Five Pillars of VR Storytelling

I recently attended the inaugural event of VR@MIT’s Oculus Next Gen VR lecture series, where Julia Sourikoff, Head of VR at Tool of North America, an award winning production company, spoke about the 5 Pillars of VR Storytelling.

Below are my brief notes of the talk and the Q&A:

I. VR storytelling offers a thrilling extension of human experiences.

It changes the relationship between the author and the audience, unlocks our inner child, and triggers transcendence & empowerment, for instance, by giving the virtual gift of flight.

Tool’s work with MS society explores VR in the context of physical disability, transplanting e.g. experience of surfing through an experience donor.

II. It hinges upon human-centered design as a somatic medium. User experiences can be categorized as:

a. Observant passive: no embodiment, no impact on story
b. Observant active: someone with local agency (movement, view angle), but no embodiment
c. Participant passive: a bystander, with embodiment but no impact on story
d. Participant active: in game setting, embodied and with global impact

III. It requires a shift in thinking outside of rectangles.

The field of view from a headset is 96 degrees + 30 degrees of rotation comfortable for a seated user. Human perception of depth implies optimal distance in view creation as well.

Probable areas of interest can be constructed out of a combination of view angles and depths as diagram of perception to map activities in different zones, e.g. need special triggers to grab attention to areas of less interest.

Resulting techniques involve designing environments, not screen rectangles, such as Quadrant scripting or Spherical blocking.

IV. It is not a film shoot, and involves a list of technical issues:

· No place to hide rigging and the crew
· Parallax
· Vertical field of view
· Data management
· What is the audio
· Avoid acceleration
· Leveling the rig
· Determining the lens height

IV. It has to stay updated on technology which influence storytelling in each step and turn. In other words, design today for the technologies of tomorrow:

· WebVR: headset agnostic and will democratize distribution, monetization and creation;
· Inside-out Positional Tracking: headset no longer tethered to a PC, which can further include eye tracking and facial recognition
· Foveated Rendering
· Custom Peripherals: replacing controllers
· Light field& Volumetric Capture: allowing the creation of room-scale, realistic virtual environments; making holograms of objects and characters.

Lastly, as a bonus, check out VR productions such as Notes on Blindness, Pearl from Google spotlight, The Enemy from MIT, and Dreams of Dali. As well as organizations such as Unit9,, and MIT Open Doc Lab!