Smell-O-Vision. 3D glasses. IMAX.

There was a time in the not too distant past when these forms of entertainment were the pinnacle of an immersive experience. Smell-O-Vision was revolutionary in incorporating the power of scent and the olfactory system into the movie experience. 3D glasses and 3D movies ushered in a new dimension to filmmaking and consumption. IMAX brought an exciting vehicle to explore movement and motion.

Considered game-changers at their inception, these now relatively primitive forms of immersive entertainment have been built upon or ultimately replaced by the vast advancements and improvements in entertainment technology. Today, entertainment consumers can experience film, TV, websites, and more in such interactive ways that the technological foundations on which these experiences are built have been applied to other industries aside from entertainment.

The power of immersive technology as it’s deployed by the entertainment industry not only has the power to delight and entice, but it can also be a powerful educational, informational, and instructional tool for companies and industry spaces adjacent to the entertainment field who are looking to create more dynamic, interactive content.

With this in mind, let’s examine several prime examples of immersive technologies and the programmers, developers, and technology professionals behind them to better understand the important and potential future of immersive tech.

What is Immersive Entertainment?

Before we can identify different types of immersive entertainment and the primary roles associated with creating it, let’s first establish a basic understanding of what immersive entertainment is and its place within the larger entertainment landscape.

Immersive entertainment is classified as any interface or platform that pulls a viewer into another real or imagined world, enabling them to manipulate and interact with their environment in a variety of dynamic ways. Immersive experiences use a blend of visual technology, audio, dynamic interfacing, and other interactive tools to bring to life a world that the user would be otherwise unable to experience without these digital integrations.

For example, let’s look at purchasing a new home. In today’s world, you’re likely to take a virtual tour of the property prior to a physical tour. Depending on the level of sophistication, this virtual tour likely includes 360-degree views of each room, the ability to drop-in custom visualizations of furniture or appliance options, and even tours of the surrounding neighborhood via satellite views from a service like Google Maps.

Though this is not strictly an entertainment piece, it’s a good example of how immersive technology can be defined and applied outside of the entertainment space, and how today’s coders, developers, and programmers can conceive of immersive technology as an experiential tool.

5 Types of Immersive Technology

Augmented reality

Also referred to as AR, augmented reality uses technology aided by a smartphone or device camera to add a computer-simulated layer of information on top of the real world. Essentially, AR functions like a footnote for the real world whereby additional information in the form of graphics, illustrations, representations, and the like can be added to enhance the environment around you. As such, the prime difference between AR and VR (virtually reality) is that AR enhances the world you’re experiencing rather than creating a new world from scratch.

Virtual reality

Virtual reality (VR) immerses the user inside a digital simulation in which they can interact with a completely fabricated environment. Whereas AR is designed to enhance a world the user likely already has facility with, VR is best deployed when it transports the user to a digital world in which they have no previous association where great emphasis is placed on stimulating as many physical senses as possible.

Mixed reality

As the name would lead you to believe, mixed reality essentially combines elements of AR and VR to create a hybrid world that is both fabricated, completely dynamic, and supplemented with information layering pulled from real-world environments or experiences. Part of the value proposition of mixed reality is its ability to integrate virtual objects into a real-world scenario as opposed to simply adding information in service of creating a more immersive, holistic user experience.

Digital twins

Digital twins are near-exact virtual models of real-world objects, systems, and processes that are most often found in industrial manufacturing and engineering where the ability to alter production plans in real-time is critical to production efficiency. A digital twin provides the user with a completely virtual mock-up and experience of the real-world object, system, or process to test for functionality and efficiency before it is deployed into a real-world setting.

360-degree content

360-degree content is a photo or video that the user can explore in a 360-degree way via a series of cameras providing data about a photo from a variety of angles. A more low-tech example would be the panorama setting on your smartphone or mobile device where you can scan a given field in order to create a more dynamic photo or video.

Careers in immersive entertainment

As with nearly any sub-field in the technology space, the opportunity for coders, programmers, and technology developers to become truly disruptive forces and revolutionize any given space is as wide open as it is in any other industry. This is particularly true of immersive technology relative to the entertainment field where technology professionals are just beginning to scratch the surface of what these immersive experiences can provide audiences across a variety of mediums.

Design architects produce the exterior contours of wearable technology, which is rapidly becoming a major growth sector of today’s marketplace. Customer feedback and consumer demands are a constantly shifting sand, so whether it is creating a head-mounted display or refining the edges behind a simple but AR-powered eye-glass, design architects must adapt wearable devices to meet the needs of the customer. Design architects are primarily focused on the hardware aspect of wearable technology as opposed to the software elements.

Software developers more or less build the engines that drive the forward motion of nearly all the technology we use on a daily basis, and that is also true of software developers in the entertainment space. Critical skills for success as a software developer in the entertainment space include data structures and algorithms, programming, databases, networking, and quality assurance, but the ability to navigate connected networks is also taking center stage.

3D artists mix and integrate creative elements such as color, texture, lights to manufacture an image, landscape, or world in which users can feel truly transported to a specific time and place. As such, a thorough knowledge and background with standard design and art software such as standard software, V-Ray, SketchUp, and 3ds Max is critical, and so is a strong artistic inclination to marry both art and science to create something truly immersive.

System validation engineers are the tie that binds the operations team and the development team in order to facilitate efficient processes, streamlined workflows, and robust data management and reporting structures to track progress and evaluate success of programs. System validation engineers are also responsible for testing software, troubleshooting programs, and engaging in other forms of quality assurance to drive best-of-breed products and chart courses for improvements.

While each of these career paths requires different sets of skills, experiences, passions, and motivations, they all work as part of a larger framework to continue the innovation immersive technology has provided not only the entertainment space but a variety of other industries as well. Coders, developers, and programmers with the imagination, creativity, and diverse interests looking to make their mark in the technology arena may discover that immersive technology gives them an exciting and rewarding sandbox in which to play.

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