VR Play Day at the Pervasive Media Studio

The Echo Chamber – Notes 03

Sally recently spent an afternoon at the Pervasive Media Studio in Bristol attending their ‘Virtual Reality Graffiti Jam and Play Day’. The event provided a fantastic opportunity for us to try out a variety of VR platforms and tech and meet some interesting practitioners in the field.

Producing a VR film is a new adventure for Chromatrope and so the event was well timed to fit into the discovery stage of our production. There were some really helpful takeaways from the afternoon which will feed into the early stage of our project planning and have already helped direct us towards deciding on a suitable platform and story. More on that to follow in future posts…

VR

One of the lessons from the day is that when a story is truly engaging, the immersive experience can be surprisingly convincing and emotionally powerful. Even with a fair level of background noise and the knowledge that other people are in close proximity, a good story melts away the self conscious feeling that you might look like a bit of an idiot to other people in the room.

An engaging story can also be more important than the type of headset you watch it on. An oculus headset looks set to be priced at over £400 when it’s released later this year. However, a Google Cardboard viewer can be bought for around £10. When a decent set of headphones is placed over the top of whatever headset you’re wearing, the success of the experience is all down to the story and the sound and not the platform. We want our film to be seen by as wide an audience as possible so for now a low entry point is of great importance for us.

Richards Crandon, director of On Par Productions was at the event with a couple of Samsung Gear set ups which were running some of his company’s recent productions. The Little Arrow and Conductor 360 films were both very engaging. What became clear from both films is that sound is very, very important for the 360 experience. Firstly it provides vital indicators for the viewer to turn, orientate and notice the thing that is happening (or about to happen) behind a current viewpoint. Secondly, it doesn’t pay to be too subtle with these indicators – if you miss the cue, the action moves on and you’ve missed the vital part of the story that just happened behind your back. Background noise can also be a distraction to the viewer and the subtleties of a ‘binaural’ experience can be easily lost below a general hubbub.

As well as helping to clarify some thinking about VR, the afternoon also raised some questions for discussion with the team as we move towards making our film. Where should the viewpoint go and how will it change? Can the viewpoint change within a scene (and if so how do you do it so the viewer won’t feel sick)? Will the user have control over motion and movement? Will there be interaction with the actors or is it purely about observation of events?

We hope to start answering some of these questions soon, but expect also to find lots more questions along the way. By blogging about the project we want to share our experiences with others and also keep a record of the process for ourselves so we’ll be ready for the next VR project when it comes along! Please join in the conversation via Twitter on #echochamberdrama.