Virtual Reality (VR) makes for fantastic immersive gaming, but also possesses the potential to disrupt the way we learn, socialize, and explore. With the help of Google Cardboard headsets and smart phones, a teacher can transport a classroom full of students to the inside of plant cell and view photosynthesis up close.
Facet is a boutique virtual reality production company based in Austin and NYC. When they’re not developing immersive content for clients, the Facet team explores the balance between narrative and viewer autonomy in the VR experience. Nick Ramsay and Ivan Gabriel Ramirez, the cofounders of Facet, share the nuances, strengths, and weaknesses of VR as a storytelling medium. http://facetvr.com/
For the readers who have not interacted with virtual reality or 360 capture, can you explain what the difference between a VR and 360-capture experience is?
This is actually more confusing than it should be. People are starting to use the terms “VR” and “360° video” interchangeably, but VR purists (usually people who come from a video game VR background) will get up in arms defending the definition of “true VR.”
So what are the differences? “True VR” usually means stereoscopic, 3D immersive content. It’s often animated content-- Think VR video games created for systems like HTC Vive and Oculus Rift. What Facet shoots is monoscopic 360° video, so it’s not “true VR,” by that definition, but is still immersive content that can be viewed in a VR headset.
The majority of news and media platforms putting out live action 360° video content like this just call it VR (Think NYTimes VR, one of the leaders) and have redefined the term to describe any 360° video content. It’s confusing, but basically, we’re cool with describing all 360° video content as “VR.” It seems like that’s becoming the norm.
How does Facet use VR and 360 capture to tell stories?
Storytelling in VR is an exciting challenge for people coming from a traditional film background, because the tools you have for telling stories are totally different. As a creator, you’re handing a lot of control to the viewer. You have to think about using the entire space where you’re shooting, not just pointing your camera and creating a frame (because with VR, everything is in frame!) and you have to give viewers cues for where to look. If you aren’t making interesting use of the space in multiple directions, you might as well be shooting a regular flat video.
“Drum Circle” is a video we made with drummer J.P Bouvet that provides a good example of how to take full advantage of a room’s space, in every direction: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ai_c-hJjqpc For this video, we had J.P drumming in 4 different locations in his studio, then we edited the video in post to make it seem like he is having a jam session with 4 versions of himself.
Beyond the technical considerations like utilizing all the space, the question with VR storytelling is how do we create videos that allow the viewer to have ownership of the experience, and feel like they have the freedom and excitement of being able to “look around”-- which is what makes VR fun-- but at the same time communicate a message or tell a story? The answer usually has a lot to do with audio. Sound is your friend as a VR creator. It works as a “tour guide” that keeps your viewers from getting lost.
It’s key to keep in mind the strengths and weaknesses of VR as a storytelling medium. The greatest strength is that it gives the sensation of “actually being there” much more than flat video does. This means that VR is a great tool for creating empathy with the viewer. You can watch a movie about Antarctica, and come away with a decent understanding of the place, but it won’t compare to the type of understanding you would get from actually going there. What you get from VR is a little bit closer to the experience of actually going there. Vision is our most dominant sense; it overrides all the other senses. And when you put on a VR headset, your field of vision totally changes. It really screws your mind into feeling a sense of presence in another place.
“Derek,” is a short film we made that provides a good example of using VR for storytelling, and using voice over narration to keep the viewer from getting lost: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vEstxA9m3bY