Our toy chest for this experiment.
Hi, my name is Sébastien Heins. I act in, write, produce, and market theatre for a living, and these are my experiments with theatre in VR.
Last time, we picked apart our 360 trailer for Stratford’s production of Breath of Kings. This time, we’re looking at TomorrowLove. As the director/creator of this trailer, I’m levelling all criticisms at me — everyone else was terrific.
In November 2016, we made an immersive trailer that aimed at accomplishing 3 things: Took advantage of 360 features, gave the audience a taste of what the show is about, and played with a few new tools at our disposal. TomorrowLove™, written by Rosamund Small, explores a future world where love and technology push and pull against each other. Working with Rosamund, a great cast of actors, Albert Huh our DOP, Philip Bowser who gave us new digital effects, and several other tremendous artists, we came up with this immersive trailer:
Watch this in a VR Viewer if you can.
Here’s what I found worked, and what didn’t.
1. Give The POV Life (FAIL)
The camera POV is a ghost in this video, and it has no personality.
I don’t want to give people motion sickness, but I feel like that slight camera shake from The Office would work really well in 360, giving it a bit more life.
Cementing the audience in one position feels disingenuous, especially when the actual experience of being an audience member is one in which you tend to move around a little.
2. Short Camera (FAIL)
I thought the camera was placed a bit too low to actually be a conduit between Kath, our hero, and Oyin, her love interest. It’s obvious that Kath is taller than the camera, yet I directed Oyin to look into the camera to convey her romantic interest through eye contact with the audience.
As a result, the audience isn’t given a clear role to play in this immersive world.
3. Get To The Goods (FAIL)
The opening scene, with our hero listening to other people’s thoughts, is great thanks to the natural performances by our actors (dog and baby included). But just because the audience can look around at the world, doesn’t mean they’ll enjoy it when they’re not grabbed by the story of the world.
That’s why I think the opening could have been cut or spliced into the flirtation between Kath and Oyin.
Instead, the video loses steam right from the start (again, not on account of the performances or Ros’ writing). The story gets interesting the second Kath says “Oh, she’s cute.” Note to self: Story crafting has similar rules in 360: Hook’em in.
4. Elevator Lag (FAIL)
There’s a lag right before Oyin says, “I’m scared too” and Oyin and Kath leave together. See, the elevator was held open by Oyin holding down a button behind her back. I should have anticipated how long it would take for the elevator to open, and worked that into the rhythm. This illuminates a bigger challenge in this medium.
If you want to present a story in a single shot (in the way theatre is normally presented), either the actors or a technician have to be in charge of setting the pace, manipulating prop pieces, doors, etc.
Without the ability to edit, it all comes down to precise real-time choreography. It’s a fun challenge, and gives virtuosity to what you’re presenting, in the same way that live theatre choreography does too.
5. Visual Atmosphere (FAIL)
In the trailer, we let ourselves be at the mercy of the harsh lights in the service elevator of my condo building.
The actual production of TomorrowLove™ had an absolutely gorgeous futuristic look with clean lines and dreamy blue and pink lighting. We had none of that.
I think we could have bridged the gap between the reality of the elevator and the futuristic vision of the actual theatre production. Surrealism has a place in theatre, and it should have a place in Theatrical VR.
6. Field of Vision (WIN/FAIL)
In a VR viewer, you have to turn your head to look at different characters. This sometimes ups the interaction and buy-in, like watching a tennis match from floor seats. We also filled in the gaps with characters and subtle life (Tony the ballcap guy, Sherry the lawyer, Alistair the french bulldog, etc.).
Compared to the large empty spots surrounding the camera in our Breath of Kings trailer, I think the audience feels surrounded by interesting things.
However, I think we could have split the difference. Because of how close the actors are, they seemed larger than life, and almost distorted.
7. Music To My Ears (WIN)
Richard Feren’s lullaby waltz scored the actual live production of TomorrowLove™. It was to his and Mitchell Cushman’s credit that this original score made it into our trailer. We had messed around with using elevator music, which made the scene more comical,politely bizarre, and immediately recognizable.
I’m glad we used Richard’s music, as it tied the trailer to the actual experience of the show in a meaningful way.
I get annoyed when I watch a movie trailer and they use music for it that doesn’t end up being in or even close to the actual movie. I find that music is remarkably affecting in VR/360, and Richard’s score is quite touching.
8. Audio Atmosphere (WIN)
Albert Huh, our director of photography, editor, and sound designer, did a really good job of creating a soundscape in this one. While we aren’t yet able to create 3D soundscapes (and have the voices seemingly come from the actual physical bodies in the video), there’s a successful differentiation between the voice inside our hero’s head, and the voices they’re hearing via the mind-reading beta test. That, mixed with the aforementioned score by Richard, creates a great audio experience that took us a step forward in our experiments.
I’ll get you next time…
If I coulda gone back and done it again, I would have experimented with these things:
- * How to make the camera POV into a person (and have the camera move up and down slowly, superimposed arms, chest, legs, and shoes below the 360 camera.)
- * Found a way to integrate the opening info (“Use Your Headphones,” etc.) into the experience, simultaneously educating newcomers to immersive video, and also grabbing them with the story.