VR Design – Immersion and Interactivity

“What if you could finally see through your blind spot? What would you discover?”

Definition of a blind spot

A blind spot is an obscuration of the visual field, which cannot be directly observed by the viewer.
The term blind spot is also used metaphorically in several fields. The common theme of all the figurative senses is of a gap not in visual function but in the mind’s perception, cognition, or world view. As in a subject about which one is markedly ignorant or prejudiced.

VR Mechanism Overview

Dual Storyscape
Dual Storyscape

 

Our design uses the spherical view of 360 video to integrate male and female perspectives in first person point of view (POV) stories. We divided the spherical view in two hemispheres, which we call storyscapes. Viewers can experience a female POV on one side or a male POV on the other side. We chose to avoid button or gaze-based selection, and viewers naturally control which side of the story they see buy simply turning their body around 180 degrees: moving one’s body to change one’s mind perception.
By clearly designing two different storyscapes, easily recognizable by the viewer, we can play with concurrent stories in each space. We also rely on ‘fear of missing out’ (FOMO) which will cause the viewer to regularly check back and forth.

 

1st Person Embodiment

We chose to offer the viewer a natural sense of embodiment in first-person POV storytelling, and avoided using mannequins. The viewer embodies a live speaking actor, even if he/she doesn’t fully control the character’s actions. The viewer can choose at any moment to embody a female or male character’s body, while seeing his/her arms move, hear his/her voice as their own. We take the viewer on a journey.

 

VR Mechanism – Designing Two Storyscapes

Two distinct complementary stories

o Independent story-lines happening in each storyscape for the main male and female characters (RAY and DAVIES); they can be watched independently and stand on their own.
o They are really two intertwined sides of the same story, simultaneous, with synchronization points of communication along: video calls, texting, phone calls, etc.

Two Simultaneous Stories
Two Simultaneous Stories

o Viewers make up their own version of the story as they watch different bits and pieces of each POV story happening in parallel. The director is no more directing/forcing the viewer to view a scene at a specific time in a specific composition, but we’ve placed enough cues in each scene to make sure viewer gets the whole story at the end.

Viewer's Timeline Edit
Viewer’s Timeline Edit

Two distinct physical locations

o Business side (restaurant, hotel room, conference room) versus coders side (startup office space, kitchen, rest area)
o Time difference: simultaneous time but with 3 hours difference (East coast/West coast)
o Visual design: more impersonal or public space on the business side, versus a quiet office space on the weekend with personalized items of their desks

Different Physical Spaces
Different Physical Spaces
Quad Binaural Sound
Quad Binaural Sound

 

o Audio design: we designed the sound to be spatially interactive, based on the movement of the viewer’s head and where they are looking. We carefully mixed the sound from the two spaces, so it overlaps and can draw the viewer into turning his/her attention to the other story. The viewer can hear the sound from the space they are facing and the voice of the character they are embodying, but also they can hear cues from the other side. They are influential sound cues, not overbearing, but a gentle reminder that there is another story happening behind them without being invasive.

 

Two distinct psychological spaces

o Viewers easily see who they are embodying by simply looking down: they see a live male or female body, hear his/her voice as if it was coming from their mouth.
o Two styles of embodiment: we made creative use of blocking, eye contact with the other actors and camera height to convey a more dominant position for the male side, and a more isolated/dominated side on the female side for specific scenes.

Writing for VR/POV Storytelling

Writing for VR proposed many challenges and differences than writing for traditional film/TV, especially writing for a first person narrative. We were always looking for ways to identify with the main characters emotionally, but that was difficult as you never see the lead emote on camera, you are the main character, so the approach on the writing had to change.

For example, to help the viewer quickly empathize with our characters at the beginning, we devised a story point in which the two sides are talking over video conference. This way the viewer can see who they are embodying on the other side and get a read on their facial expressions. Camera movements had to be eliminated or be very subtle and organic, so it wouldn’t cause any ‘sim’ sickness in the viewer. We used blocking and other characters movements to add dynamics back into a scene.

Tackling Difficult Issues with Humor

The tone of the series is humorous, witty and satirical. UTURN does not aim to point fingers, but to create a fun and introspective space for prodding gender issues, while going on our protagonist’s journey and struggle to become a leader in her field.

We feel that laughter may be the best choice when discussing biases. Humor lends way to self-reflection, develops empathy, which in turn, helps create safe spaces. By taking a lighthearted and humorous approach to the subject, we found that users had more willingness to listen to the issues and were motivated to talk more about ways in which they could reduce their own unconscious biases.

In writing comedy for VR, we couldn’t rely on the same tools we have in traditional film-making. There is no frame/out-of-frame reveal, editing for dialogue or a music cue timing, and very little improvisation the actors can add once filming starts to add to the written humor. It relies on dialogue and choreography, similar to a play in that way, to bring the laughs. However, because of this, VR lends itself to be an actor’s medium. We spent more time on rehearsals than actual shooting as it was important that everyone knew their lines and their marks. Rehearsals were also the time for any collaboration with the actors in terms of improvisation or any rewrites that needed to happen. We were thankful we built this time into our schedule as in traditional indie film-making, heavy rehearsal days are rare.

Episodic Storytelling

Short form episodes provide an opportunity for the viewer to watch elements of the story that they have missed in order to complete their understanding of the two perspectives, to grasp more subtle elements. But also, the episodic nature gives viewers more time with our main character to see her develop, change from merely a coder to that of an entrepreneur, and for us to explore diverse aspects of gender issues.