruthless killer machine? Now you can — from the eyes of the Terminator himself: YouTube star Lilly Singh a.k.a. Superwoman released a 360-degree video of the Terminator going berserk in the YouTube Space LA studio Monday that can be watched with Google’s Cardboard virtual reality (VR) viewer.

The three-minute clip comes with a simple plot, which is summarized by none other that Arnold Schwarzenegger himself: A Terminator has been set loose in YouTube’s Los Angeles studio facility, and it’s up to Superwoman and other YouTubers to make sure it doesn’t destroy the future of online video. Viewers are taken right into the point-of-view of the Terminator, complete with all the visual effects known to anyone who has ever watched any of the Terminator movies.

“Terminator Genisys: The YouTube Chronicles in 360”, as the video is officially called, is part of a partnership between YouTube, some of its creators and Paramount Studios to promote the new Terminator Genisys franchise, which also includes a three-part webisode that expands on the plot of a Terminator visiting YouTube’s production facility.

For the 360-degree video, YouTube teamed up with the Venice-based VR production company Specular Theory, whose previous work includes the Sundance Selection VR short “Perspective.”

Specular Theory founder and CEO Morris May explained during an interview this week that his team shot the VR video on set while YouTubers were also working on the other webisodes for the campaign — a highly unusual setup, since the 360-degree perspective allows viewers to explore every single corner. That only worked because the plot itself was all about being behind the scenes at a production facility, he said: “The fact that there were lights in the scene didn’t affect us.”

Then again, working under unusual circumstances pretty much sums up how VR is done these days. Specular Theory has built its own camera rig to record 360-degree-videos as well as its own VR video production pipeline, and is tweaking the technology for every new project. May said that about half of the work on every project goes into getting the tech right. However, he also warned that there is a danger to put too much emphasis on the number of cameras used for a 360-degree shoot, and not pay enough attention to making a plot work in VR. “We build the technology to tell a story,” he said.

Terminator Genisys: The YouTube Chronicles in 360 may well be the first VR breakout hit for YouTube since the video site added support for VR videos to its app earlier this month. YouTube’s mobile app now lets users press a special button to view such videos with a VR headset like Google’s cardboard viewer. Alternatively, users can simply watch the movie with their phone, and tilt it to explore every angle. May was bullish about YouTube’s role for VR, saying that it not only adds a huge distribution platform, but also offers VR filmmakers analytics and even monetization options.

In the end, the future of VR may well be clips uploaded to YouTube, or even sold through subscription video services, he said. “I honestly feel like entertainment is the killer app, not gaming.”

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