Part I: 48H Singapore VR Filmmaking Hackathon Walkthrough

Mentors and Participants in the 48hr VR Film Jam Hackathon in Singapore. Photo by Jennifer Kwok

The hackathon was part of the Voilah French Festival in Singapore. WondaVR and French Embassy -Institut Français Singapore called for 12 participants from Singapore and other southeast asian nations to create 4 interactive 360° immersive stories within 48 hours. So with 8 singaporeans, 2 filipinos, 1 indonesian and 1 malaysian, an intense collaborative exercise began.

Day 1: Briefing and Pitching

Before embarking, we were all given a tour to the ArtScience Museum, Future World Exhibition. It served as an inspiration for our VR pieces much later in the brainstorming phase.

Crows are Chased and the Chasing Crows are destined to be Chased as well, Transcending Space | This immersive audiovisual installation depicts the creation of life and takes visitors inside the heart of nature. The artwork features crows, rendered in light, that fly around the space leaving trails of light in their path. Swooping through the space and chasing one another, the crows collide, creating colourful flowers in their wake. They represent the Yatagarasu, a three-legged crow which is believed to be the embodiment of the Sun in Japanese mythology. The formation of the flowers resulting from the crow’s collisions alludes to the genesis of life from the Sun’s energy.

I really liked this piece. You can view it here. The idea is you go into a dark room and you experience the lights, sounds and movement of this immersive content. Best marriage of Art and Science! Felt like a kid the whole time!

Mentors chose 12 applicants from a pool of 30 to create 4 teams of 3 that compliment the skill set of each member.

After the exhibition, we were grouped and briefed for brainstorming and pitching. Our mentors throughly studied each of the applicant’s skill set and did team matchmaking to make sure we compliment each other.

We were given the creative brief and our pieces should be inspired by the artworks we have seen on the tour. It should also resonate with Marvin Minsky’s quote--

“Will robots inherit the earth? Yes, but they will be our children.”

With those in mind, I was grouped in the Red team. This crew was composed of Paul Gilbert Maglaya, a game developer, Mohan Deitrich, a producer, and I, a video editor. We began brainstorming about life being affected by technology and ethics of culling using algorithms. We finally settled on the topic of memory as building blocks of identity.

Color coded post-its to design gameplay and storyline

Our idea started with the movie, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. We created an idea of an AI that can modify memories for the user’s mental and emotional benefit. Our pitch came through several iterations and was refined with the help of our mentors. We designed an experience where the user wears the Samsung Gear VR headset and is prompted with an AI capable of erasing bad memories of a loved one. The user is then given a choice which to remove. As the story flows, endings will differ depending on the user’s choice of removal. We called our piece, Project Mnemosyne. It was inspired by Greek mythology referring to the personification of Memory.

Day 2: Shooting and post-production.

With Mohan’s producing skills, we had Barbara Latimer as our lead actress and began shooting her in different memory vignettes.

Project Mnemosyne Memory Menu: Memories of Breakup, Confession, Death, Proposal and Tease.
L-R: The Red Team refining our story design. | Ghetto Head Rig Mounted to Paul’s head. | Me, tasked in producing assets and post-production.

I should emphasize, Mohan’s wizardry made things happen. He had an extra Samsung Gear 360 camera, the Gimbal Guru for stabilization, and an audio equipment prepped for shooting. He also provided a small form factor CPU for post-production. It’s awesome that we’re well-equipped! We can focus on just creating.

Truth be told, we suffered through the story design because interaction needs to be incorporated. This concept is very new to us in terms of storytelling. Nonetheless, we plowed ahead with the prototypes. Our mentors mentioned that our work lacked character depth. There had to be a solid reason why the user needs to discard a memory. We kept on redesigning the flow and interaction of the story just to meet this requirement. After grueling and weighing our options, we came about adding a fabricated TV ad, voiceovers of the viewer’s memory and recorded Barbara’s voice for the AI.

Project Mnemosyne Fabricated AI interface

Day 3: Refining Interaction in WondaVR and Jury Presentation

We never really noticed where the second day ended and the third day began. Everyone was still refining their works up until the last hour.

Rainbow Room in ArtScience Museum in Singapore. Photo by Florian Pannetier

On our end, after the assets were created and collated, Paul compiled and added interactivity in the 360 videos using WondaVR. The storyboard you see below is the finalized flowchart of Project Mnemosyne.

Project Mnemosyne Interaction Storyboard. The user is prompted by the AI then it asks the user to choose a memory to erase. Their choice will lead to an ending. We also added a bonus end if the user wished to erase another recollection.

Last few minutes until the deadline, we finally received the green light and our VR experience is ready for the jury. The hackathon was over and we all just waited for the results. We were brought to the Museum lobby to present our VR experiences to the crowd.

Viewing the VR experiences of the Singapore Hackathon in ArtScience Museum.
Team Dude was announced the winner of the Hackathon with their Lumi, Lights On Experience. It’s about you as a robot that turn the lights on and off. Depending on you obeying or disobeying commands, it changes the flow of the story. Members are Eugene Soh, Ng Kai Yuan, and Charis Loke with Mentor Arnault Labaronne

It was the first time the participants really had the chance to get to know each other. It’s funny how everyone looked beat and sleepy but thoroughly elated. So with the last bit of energy, I took the chance of getting photos. And with that, we ended Day 3.

Selfie with the mentors Guillaume Urjewicz, Interactive producer at honkytonk, Product Manager at Klynta & Wondavr and Morgan Bouchet, Director Digital Content-Innovation & Head of VR at ORANGE
Selfie with 48H Singapore VR Filmmaking Hackathon Crew. Participants: Rai Pandudita, Angelina Marilyn Bok, Desiree Gabriella, Paul Gilbert Malagya, Mohan Dietrich, Eugene Soh, Charis Loke, Ng Kai Yuan, Alan Ng, Kee Ya Ting, Abdul Rahman | Artistic Coaches: Arnault Labaronne, Florian Pannetier | WondaVR: Arnaud Dressen, Guillaume Urjewicz, Jean-Edouard Chantebel, Julien Marillet, Laura Baudot | Institut Français Singapour: Guillaume Duchemin, Jennifer Kwok

Day 4: Talks and more networking in Pixel Studios

With few hours to spare before our flight back home, everyone visited the Pixel Building to attend talks regarding VR and 360 videos. There was an open forum regarding each team’s processes and learnings. After, each team prepared to show their pieces again to the Pixel crowd over lunch.

Pixel Studios. Talks about VR and sharing lessons from each team.

We also had a tour around the Pixel Studios. If I were a game developer with a great idea and a team, this place meant heaven. Singapore has been supporting creators with their ideas. If they like your pitch, they will let you use the space and equipment for free. We definitely saw of these teams working on something. I remember there one that called themselves the Gentlebros.

Pixel Building Exterior and Interior. I played a bit of Table Tennis with Kee Ya Ting!

Before rushing to the airport, we had our biometrics taken. We were given access to the facility until December this year! Yay! More reasons to go back! With that, the Singapore VR Jam ended.

It was one hell of a ride and processing all the things we learned deserve a separate post! I have collated insights from the participants and will share it with you soon. Based on their answers, I am convinced that these hackathon setup will be the norm in not so distant future. So Part II on the works! On another note, our VR pieces will also be published in the Wonda Labs app! Will keep you guys posted for updates.

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