In the Blink of a Mind — Attention

Jessica Brillhart
The Language of VR
Published in
6 min readFeb 5, 2016

In the Blink of a Mind is a short series on editing techniques for virtual reality. The first post can be accessed here.

“Editing — even on a more ‘normal’ film — is not so much a putting together as it is a discovery of a path.” (pg. 4)

Let’s start with an embarrassingly straightforward exercise. Take a look at the series of images below.

Image 1
Image 2
Image 3

That red dot you might have been following is an example of a point of interest. Points of interest (or POIs) are elements within an experience that attract a visitor’s attention. They could be extremely obvious, like bright red dots, or more nuanced, like lone mountaineers climbing Icelandic glaciers.

1 POI – Icelandic Glacier Climber

Now virtual reality being what it is, I can never be 100% certain that you’re going to look somewhere, but I can make some solid bets on where you’re most likely going to look by evaluating the entirety of the experience. In the case of the red dot, it’s a solitary spot of a bright color against an otherwise empty background. Pretty obvious. In the case of the glacier climber, he’s the only element moving and making discernible sounds.

Placing bets on POIs helps to inform consequential editing decisions, like which world I’d want to go to next and how best to transition from one world to another. For instance, if I can make a solid bet on a POI — something along the lines of a red dot or a solitary climber — I might be inclined to do a match on attention. This would involve identifying where a visitor’s attention lands and then cutting from that to something else I’d like for the visitor to pay attention to.

Jökullinn fjallgöngumaður –
– to Japanese tram speaker

By doing something as simple as identifying visitor attention, you can start to craft an edit that feels far more natural and purposeful than just cutting from whatever, whenever you feel like it. A great deal of confusion results from the latter, where someone is essentially pried from her experience and thrown somewhere else. There’s a use-case for this — which I’ll go into in a later post — but generally it’s more in your interest to keep things psychologically comfortable. When it comes to editing, that is.

It’s also important to note how a visitor’s attention shifts during an experience. By identifying this shift, we can essentially get our in and out points. In traditional editing, an in-point is where a shot begins and the out-point is where it ends. In VR, the in-point is where a visitor’s experience is most likely to begin and the out-point is where it’s most likely to end.

Shift in POI (in/out) in World A, transition to World B

Then it’s just a matter of rotating the worlds around each other to line up those in and out points. The result is a kind of mental pathway through the overall experience. I’ve been calling this method unlocking the Hero’s Journey.

Hero’s Journey

If I did my job right, the overall experience will resonate without the visitor embracing this journey. There is also the potential that a visitor will be a part of it for a little while, leave for some reason, and then find it again. But I’ve found that the simple virtue of creating this potential journey seems to spiritually bind the experience together. Other elements start to fall into place harmoniously. All these worlds seems to have a kind of unspoken cohesion. It becomes a whole instead of mere fragments.

Another neat aspect is that you can work backwards. You can decide on the journey beforehand and then, much like a storyboard, break it apart to inform how you craft and film these worlds from the start. If this kind of premeditation isn’t possible, and now you’re stuck needing a visitor’s attention to land somewhere specific, you could add cues.

Cues can be pieces of music, a sound effect, a haptic response, a color shift, an animation, etc. How intensely noticeable these cues are is entirely up to you. They can be extremely subtle or, well–


Cues aren’t anything new. A slew of other mediums use them for various purposes. For VR they’re particularly useful because you can plant them to create attention spots or reinforce pre-existing POIs to strengthen the kind of experience you hope the visitor will have. As you can imagine, it’s a bit of a give-and-take. The more obvious your cue, the more likely a visitor will pay attention to something— but the less immersed that visitor will feel in doing so. The less obvious your cue, the more likely a visitor will feel compelled naturally — which is the goal — but less likely the visitor will catch that cue and respond.

There’s also something else important to note about all this. Take a look at these rocks.

Zero POI – Icelandic Rocks

This is an example of a zero-POI experience. Because, well, rocks. I could make some weak guesses on where you’d be looking, but I could never make a solid bet. And since nothing is a solid POI, everything can be a potential POI. The result is chaos.

And now take this tram scene.

4+ POI — Japanese Tram

The windows are POIs, the announcer girl is a POI, each of the people in the tram are also potential POIs. This is an example of a multiple POI experience. There are specific points of interest present that I can certainly identify, but I can’t rely on any of them without first evaluating how a visitor might engage with these elements.

Life is messy. Most scenes in real life may serve multiple POIs or multiple cues at any one time or even chaos. Identifying points of interest is a great first step, but it’s just that. The first step. The intricacies of experience run far deeper.

Take a look at these images again. What if the red dot became two?

Or this happens?

Or this?

In a previous post I mentioned that the visitor is ultimately the storyteller in this medium, and that all a creator can hope to achieve is constructing the best kind of experiential world for that person.

Step one in doing this is for the creator to face the objective reality of an experience — what someone with no prior knowledge of the space will do naturally. Nothing will compel a visitor to do something more than the inner desires of the visitor, and if we can speak more to those desires, the better we’ll understand how to craft experiences. To understand not just the whats, but the hows and the whys.

And this is where it really starts to get interesting.

World Tour Edit

We’ll explore this next.




Jessica Brillhart
The Language of VR

Researcher, writer, designer working in immersive media.