Virtual Reality in Filming

Virtual Reality in Filming

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Virtual Reality in Filming

The growth in technology has significant effects on various areas, including the production of films. The emergence of virtual reality (VR) is an example of an innovation, which continues to transform how multiple areas go about their operations. Shin (2018) asserts that it is often applied in storytelling as it is deemed an appropriate avenue for interactive narration in the film industry. Telling the story using VR permits the user to gain entry into a virtually formulated scenario representing a story. An account is created as a computer graphic virtual environment, which can be put into online virtual platforms and viewed either conventionally on a monitor or an immersive system such as a head-tracked display. The report focuses on how VR helps to create films that have levels of immersion compelling the viewers to develop empathy. It argues that this technology serves a fundamental purpose in elevating how the audience relates to the production, including facilitating emotional attachment.

Describing Virtual Reality

Virtual reality is increasingly becoming a vital working tool in various areas. Shin (2018) describes it to be a computer-produced experience that can take the form (simulate) of the physical state in imagined or real environments. VR serves critical roles in various areas, including gaming and the medical sector where practitioners use the technology to curb eating and anxiety disorders (Schutte & Stilinovic, 2017). It may also help to deal with stress and train persons living with autism (Schutte & Stilinovic, 2017). The increased use of VR compels different groups to embrace the technology that introduces new ways of filming. Manovich (1995) implies how the arrivals of new technologies have facilitated the creation of digital cinema, which primarily focuses on creating interactive narratives. The players in the filming sector hope that VR will allow cinema to narrate its stories in a new format.

The widespread of the technology has set another trend: creating and delivering films using VR. The tool can support the production of sophisticated cinema and is tailored to promote complex viewer interactions. VR helps to achieve immersion, which refers to a situation where the film entirely takes the viewers’ thoughts (Shin, 2018). It helps to achieve immersion and presence, which is not only the passive watching of a movie but a complete connection with the production as if one is taking part in the movie (Shin, 2018). The audience in many situations takes VR films in the way they perceive and want to experience them. Even though designers come up with VR constructs and create stories, the ultimate choice remains with the viewers who engage with the productions.

Investigations confirm that virtual reality has a significant impact on the way the viewers develop empathy towards the production. Empathy, according to the description by Schutte and Stilinovic (2017), refers to the capacity to visualize the world from a different view fused with emotional reactions to the perspective, encompassing feelings of concern for others. The psychologists continue to argue that the behavioral and perceptual actions connected with empathy enhance the coexistence of groups and serve as the foundation for significant social interactions (Schutte and Stilinovic, 2017). It occurs that higher levels of empathy help to achieve a more pro-social act and become more socially competent regarding behavior. Professions in various areas now apply empathy to elevate their connection with the people they serve, and a good example is the situation when the medical providers must exhibit higher levels of competence.

The 3D immersive technologies such as VR create a feeling of being in a different place and further give viewers the opportunity to attach to the video emotionally. Experiencing a film that employs VR as a witness and feeling the view of a cast revealed in the story give the viewers a specialized entry into the sounds, sights, and even to the emotions and feelings connected with the story. Shin (2018) performs a 2 X 2 between-subject survey to find out whether 3D technologies such as VR increase immersion and elevate the levels of empathy. The study incorporates two levels of immersion, including a flat-screen-TV-based and a VR-content-based platform, as well as two personalities encompassing low and high empathy traits. The viewers in the high immersion group watched the film putting on VR headsets, such as the Google Cardboard and the Samsung HDM models applied for VR-content-based delivery (Shin, 2018). The low immersion group, on the other hand, watched the film on conventional apps, websites, and TVs. The investigator concludes that the team using the 3D immersive techniques recorded higher levels of empathy compared to the group that used the conventional forms.

Immersion and Empathy in Clouds over Sidra

The viewers of Clouds over Sidra would experience increased immersion and empathy following the prolific infusion of VR in the production. The 2015 film created by Gabo Arora and Chris Milk and produced by Socrates Kakoulides narrates the story of young lass, taking the viewer through her life in the refugee camp in Syria. The first ever film shot using VR for the UN and which seeks to promote the UN’s call to highlight the predicaments of vulnerable communities describes how Sidra (the twelve-year-old narrator) and other 84,000 Syrian refugees have to cope with harsh conditions at the Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan (Kakoulides, 2015).  It makes the audience feel like they are sitting with the narrator at her poorly-built classroom and watch pupils run over the dirty streets in the camp. The viewer feels as if they can smell the aroma from the bakery near the field, which creates empathy and the audience feel sorry for the tribulations facing the child. They can experience the production on VR headset like Vrse app or the Oculus Rift tool.

