Above, is the second slide from a deck I’ve been using to introduce Cinematic VR filmmaking to Cinematographers, indie filmmakers and Creative Heads of some of the bigger AD agency networks, thanks to ongoing initiatives by Google MENA, and at film festivals in Asia via the Think in 360, masterclasses.
The video example used here, is for critique and learning purposes only and is from a “VR for PR” experience (a growing trend in Hollywood) to promote tent-pole blockbuster films. The video can be watched on SamsungVR.com, or embedded below
So, what’s wrong with this 360 (or technically, VR video)? Everything looks just fine, until somewhere around the 2minute 30 second mark, a creative decision is made to teleport you into the body of Harley Quinn. That’s when things start to go wrong… in my opinion, as the camera swerves from side to side, supposedly expecting you, the headset wearer to look in the direction the VR “Director” is choosing. This causes one of those cardinal sins in VR; it puts the mortal body and vesibular system into VR purgatory – and motion sickness ensues. The un-curated stereoscopic anomalies when looking over Harley’s shoulders don’t help either.
Now, while this is a VR experience of a mainstream Hollywood feature film, in essence it is an advert.
Virtual Brand Damage:
This is one of the reasons AD Agency creative departments need to know a thing or two about this new medium of visual communication called Virtual Reality. They can avoid causing damage to a Brand, and more importantly, avoid causing physical harm to audiences.
The trend today is to outsource to VR production houses. But the thing is, these production houses do not necessarily have VR experience. And, how could they? Consider this: VR in it’s current flavor is about a couple of years old, and the heat is on in every marketing department to create a VR film, because: Brand engagement is the new mantra.
In the video interview below at about the 17:05 mark, if I were present in the audience, I would certainly have taken issue with the “…it wouldn’t be an issue…” assurance that’s mentioned. Apparently the POV version was done, knowing it might lead to motion sickness – but what I feel they don’t realize is; the many elements that contribute to motion sickness.
Simply having a helmet/head mounted camera (which can be cured to a certain extent during the shoot and via post prod stabilization techniques) won’t lead to that much of an issue with mo-sickness.
However, deliberately panning the camera against the will of the audiences from side-to-side is a sure fire way to induce motion sickness, and from watching Suicide Squad VR in stereo in a GearVR, I can confirm it does. Not to mention the horrid retinal rivalry that then ensues around the shoulder area of the first person character.
Solving for Motion Sickness: VR Stunt Choreography
“So what would you do”
I’ve been asked, “to deliver what the Director is aiming for – that sense of first person immersion…”
Advising for cinematic VR films is not so different than what a stereographer does when advising for 3D films. I’d first have suggested sticking to the camera-on-rails or Camera-on-wire approach, especially since Suicide Squad was going to be a stereoscopic experience, the immersion factor would anyway be higher than 2D 360.
But, if the Director were to insist, then it would mean one more skill should be added to the 4 skills to be mastered in VR filmmaking; VR Stunt Choreography.
In this particular scene, there would be a need for impeccable choreography from all actors involved – Think Jackie Chan walking a straight line with a sense of purpose, while taking on baddies who appear in front (easy) and from the sides, while he unflinchingly walks his path.
Besides positional audio which helps immensely to guide audience attention, the pointing of the gun (by the hands) and the pointing of the baseball bat in this scene is what should give visual cues to the wearer of the VR headset, to look, where the Director intends. – The wearer of the headset then, is in full control of whether to turn or keep looking ahead. This is key to successfully executing such a First person POV action scene.
Much like Kung-fu movie choreography, everyone – from the main character wearing the helmet cam to the baddies hitting their marks would need to be perfectly choreographed in the scene, and it’s the Fight Choreographer’s job to “Think in 360” when taking on such a scene in VR.
There are a few more reasons why Ad Agencies should know about VR. For instance, when setting aside multi-million dollar budgets to allow audiences to experience the insides of a Penthouse suite, the spaciousness of a high end sedan or the luxurious living room size of a first class cabin, but a contracted production studio delivers flat 2D 360 video, labels it “VR,” and the scale is off. This results in instant “de-immersion” because furniture and fittings tower over the audience, and where seat ends and floor begins is left to guess work… but that is the topic of another post, or, we can discuss it at the next “Think in 360” masterclass.