One of my heroes in the field of computer graphics, Lance Williams, once told me that one of the wonderful things about CGI is that it “is limited only by your imagination.” Accepting that realization gives us enormous power as creators, yet Peter Parker’s uncle Joe was also right when he cautioned that “with great power comes great responsibility” (although Voltaire said it first).
There is a temptation when creating new worlds in CGI, and particularly in VR, to fully embrace the absolute power of one’s imagination. Yet within this power lurks a paradox. People don’t respond the most strongly to the exotic, but rather to the familiar.
It is the fact that Peter Parker is a loser in his everyday life that makes him so popular with fans. Lois Lane might have the hots for Superman, but we sympathize with Clark Kent, who doesn’t get the girl. The vulnerable, the ordinary, the everyday is what grounds us, what draws us into a tale.
Which is one reason that many people at our lab are less interested in the spectacular, and more interested in the quotidien. Sure, we can create fantastical worlds, magical castles and fiery dragons, and that’s always fun.
But like Rene Magritte, we would love to use our chosen medium to help people see — truly see — what is all around them, what is all too often overlooked. Our art should connect to and illuminate their own personal values.
It’s not just what happens while you are in VR that is important, but what happens afterward. Wouldn’t it be wonderful, after taking off your VR headset, to find yourself truly appreciating the incredible wonder of this beautiful world that has always been around you?