This week, 130,000 comic book and pop culture fans flocked to San Diego for the 35th annual installment of Comic-Con. The four-day convention brought an abundance of surprises, celebrities and long lines of costumed fans, as movies and TV shows vied for buzz throughout the weekend.
The event also brought an invasion of virtual reality. Amidst an impromptu open-air concert for the highly-anticipated “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” film and the first glimpses of Ben Affleck’s Batman challenging Henry Cavill’s Man of Steel, virtual and augmented reality experiences were plentiful at Comic-Con.
Television networks capitalized on the movement to show Con-goers the growing intersection between VR and Hollywood. TNT, FX, AMC, and TBS were among the networks who designed virtual experiences to promote their upcoming series.
TNT allowed users to step into the post-apocalyptic universe of “The Last Ship,” where fans traveled aboard a cargo ship in the hopes of retrieving the remnants of a primordial strain to cure the planet’s plague-ridden population.
Cable network FX also gave guests a 4D virtual reality experience in an effort to promote its new show, “The Strain.” FX allowed guests to sample life as a vampire hunter using a Samsung Gear VR headset, adding chairs that vibrate and wind blasts for effect.
Sony partnered with Project Morpheus to put on a “Walking Dead” VR game demonstration, where users got to experience the popular AMC series in all its grisly, bloody glory. TBS even broadcasted the Conan O’Brien nightly talk live from San Diego in 360-degree VR for fans to watch through Google Cardboard, the proclaimed “gateway drug” to virtual reality.
Throughout the conference, Hollywood also demonstrated its first steps into the brave new world of virtual-reality filmmaking. Legendary Pictures allowed Comic-Con-goers to step inside the upcoming “Warcraft” fantasy film and the horror film “Crimson Peak” with Google Cardboard, as they partnered with Google to distribute 50,000 of the VR headsets.
And although there was no trailer released for the upcoming “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” a new Star Wars app did reveal an augmented reality experience at Comic-Con. When fans aimed their phones at one of the some 20,000 Storm Trooper posters given away at the conference’s Star Wars booth, two AR characters were unlocked. The two characters, a Storm Trooper and the film’s new droid, BB-8, appeared to move in and around fans’ phones as part of the AR experience. More AR characters are rumored to be revealed leading up to the “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” release in December.
While virtual reality took Comic-Con by storm, the conference was a microcosm of the medium’s ongoing journey towards a mainstream breakthrough. Comic-Con, a four-day extravaganza which celebrates the latest and greatest in pop culture and attracts the most die-hard fans in the business, was likely the best venue to test the realm of VR cinema. What’s next? Our money is on virtual reality’s permanent residency in Hollywood, and that the next superhero franchise will be coming to a headset near you.