The VR Project: Post 1

This post has been months in the making, but I figured it’s finally time to get it out there.  As my thesis film, Karman, was wrapping up I began work on my next endeavor: virtual reality filmmaking.  It was two years ago that I first experienced VR, and after mulling it over for a year I decided in 2015 that I wanted to drink the Kool Aid and get involved with all this crazy VR stuff.  I knew that FSU offered funding, assistance, and distinction upon graduation if you independently pursue research outside of your degree through the Honors Scholars Foundation and so I decided to officially declare an Honors thesis project in virtual reality.  I kept the project on hold until I finished Karman, only doing casual research through staying active in SIGGRAPH, but then dove head first into cinematic VR production once Karman was done.

Around the same time, the film school decided to get involved with VR research as well, which was great.  They started their own faculty run project and recruited me to their research team.  Between my project and theirs, the next thing I knew I was on set directing my first short VR experience.  I don’t want to dig too deeply into the specifics of what we are doing in these projects – that’s what the thesis paper will be for this coming August – but essentially we are all working together to design practical VR pipelines for content creators at the student level.  We are confident that we will be able to produce production quality experiences in an academic environment and that’s what this project is all about.  More than anything, we are all super excited about the potential that VR holds.  Now that I’ve started working in it, I can truly say it is an amazing medium that is tons of fun and full of limitless possibilities.

The photos in this post are from my first VR film set.  This shoot is part of both my Honors Thesis project and the film school’s research project.  We decided to take a scene from Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds and reshoot it in monoscopic 360-VR.  I want to distinguish that I do intend for this to be delivered to a head mounted display (HMD), so I do consider this VR and not simply 360.  Being that this was our first ever test, I decided to take a relatively conservative approach.  Personally, I’m super interested in storytelling techniques in VR and that is the heart of my thesis project.  However, in collaborating with the film school’s research team and using their gear and equipment, I felt that this test had to be more focused on feeling out an on set workflow, pushing the gear to it’s limits, and testing our post production pipeline.  With that said, we didn’t try anything too crazy like moving the camera or Stereo3D.  We only had one rehearsal day with the actors and spent more time on set figuring out this whole VR thing than digging into the scene.  Our approach to the scene from a storytelling perspective was to shoot it four ways: first as a single wide long take, as if we were an audience watching a theater play; second as a conventional movie with a wide variety of shots that will be but using traditional techniques; third as a first person experience from a main character’s POV; and fourth as a first person experience from a bystanders POV.  My plan is to put together each version of the scene and then test screen them to as large an audience as possible and see what works and what doesn’t.  The goal with this piece isn’t to make a masterpiece – it’s to learn something new.

If you’re familiar with Inglourious Basterds, you might look at these photos and notice that the setting and characters don’t quite seem to fit.  In order to open up some doors, we decided to change the setting of the movie to a grungy Fallout-esque future.  By leaving WWII, we opened up doors for easier location scouting, gender/racial neutral casting, and much easier and cheaper production design.  Plus…. apocalyptic future stuff is always a ton of fun!

This shoot was produced by Victoria Cragg.  On the VR Research team with me was DP Turner Sinopoli and Faculty Advisor/Pillar of Wisdom Ron Honn.

You can watch a small behind-the-scenes video of the shoot that was done by Jackson Tarpley at the FSView newspaper on YouTube by clicking here.

I hope you enjoy these photos, the vast majority were taken by Victoria Cragg – she’s great!  Check out her Tumblr feed, it’s fantastic!

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