Industry / Market - Ireland
Industry Report: New Media
Producer Camille Donegan explores the groundbreaking impact of VR in film and other forms of audiovisual storytelling
The master class, organised by Screen Wexford, saw the expert offering an overview of the new opportunities brought by VR and the best principles to adopt when implementing user experience design
On 20 January, Screen Wexford organised a master class on VR storytelling. Some of the topics covered included the opportunities offered by these new technologies, user experience (UX) design principles to ensure user comfort, how VR is set to change artistic practices and how to guide viewers’ attention in a 360-degree experience.
Linda Curtin, Screen Wexford’s film and television coordinator, introduced Camille Donegan, of Ireland’s Solas VR, a highly experienced VR producer with a background in theatre and filmmaking. With a range and depth of project insight and technical experience, Donegan is currently one of the most sought-after VR trainers in the country.
In the first part of her master class, Donegan talked through the sector’s rich terminology as well as some of the devices required to access the content, ranging from simple smartphones to VR headsets. The basic distinction to make is between augmented, mixed and virtual reality, where the latter provides users with the highest degree of immersion.
VR can generally be experienced through 3-DoF or 6-DoF headsets, where the former allows viewers just to watch what surrounds them with no interaction possible, whilst the latter grants full immersion, allowing them “to become part of the story” and interact with it. Interactions can be triggered in multiple ways, including hand/gesture tracking, dedicated controllers, voice, movement, haptic feedback, gaze and even other senses, such as smell.
Donegan tried to answer the question of why VR is considered such a powerful and unique medium. Apart from its huge immersive power, she mentioned the importance of empathy and the example of Chris Milk, the so-called “father of virtual reality” who, during one of his TED Talks, defined VR as an “empathy-making machine”, a “very controversial” and “highly debated” label. She also spoke about how the first time experiencing VR has to be pleasant, as it is “70% more impactful on users’ senses than any other subsequent times”. Other factors contributing to enhanced realism and immersion are spatial audio, embodiment, scale and depth.
She later delved into the main principles behind a good UX design. Convergence is certainly one of them, and some recent research about comfort levels conducted by Samsung recommends not placing anything closer than 1.5 metres to the viewer, in particular to avoid eye-strain headache. Keeping a constant velocity is also something important to take into account, but luckily, the frame rate of headsets has increased dramatically, making this aspect less problematic. However, extensive research, Donegan added, has proven that motion sickness is genetic, so some people should just be restricted from experiencing VR, as repeated use to get them accustomed to it won’t necessarily make things better. Other good principles to bear in mind are keeping the user grounded, guiding them with light and sound in an intuitive fashion, and leveraging scale.
Next, she spoke about popular storytelling categories that have emerged so far – namely, 360-degree narrative films, VR documentaries, open worlds and interactive stories. Popular trends see creators focusing on dystopia and sci-fi, but also a willingness to bring users to “impossible places”, “making the invisible visible”, “embodying others” and “bringing works of art to life”.
In the last part of the master class, Donegan spoke about how the “less is more” approach is valid and applicable to creators of VR experiences. She mentioned the example of Notes on Blindness: Into Darkness, a powerful project based on John Hull’s sensory and psychological experience of blindness, released alongside Peter Middleton and James Spinney’s feature Notes on Blindness [+see also:
interview: James Spinney, Peter Middle…
film profile]. To work on such endeavours, she highlighted how important it is to cover something urgent, “here and now”, “to tell users as little as possible while showing as much as possible”, to trigger provocative questions (for example, how does it feel to be blind?), to add minimal dialogues and to focus on the inner emotional life of the characters, for instance by playing with their heartbeat or through inner self-talks.
Obviously, VR has many more implications in terms of storytelling and reception owing to our own “human nature”. For example, Donegan pointed out how the new acting style emerging in VR environments tends to be “a cross-breed between film and theatre, with the subtlety of a film but boasting full body acting”. Unsurprisingly, VR is also set to change the role of the director, which, in her opinion, is here closer to that of a “matador”: “You need to wave the red cape in the direction you want the audience to run, knowing that the power ultimately lies in the audience’s hands to see what they want to see, hear what they want to hear, do what they want to do and form their own story about what they’ve experienced.”
The event was wrapped up by a Q&A session.
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