Student Series: Sci-Fi Storytelling in Virtual Reality & 360 Video
As part of the Fovrth Fellowship, we’ve launched a “Student Series” to explore what is working, and what’s not, in 360 video. These blog posts are their first impressions of the 360 landscape across various themes.
By KIMBERLY KUXHAUSE
If there was any genre of film most suited towards a virtual reality experience, it’s SciFi. For years the genre has included holograms, AR components, and even a sort of cloning VR experience, as seen in the movie Avatar. Each VR innovation makes a story more immersive and complex. It’s a way to bridge the gap between the spirit of science fiction and modern day technology.
In the first episode of with.in’s “The Possible” series, audiences take a closer look at the advancement of the robotics industry. The narrators explain the current state of the technology and demonstrate the capabilities of their robots. What’s really neat about their video is the opportunity to observe not just the robots, but their creators too. You see them smile when an experiment succeeds or their gasps when the robot accidentally knocks down the VR rig. Virtual reality is a great way to expose the public to new technological advancements. Immersing the audience in this futuristic technological space impresses the new technology’s feasibility. What we current perceive as “Sci-Fi” is actually becoming reality, and virtual reality is a great way to display the new advancements of the modern age. View the first episode above!
One of the most entrancing videos I saw is done by independent VR studio NEFDT, and displays a great use of VR to enhance the storyline and Sci-Fi environment. The plot is one familiar to the genre. The Earth is dying and survivors have fled to the stars to find a new home. Motion within the world isn’t an issue, as the viewer is either inside of a spacesuit or spaceship when it occurs. Each new environment gives a taste of the world, furthering the plot through exploration. The CGI components aren’t pervasive, and they don’t need to be, as half the focus is on the meaning behind the narrator’s words. I loved traveling through space from within the aircraft and seeing the strange alien structures as the narrator says, “But we were not the first.” The film entices viewers to learn more about the world they’re in, which is a great thing for VR to do. See the ATMOS short film above!
The award for funniest Sci-Fi VR video I have seen goes to Teleportaled, a short comedy produced by PAVR media. The story follows a group of friends, acquaintances really, who come across a teleportation device, known to us as our VR rig. Upon interacting with it, they are teleported through space a time. The storyline really takes advantage of the flexibility of VR. They bring in characters from off screen and physically interact with the VR camera. The switch in locales isn’t jarring because it’s so seamlessly introduced. Not much has to go on within the actual world to maintain interest, each change in locale brings something new to the table. Based on what I saw, I think that Sci-Fi comedy is the best way to engage viewers in virtual reality. The environment becomes something to explore and though the viewer doesn’t have the agency to interact with the other characters, the characters connect with the camera in such a way that it makes the viewer a part of the story. Not only that, the comedy Sci-Fi situation doesn’t require much in the way of high-tech graphics which makes it easy to adapt to low budget VR headsets. Teleportaled has a brilliant premise and I’m excited to see what else this genre is capable of. View the comedic genius of Teleportaled above!
Another video in which virtual reality and science fiction work hand in hand is the short film Seeking Pluto’s Frigid Heart by the New York Times. With the help of a narrator, the VR journey explores Pluto’s geography, inspired by real pictures from NASA’s New Horizons aircraft. While the video isn’t anything spectacular it does give unprecedented access to a world quite unlike our own. As the viewer learns about Pluto’s topography from the narrator they get to see it with their own eyes in a space tailored for three-dimensional viewing. It’s a new take on the old idea of a documentary film, and it works. However, it’s not a sensational concept, nor does it push the boundaries of VR. And as there’s not much to see in actual space, with darkness everywhere you turn, I don’t see much VR growth in the way of space exploration. Seeking Pluto’s Frigid Heart is definitely something worth seeing, but it’s not an experience viewers need to see in virtual reality. Take a look at Seeking Pluto’s Frigid Heart above!
One of the most exciting new VR experiences, though it is one that has yet to be released, is a teaser trailer for the upcoming TV series Trinity produced by the VR Studio UNTLD. The story is founded on a sci-fi basis that humans have gone extinct and humanoid androids are waging a war against their “God.” While the trailer is two dimensional, actual episodes of Trinity are to be broadcast in virtual reality and each show will be about 15 minutes in length. As the first of its kind, I’m absolutely thrilled to see it. What’s interesting about this experience is that having humanoid androids really allow for the producers to do innovative things with production. Cutting from scene to scene could be considered normal if the information is being relayed from android to android via a network. A character death or a screen blackout wouldn’t mean much of anything as a respawn — and a change of locale — would be within the realm of possibility. In a sci-fi TV show format, VR doesn’t have the same limitations a documentary or video game. It transcends obstacles like that of transitioning to and from clip, situating the camera above or below eye level, and avoiding visual stitching points. With all the possibilities at hand, Sci-Fi VR film is ripe for the taking. Potential complications include quality of production. For the high-tech science fiction elements necessary for the plot, CGI components are a must. How well those components will combine with virtual reality is still up in the air. It’s highly probable most users won’t have a headset capable of high quality streaming. The balance between the production and technological elements will be a tricky one to find, but finding it will be crucial to Trinity’s, and Sci-Fi VR’s, success.
The views and opinions expressed in this blog post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the those of Fovrth Studios.