Interactive Storytelling – Virtual Reality and 360 Film
I’ve been waiting for a while to write something more on the interactive storytelling front and VR was the obvious choice. However, it’s taken a while for the dust to settle from Facebook buying Oculus etc, but now I think it’s time to take a look at how VR is going to influence innovation and creativity in storytelling.
Let’s start with 360 video, as it’s likely to be intrinsically linked to live action and VR. Filming something with a 360 camera and letting people use VR glasses, or a VR headset does not make that film VR. It’s not VR. Sorry, just wanted to get that off my chest first. Now that’s out of the way…For anyone involved in live action film, whether that be interactive or otherwise, 360 brings all sorts of new challenges. Firstly there’s the issue of the 360 view itself. Where do you place the camera? How do you hide the lighting, the boom and other equipment? What type of actor do you need?
For camera, lighting, sound etc. it’s a good bet that the location will be the guide. Take the movie Ex Machina. Director Alex Garland filmed some of the scenes in 360 and they were clever when designing the set, lighting, sound etc. They designed everything so all of the equipment was hidden. The lighting was setup and tested before the set was fully designed, meaning they could get the perfect lighting for the shots, which meant that they could incorporate the lighting as part of the set. This is a lot easier than trying to fix or remove anything in post production. Should the location be too open to hide equipment it may well end up being the story that can help incorporate everything, rather than the set. For the short film “Morrison’s Birthday Party” – which I co-wrote and was the AD – the story, as you’d have guessed, was based around a birthday party. We filmed live with multiple cameras filming simultaneously in a large garden. How did we hide the cameras, sound etc? We didn’t. We used a single jib for the centre shots, while working around the garden with the other cameras. The story itself eluded to the fact that they was a crew there to film the party and it was fully incorporated into the script. The outcome? It worked and the film won best short at the NY independent film and video festival.
These are two examples of how you can creatively deal with equipment whilst filming 360 and it’ll be interesting to see more and more solutions to the issue. However, that’s not where the challenges end. What type of actor do you need for 360 and VR? Are actors going to need to become more stage influenced and become more and more able to perform live? If you’re filming 360 – without trying to splice together different shots to make it look like it was filmed that way – you need everyone to be acting at all times, as they’re being filmed at all times.
This is all due to the viewer being able to interact. Even for a more passive 360 film, the viewer can still turn their heads and see everything that’s going on ‘around them’. If the movie itself is a narrative, there’s nothing to stop the viewer from missing elements that the writer and/or director have deliberately included as a vital element of the story. A turn of the head at the wrong time and you’ve missed it.
So, for the writer and director of a 360 movie, there’s that additional challenge. You will have to consider putting visible and audible triggers in the movie, so as to guide the viewer to those moments. These are going to have to be subtle and not so obvious that it ruins the experience. The viewer needs to feel that they are part of the action and allowed to look wherever they want, but still enjoy the narrative.
What about interactivity and a more flexible approach to really make a film VR? How about the writer includes multiple choices for the viewer throughout the movie? That would make it way more interesting, right? Allow the viewer to interact and to be able to choose where the story goes. A lot of writers and directors will not like this idea, as they want to tell a specific story, but it should be looked at as an interesting challenge, as opposed to a limiter.
With all this considered, what will it do to the movie watching experience? Part of the enjoyment of certain movie genres, is sharing the experience with one or more people. Sure at the cinema, you want to sit silently and watch, but the when at home there’s that element of sharing. If you’re sat with a VR headset on, how do you share your emotions, facial expressions, comments on what you’re seeing (Especially the latter as you maybe looking in a different direction to someone sat near you, if you’re wearing the headsets)? Just take a look at the image at the top of this article (An image that I loved, by the way), how are those guys able to interact with each other?
This is where we’ll hopefully see ‘real’ VR and real interaction for movies. If you’re able to be totally immersed, as a digital version of you, or an avatar, you can have the ability to interact with each other within the movie. Sure, this has and is being done with games, but that’s surely the next step for VR and movie experiences. Great challenge for writers and directors, right?
These are just a few of my thoughts, whilst trying to keep this fairly short and it’s just food for thought. Can’t wait to see what people are going to do with VR and interactive storytelling going forward.