The Back Of The Brain May Soon Rule The Roost

If industry reports are to be believed, Apple is poised to release a mixed-reality headset at some point in 2023. Of course, it’s anyone’s guess when Apple’s Reality Pro will actually see the holographic light of day, but one thing is worth noting: The advent of a mass-produced AR headset (albeit at 3000 USD) could portend significant changes for DOPs looking ahead to working in the AR space.

For one thing, Apple’s new headset gives impetus to an all-8K workflow, from image capture to the internal display. Any less resolution at a mere 2K or 4K can seriously detract from the viewer experience that requires the merging of multiple real and virtual elements across a 360º field of view.

In recognition of AR’s heightened back-of-brain response, DOPs will need to tweak their skillset.  Sharp focus across the field of view is imperative as rapidly approaching, soft, or out-of-focus objects are construed as a genuine threat.

In recognition of AR’s heightened back-of-brain response, DOPs will need to tweak their skillset. Sharp focus across the field of view is imperative as rapidly approaching, soft, or out-of-focus objects are construed as a genuine threat.

And therein lies the rub – and peril for DOPs attempting to navigate the impending AR/VR morass.

This is because audiences have always regarded the two-dimensional world of movies and TV as a make-believe medium. They understand implicitly that the fiction presented on screen is just that - fiction. When someone dies on screen or suffers a horrible illness, viewers know at the deepest reaches of their beings that the person did not actually die. The blood, guts, emotional turmoil, and all the rest, are a story fabrication, to be experienced and (presumably) enjoyed courtesy of the viewer’s frontal lobe i.e. the rational portion of their brain.

Mixed-reality DOPs should be sure to avoid common technical snafus such as misaligned left and right images that wreak havoc in the headsets of viewers.

Mixed-reality DOPs should be sure to avoid common technical snafus such as misaligned left and right images that wreak havoc in the headsets of viewers.

Don Apple’s new mixed-reality headset and that cozy dynamic changes completely as viewers fuse the disparate elements from multiple sources into a single, immersive, stereoscopic image. Most viewers will go along with the ruse and process the imagistic dissonance in a calm, routine way, but there is more to the AR story. The front of the brain understands the composite 3D scene is not real, it’s only a movie. But the back of the brain that is responsible for our survival and physical well-being, isn’t so sure. The primitive brain reacts as if on auto-pilot, producing a fight-or-flight response over which viewers have little or no control. Gory scenes of fellow homo sapiens running amok with their heads chopped off will evoke a strong visceral response and likely prompt viewers to reach for the remote control, check their email – or visit the refrigerator for much-needed solace.

DOPs working in AR must pay particular attention to the color red. The introduction of a deep red element can provoke an unintended response in viewers that includes headaches, nausea, and even epileptic fits in some people. This is because the animal brain, over which the viewer has no control, associates red with real, imminent danger.

DOPs working in AR must pay particular attention to the color red. The introduction of a deep red element can provoke an unintended response in viewers that includes headaches, nausea, and even epileptic fits in some people. This is because the animal brain, over which the viewer has no control, associates red with real, imminent danger.

Because stereoscopic AR toys with the animal portion of the brain, DOPs dabbling in the AR realm must pay particular attention to a panoply of potential snafus with respect to camera setup, lens alignment, and focus – all of which can deleteriously impact the viewer experience. Left and right images that are vertically misaligned or are rotated off-axis can be especially difficult for the primitive brain to reconcile.

Out-of-focus objects present a special challenge to viewers as the animal brain may perceive rapidly approaching, unidentified objects as a source of genuine danger. Thinking about the physical, (mostly) logical world we live in, it makes perfect sense: Blurry, unrecognized objects within our field of view may produce the feeling of an impending stroke or brain hemorrhage.

There are other craft issues for DOPs to consider. Forced perspective, used commonly in 2D productions to promote the three-dimensional illusion, can be very uncomfortable to viewers experiencing the magic of AR. While three-dimensional depth cues like forced perspective should be used sparingly and with appropriate caution, the motion depth cues from a moving camera affixed to a gimbal can actually help calm the back-of-brain turmoil.

DOPs must also carefully consider a proper color palette. The injection of red into a scene, for instance, invokes instant danger and unease; the red connoting blood, fire, and peril. As storytellers, of course, maybe this is what we want - or maybe it isn’t. Savvy DOPs, operating in the AR realm, must be constantly mindful of the viewer’s back-of-the-head response because on a primitive, unconscious level, the threat is real.

For DOPs, AR mixed-reality headset presents a dramatically different storytelling environment. The integration of holograms, live action, and the viewer’s own hand and eye movements, will surely define the look and feel of AR programs, and transform the kinds of stories that can be told.

With the advent of AR in a serious way, we will not simply be dealing with the viewer’s rational, compliant mind, but the irrational, primitive, often fearful one of our ancestors from 200,000 years ago.

Do I see more cavemen stories in the future?

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