VR ON THE LOT – Review and tips from VRARA New Zealand member Wrestler on 360VR

By Ben Foreman from Wrestler

VR / AR, the new medium that’s going to make anyone who’s on the pulse a billionaire right? Well it seems to me that’s how people approach it at least. In mid October I attended a conference at Paramount Studios in LA called VR on the Lot. It was a gathering on makers, producers and distributors. A networking event really. There were talks and demos by some of the biggest players in the market, actually all of the biggest players in the market. All packed into a two tight day schedule. There was also a party on the first night with heaps of alcohol which meant I didn’t make it to the first half of the second day, but I think they knew that would happen and scheduled the day accordingly…

I learnt a few things whilst attending the conference, but one of the biggest things I came away with was the affirmation that I know quite a bit about this industry, and that in Wellington, we’ve got a real opportunity to compete with the big boys. I thought I was going to turn up and have my mind blown, I don’t know why, I just thought I was going to be a complete ignoramus and everyone would see it. What I discovered is that the whole industry has no idea about what to do. Every single person envied in VR / AR is trying to work it all out, which means the opportunity to stand out is still very available. In order to keep this concise, I’ve bullet pointed my learnings. What was surprising about the event is that the focus was mainly on 360VR, with very little mentioned in terms of volumetric VR or AR. Here’s my thoughts, with a strong focus on 360 VR.

Storytelling in VR:

1 – Just beyond the line of reality and hyper reality is where you want to play. If you go too far out then the audience has no anchor to reality to make sense of the experience. If you give them something they understand, but then put a twist on that, then you blow their minds.

2 – The camera is the viewer. Being overly tricky with VR rigs is pointless unless it adds to the viewers experience and the story. eg, you wouldn’t drive somewhere on top of a car, so don’t rig a VR camera to the top of a car, unless of course you want the viewer to be sitting on top of a car, but again, that needs a purpose.

3 – You need to establish characters straight away. As the viewer gas the opportunity to look away, you have no way of directing their thought process and therefore no way to build characters if they’re not looking at them etc. Therefore you must use relatively obvious signals to tell the viewer who your character is and what role they play within that scene.

4 – The psychology of VR is very interesting. Things like height immediately tell your viewer something. Are you the dominant character in this story? Are you acknowledged, are you powerful, weak etc? These are all things that can be easily established by simply placing the camera at certain heights and within certain areas of a scene.

5 – Sound is 80% of the experience. I heard this a lot at the event. We all know how important sound is in film, but it’s even more important in VR. The sound allows us to fill in some of the blanks and helps us build a more immersive world of what we’re seeing, even if it’s only 2D, sound helps us feel like it’s 3D.

6 – Take stock from games. VR storytelling isn’t film and it’s not gaming. It’s more like a mash up between film, games and theatre. So learn from each medium and experiment with conventions from each medium.

Practical tips for making VR:

1 – Run a full rehearsal of your scene with your director standing exactly where the camera will be. This allows them to experience the scene as the viewer.

2 – Pre-Vis will save you A LOT of money!!

3 – Don’t over complicate the scene, it’s jarring for the viewer and nightmare for the editor.

4 – Shoot it as you want it. Don’t think you can just cut it out in post. You can, but it sucks and costs a shit tonne.

5 – At this stage shooting any closer than 4 feet can cause some issues with stitching in post… Not ideal and rig dependant. (360 only)

6 – Make original content. This is a new medium and only worth using if you’re going to use if for it’s new storytelling advantages!

Business Tips:

1 – The market is only ready for 360 video at this stage. This is where brands and studios are putting their money for at least the next 2 years. More immersive experiences are expensive and have very limited audiences.

2 – Activation based content is highly desirable.

3 – Successful VR companies will be the ones who can truly utilise the technology for it’s new storytelling abilities.

4 – VR relies on the accessibility of headsets. Samsung’s bungle with the Note 7 is not good for the increase in consumer take up of VR.

5 – There’s an initial wave of brand uptake as it’s fun and exciting. We’ll see a downturn soon as the novelty wears off. Many companies will go back to conventional production while the dedicated VR story telling studios will survive until the medium really becomes solidified and sustainable as they have something truly great to offer.

6 – There’s going to be a shit tonne of money in this space for years to come. It’s going to be massive. The fact this was hosted at Paramount is a statement by the studios saying ‘we want this to happen’. It’s an exciting time and the companies who can master the true artistry of this new medium will prosper.

7 – VR production is very collaborative and requires a huge skill set, so certain cities have the opportunity to become hot spots for VR production. Wellington is one of them due to the creative and technical talent of the city. This could be a billion dollar industry for Wellington alone.

So that’s what I got from VR on the Lot. There were highs, there were lows, but I left feeling confident our business has made the right decision in pursuing this medium. It really is the future. What’s also exciting is that there are some Wellington based companies who will help pioneer this industry. We’re thinking ahead and we’re doing awesome work already.