Male Voiceover: The Digital Production Buzz is brought to you by KeyFlow Pro; media asset management software, designed to meet the needs of work groups at an affordable price.
Larry Jordan: This week on the Buzz, we are looking at virtual reality; storytelling and beyond. We start with Kain Teitzel; he is the CEO and Founder of Start VR. This is a company that creates interactive cinematic VR entertainment for their clients. Tonight he talks about the difference between VR and filmmaking and what it takes to create VR environments that you can explore.
Larry Jordan: Next, Ian Forester is the Founder of the VR Playhouse; he’s looking for ways to use VR to create amazing stories. Tonight he explains what makes 360 VR different from traditional storytelling.
Larry Jordan: Next, Ryan Ritchey created a new website called VRonMac.com, that’s devoted to covering VR. Why? Because, as a filmmaker and an editor, he couldn’t find anything on the web that helped him with the creative process of creating VR; so he invented it.
Larry Jordan: Next Nick Bicanic is the Founder of RVLVR Labs; tonight, he takes us behind the scenes of writing a VR script, then choosing the right gear to shoot it. All this, plus James DeRuvo with our weekly doddleNEWS update. The Buzz starts now.
Male Voiceover: Since the dawn of digital filmmaking. Authoritative: One show serves a worldwide network of media professionals. Current: Uniting industry experts. Production: Filmmakers. Post-Production: And content creators around the planet. Distribution: From the media capital of the world, in Los Angeles, California, the Digital Production Buzz goes live now.
Larry Jordan: Welcome to the Digital Production Buzz; the world’s longest running podcast for the creative content industry; covering media production, post-production and marketing around the world. Hi, my name is Larry Jordan.
Larry Jordan: This morning, at 5:30am, Apple released the latest versions of Final Cut Pro X Compressor and Motion; I’ll have more on these new versions in my segment at the end of the show. However, for now, I just want to mention that, if you haven’t turned up auto update in system preferences, you are probably already working with the new version. For those that haven’t upgraded yet, I always recommend waiting until you’re done with a project before upgrading. Now this waiting isn’t required, it just decreases your stress. Also, if you use a lot of plug-ins or third party gear, be sure that it is compatible with the new version before you upgrade. The new version has lots of fascinating features, but they’ll still be there if you wait a bit before you upgrade. A little research now can save a lot of pain later.
Larry Jordan: By the way, I want to invite you to subscribe to our free weekly show newsletter at digitalproductionbuzz.com. Every issue, every week provides quick links to the different segments on the show, plus articles of interest to filmmakers. Best of all, it’s free and comes out every Saturday. Before I introduce James DeRuvo, I want to mention that we taped his news report yesterday, before Apple announced the release of Final Cut Pro X.
Larry Jordan: So now it’s time for our weekly doddleNEWS update with James DeRuvo. Hello James.
James DeRuvo: Hi Larry, how are you?
Larry Jordan: You know, it’s the holidays and I can start to smell Christmas trees in the air.
James DeRuvo: And all that fruit cake that’s being baked.
Larry Jordan: Truly enough. So what have we got in the news this week?
James DeRuvo: Just in time for the holidays, Apple has given us all an early Christmas present; they’re shipping the new iMac Pro. It’s available with up to 18 core Intel processors; up to 128 gigabytes of DDR4 RAM; SSDs up to four terabytes and it’s driven by AMD’s Radeon Pro Vega GPUs to Apple’s 5K retina screen, with 16 gigabytes of RAM. Dude, seriously, this thing is going to be a beast.
Larry Jordan: Given the fact neither of us have played with it yet, what’s your reaction?
James DeRuvo: Simply put, the iMac Pro has so much performance, honestly, it could end up making those involved in post-production forget that Apple is promising to release the higher priced modular Mac Pro sometime next year. Who’s going to need a trashcan mark two when you’ve got this beauty? I think this is the one that fulfils the promise that Apple cares more about the Pro market again.
Larry Jordan: Okay, that’s Apple. What else have we got this week?
James DeRuvo: Well, Panasonic GH5 is getting a firmware update; it’s a scheduled update that promises to boost the GH5’s image stabilization with variable rate recording, plus there’s support for Leica’s 200mm f/2.8 lens. There’s also a great deal going on right now for the GH5 in a bundle with the Atomos Inferno Recorder, which offers ten bit 4K60 recording in pro res.
Larry Jordan: What are the rumors I’m hearing about this update?
James DeRuvo: Some are saying that this scheduled update sets the stage for a rumored GH5s that may come out next month at CES. It’s got a sensor based on the G9, which promises to have better low light performance and put it head to head with the Sony A7 line. But, if that’s true, its best feature may be that it lowers the price of the current model; because, whenever a new model comes out, the previous model goes down in price. I think it’s a good update that will tide over those who want to upgrade; but, you may not need to.
Larry Jordan: Okay, that’s Panasonic. What else have we got this week?
James DeRuvo: From our friends Down Under, RØDE has announced a new audio interface called the AI-1. It’s designed for home recording, but it offers pro studio quality, with a single combo XLR quarter inch input; plus two balanced monitor outputs. It’s got a dynamic range of 104 dBu; frequency response better than plus or minus 1dB and it’s USB powered; so you can take it anywhere you take your computer.
Larry Jordan: Well you said this is for home recording. Do you see that as the principle target market?
James DeRuvo: I do. Whether you’re a one man crew, or a YouTuber looking to up your game, the RØDE AI-1 can certainly provide pro studio quality at a home studio price. It’s essentially plug and play and just enough connections to do the basic tasks that we all rely on. At 129 bucks, you just can’t beat the price.
Larry Jordan: Okay, so that’s Apple and Panasonic and RØDE; what other stories are you following this week?
