20th Century Fox EVP on the Future of VR and AI in Storytelling: CEDIA Podcast

John Penney of 20th Century Fox says virtual reality and artificial intelligence will change the film industry, requiring new forms of content creation to support personalized, interactive story telling.

20th Century Fox EVP on the Future of VR and AI in Storytelling: CEDIA Podcast

John Penny of 20th Century Fox believes VR's ability to take advantage of adaptive storytelling could open the door to completely novel movie-going experiences.

Today, stories are presented in a linear fashion: exposition, rising action, climax, and ultimately some form of resolution. Put simply, they have a beginning, middle, and end.

But that’s all about to change, according to John Penney, 20th Century Fox's executive VP of consumer business development and strategic partnerships.

Virtual reality (VR) will alter the future of storytelling, he says in a recent CEDIA Tech Council podcast with hosts Ed Wenck and Walt Zerbe.

Instead of a single director’s cut, we’ll see “adaptive” or “self-directed” narratives, Penney explains, where the story adapts to the choices the viewer makes, or based on what they spend time looking at or interacting with.

This isn't some sci-fi fantasy either. Penney predicts over the next 18 to 36 months, VR equipment pricing will drop to the point where creative studios, both in film and TV, will start experimenting with the technology. 

Historically, the sheer cost of a proper virtual reality setup has been its most limiting factor, Penney suggests.  Even home VR sets like Oculus or HTC Vive require beefy, often custom-made PCs to work effectively.

Only when the cost of VR setups reaches the point where the average consumer could have one in their home will we see film and television studios starting to experiment with the technology. 

AI Storytellers 

The natural next question is whether artificial intelligence (AI) will play some sort of role in the film and TV industries?

In terms of writing, Penney doesn't believe scripts will ever be written by AI. “Why even have that? Except to prove that you can do it!”

However, he was more receptive to the idea of directors and writers using AI as a tool for more immersive VR storytelling experiences.

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“There will be elements that AI will support quite nicely in driving creativity when there’s a lot of interaction,” he says, “but the designer of that AI [will have] imbued that character with specific emotional ranges to suit the story.”

Artificial intelligence might also smooth out the kinks that come hand-in-hand with branching decision paths in films and TV.

Think about it: Instead of there being one scene to shoot just before the climax happens, directors may have to shoot dozens of smaller paths that lead to the same climax. AI might be able to help smooth out those decision trees since they are significantly more difficult to write for. 

Supporting 4K With Content

Okay, but where does this leave integrators right now? We content-hungry people are still feeling the sting of upscaling to 4K, instead of getting native 4K content. What's the deal with that? 

“If you make a visual effect…to do it for an HD screen vs a 4K screen could [mean a] doubling in cost or more.” ​

— John Penney, 20th Century Fox

Well, according to Penney, the issue is once again cost. Currently, movies and television programs are designed to look great on both HDTVs and 4K displays, but once 4K becomes commonplace, things get a lot more expensive. 

“If you make a visual effect…to do it for an HD screen vs a 4K screen could [mean a] doubling in cost or more,” he says. There's a desire for more and better content on these screens, but the sheer cost alone makes it effectively a gamble in the eyes of studios. 

In Penney's opinion, the best way for studios to go seems to be trending towards subscription-based models like Netflix or Amazon Video. But even these are not perfect.

A lot of the world cannot afford subscription-based entertainment services, so ad supported subscriptions like Hulu start to become more of a trend, where consumers pay less but still experience some ads along the way. 

To listen to the full podcast where Penney, Wenck, and Zerbe dive even more deeply into these topics, click here

About the Author

Andrew Nichols
Andrew Nichols:

Andrew is a journalist and educator living in the Providence area. He was previously the Editor-in-Chief of a gaming and tech website, and the Managing Editor of his university newspaper, The Torch. He received his Bachelors in Writing and Masters in Teaching from the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.




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