The viewers confirm the argument by Shin (2017) that VR redefines the rules around character development, narrative structure, and storytelling. The technology permits filmmakers to come up with characters who bring out a vivid description of their situation and gives the makers the freedom to develop the structure as they wish. The storytelling in the production takes a different course from the traditional form of providing the viewers with one perspective while hiding the other (2D) and having to adhere to strict ways of developing the script. VR therefore gives filmmakers the freedom to be flexible, creative, and more convincing.

Furthermore, the documentary by Arora and Milk reiterates the argument by Shin (2017) that the primary objective of VR in storytelling is to tell a story that would evoke emotion to influence action. The harsh conditions at the camp create immersion, and the chilling narration contributes towards the development of empathy from the viewers. The description of the girl makes the audience feel like they would want to help the refugees and puts the viewers in the narrator’s shoes.

Immersion and Empathy in on the Brink of Famine

Marcelle Hopkins’ virtual reality documentary On the Brink of Famine (2016) is another example of how a film can achieve immersion and empathy through its use of VR. The story narrates the plight of South Sudanese citizens who are facing hunger with at least 40,000 at the risk of facing starvation following a ravaging civil war. The production comes following the declaration by the UN that the citizens of South Sudan are experiencing unprecedented amounts of food insecurity with the crisis expected to rise. The film that applies the 360-degree form of shooting captures the viewers’ attention, especially in the way the victims have to rely on the food supplies they get from the UN and other well-wishers. The audience feels as if it is experiencing the catastrophe first-hand, and this feature contributes towards the elevated levels of empathy. The way VR impacts the viewers’ empathy in On the Brink of Famine is almost similar to the way the audience is attached in Clouds over Sidra, thus suggesting how filmmakers are increasingly using VR to create more connection with what they communicate.

VR Psychology

One would acquire a more concrete understanding of how VR builds immersion and empathy by considering its psychology. The psychology mostly revolves around three questions the answers on which shall provide a clear view of how the technique manages to achieve immersion. It requires the understanding of how immersion connects to human characters of empathic behavior in VR productions and how human tendencies of empathy and immersion perceive flow and presence differently. A precise view of how VR psychology functions also requires one to know how users view immersion and how it influences empathy in VR narrations.  The findings by Shin (2017) indicate that immersive interfaces do not facilitate the feeling of satisfaction or engagement. Shin (2017) shares a similar perception with the information in Chapter 2 (Väliaho, 2014) that immersion and empathy while incorporating VR rely on user contexts and traits. Furthermore, it emerges that the role of immersion largely depends on user intention and sense-making. A good example appears in Clouds over Sidra where the way viewers build emotions would depend on how they perceive the story. The audience would decide whether seeing the way people lead impoverished lives at the camp would intrigue them to develop immersion and empathy. The psychology of VR in filming in the relation to the development of immersion and empathy, therefore, relies on how the viewer perceives the story.



Implications of VR Films

Films such as Clouds over Sidra and On the Brink of Famine may serve as useful ways of urging the government and non-profit organizations to take part in activities supporting humanitarian aid. Herson (2016) acknowledges how films that apply the 360 technique are employed by governments, NGOs, and international non-profit institutions to advocate for various political and social issues. The description provides hope that the tool is already becoming applicable in addressing the problems people face in the different areas. The idea that VR films may act as a tool for improving the need to help the less fortunate people should serve as a motivating factor to producers who want to address the plights communities in various areas face.


The report supports increased immersion and empathy when viewing VR films. Clouds over Sidra and On the Brink of Famine provide substantial examples of how the technology helps to improve attachment with the viewers. The target audiences in both films feel as if they are having a real experience of the tribulations the casts in the documentaries are facing. The ability to achieve immersion and empathy when using VR should motivate more filmmakers to embrace the technology, which is already creating a difference in the film industry.








Väliaho P. (2014).  Biopolitical screens: Image, power, and the neoliberal brain. Future perfect: First-person shooters, neuropower, preemption. 28-60. Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Herson, B. (2016). Empathy engines: How virtual reality films may (or may not) revolutionize education. Comparative Education Review, 60(4), 853-862.

Hopkins, M. (2016). On the brinks of famine. USA.

Kakoulides, S. (2015). Clouds over Sidra. USA.

Manovich, L. (1995). What is digital cinema? 20-50. Retrieved from

Schutte, N., & Stilinovic, E. (2017). Facilitating empathy through virtual reality. Motivational Emotions, 41, 708-712.

Shin, D. (2017). Empathy and embodied experience in virtual environment: To what extend can virtual reality stimulate empathy and embodied experience? Computers in Human Behavior, 78, 64-73.

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