2 min read.Updated: 11 Mar 2020, 10:26 PM ISTShail Desai
VR hands viewers the experience of, quite literally, entering the scene and soaking in a 360-degree view of the environment
The technology was already present in the West, but it became commercially viable in early 2015 once powerful smartphones were available
Sairam Sagiraju, 31, first encountered the world of virtual reality (VR) when he was a creative head at Housing.com. He was looking to create short videos in VR for the real estate search portal, and as part of his first brush with the medium, he couldn’t over the experience of looking at a dinosaur straight in the eye. It made the Mumbai-based Sagiraju realize the potential of VR to narrate stories he had in mind. So, in 2015, he co-founded Meraki Virtual Reality Studios to makes virtual reality films that place his audience at the heart of all the action.
“Every project led me to where I am today. Like many, I started with conventional filmmaking, where I worked on documentaries and a number of music videos. At Housing.com, I had the chance to explore stereoscopic 3D while researching how VR could be used. I quit the job to set up Meraki," Sagiraju says.
While conventional filmmaking only captures the frame that pans out in front of the camera, VR hands viewers the experience of, quite literally, entering the scene and soaking in a 360-degree view of the environment. The film is shot using multiple cameras to capture the entire setting, which means that the crew and all the equipment must be out of sight while the filming is done remotely. While most movies can be viewed on a regular screen, VR films can only be seen through a VR headset. “When you look at a TV, you look at images that appear in the rectangle of the screen. VR is path-breaking because a viewer can experience the world around them," he says. For instance, he explains, a social film he’s worked on is about the Deonar dumping ground in Mumbai. “Nobody really wants to step out and be there physically, but a VR film can put you right in the middle of it. The idea was to give viewers a look at the surroundings and make them to realize they too were responsible for it in some way."
The early days of Meraki, though, were fraught with difficulties. Sagiraju was among the first generation of VR filmmakers and he had to spend a lot of time exchanging notes with others like him around the world to understand the medium.
The technology was already present in the West, but it became commercially viable in early 2015 once powerful smartphones were available. After that, it evolved, which meant there was never a dull moment for the folks at Meraki. While Sagiraju and his team spent their resources understanding the medium, the other co-founders started looking at marketing. “A lot of things had to be figured out on our own since there wasn’t any reference material. A lot of rules were written from scratch," Sagiraju says.
The investment during the early days paid off in no time. Meraki was started with around ₹5 lakh, which was recovered within the first three months. There on, all profits were invested in buying better equipment that can cost anywhere between ₹6-30 lakh.
“The software available today is quite advanced, so the difference between VR and conventional films—from the time taken to the costs involved—is gradually shrinking today," Sagiraju says.
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