James DeRuvo: Other stories this week include why you should be shooting in 4K already; FreeFly goes mobile with the new Movi Handheld Gimbal Stabilizer and how about peeking behind the curtain on how RED makes its iconic MONSTRO cameras.
Larry Jordan: Where can we go on the web to get these and other stories?
James DeRuvo: All these stories and more can be found at doddlenews.com.
Larry Jordan: James DeRuvo is the Senior Writer for doddleNEWS and James, as always, thanks for joining us this week.
James DeRuvo: Okay Larry, see you next week.
Larry Jordan: When you can’t find your media, you need a media asset management solution. KeyFlow Pro. This simple but powerful software is designed specifically to help you organize, track and find your media. Whether you work alone or part of a group, its intuitive user interface helps you easily store, sort, search, play, annotate and share your media; using team based shared libraries over a network. Its wide range of features are all at a very affordable price and, with the new 1.8.3 update, rescanning is up to ten times faster. Plus, KeyFlow Pro is integrated with Mac OS notifications, enabling you to collaborate faster and smarter all in real time. KeyFlow Pro is available in the Mac App store; or get a 30 day free trial at keyflowpro.com. KeyFlow Pro, simple, elegant and surprisingly affordable.
Larry Jordan: Kain Teitzel is a serial entrepreneur, who’s been working with technology startups, creative agencies and media companies for over 20 years. Currently, Kain serves as the CEO and Founder of Start VR; this is an award-winning full service production studio specializing in immersive interactive cinematic entertainment. Hello Kain, welcome.
Kain Teitzel: Hi Larry, thanks very much.
Larry Jordan: What does the term immersive interactive entertainment mean to you?
Kain Teitzel: It’s a really good question to start with. Within the realm of VR at the moment we have, you know, the entry point I guess is a lot of linear 360 video and, at the other end of the spectrum, you’ve got a lot of video game type mechanics. Whether you’re creating 3D universes or worlds, it’s very game orientated. We’re trying to create something unique and in between those two concepts. We’re still telling immersive stories like you would with regular film and television; but we’re adding another layer of navigational light interaction, to help you, as the user, feel more engaged in the storyline as you shape the outcome.
Larry Jordan: Are these fictional stories, or are we recreating something from the past? Give me a perspective.
Kain Teitzel: It can be a combination of fiction and fact driven, or documentary. In the way that you might watch a travel documentary, most travel documentaries would be linear; this actually enables you to go to a destination and to hear those local stories, but to explore the environment at your own leisure. Then, on the fiction side, it’s telling some larger narrative pieces that will enable you to shape the outcome in different ways; either choose to explore a path in more detail, or an area of discovery or to, you know, effectively be led by the narrative as well.
Larry Jordan: VR has been described to me as though we were standing at the center of a globe and looking out in this 360 sphere at the world around us; front, back, top, bottom, left and right. If that’s a true statement, how do we explore an environment? Are we just pushing this globe around with us, or am I not seeing the concept?
Kain Teitzel: In the technology sense, we refer to them as 3DOF and 6DOF. 3DOF stands for Three Degrees of Freedom and six stands for Six Degrees. 3DOF effectively gives you a 360 degree view; up, down, left, right, all around and that’s the globe premise I guess you’re talking about there. But with 6DOF we can actually move around our environment; we have more freedom and liberty to interact with the environment. Within the 6DOF experience, I can look underneath a table, I can look around a person, I can walk around an object and engage with it. Pick up objects and, you know, have a very tactile experience inside VR. Whereas, a 360 sphere, you are limited to that one particular sphere of view. Both technologies are available and both are used to tell different types of stories.
Larry Jordan: The 6DOF is the one that I’m traditionally familiar with, with games, where everything would be programmed; but you’re not doing a game; you’re doing something which is simulating real life.
Kain Teitzel: That’s correct, yes and that’s the challenge. That interactive cinematic VR that we work with, we’re trying to create cinematic worlds using the same kind of language we use with cinema, but also visually trying to create something that looks more than just video. We use a range of different techniques to make sure that we can create those environments. For example, in order to be able to move around an environment, we will use techniques like photogrammetry; which is effectively taking thousands, sometimes tens of thousands of photos of a physical location; you then run those photos through a piece of software and that turns those photos into a realistic 3D model. Once you have that 3D representation of that physical space, it feels as if you’re there and you can move around it.
Larry Jordan: What those photos allow me to do is to walk around an object and see all the different sides of an object; as opposed to simply being again in my sphere.
Kain Teitzel: That’s correct, yes, and it’s not just an object, it’s a location. One of our projects, we went into the Temples of Damanhur in Italy and captured these amazing almost like Egyptian tombs with friezes and pieces of artwork. You know, by taking these tens of thousands of photos, you can then, in VR, walk around those locations and you can get up close and detailed as if you were literally there.
Larry Jordan: How would you compare the roles of the kind of immersive entertainment you’re creating with the kind of immersive entertainment that we see every day in a movie theater?
Kain Teitzel: For starters, I guess, movie theater experiences are linear; there’s a start and an end and in the middle is where the story is. As a viewer, you have the story told at you, so there’s very little room for interpretation. Whereas VR, you’re not so much watching an experience, you are in the experience; so, instead of watching a James Bond movie, you can be in the James Bond movie; you can be one of the extras helping James, you know complete his mission. You’re feeding him information, you’re helping shape the outcome of the story; which the idea is, to try and heighten the sense of immersion, to get closer to the characters, to get even deeper into these universes than you can than just watching it on a flat screen.
Larry Jordan: Can you even develop a narrative with this, when you can’t control where the viewer is going to look or go next? In traditional filmmaking, coming up with a storyline is relatively easy. It sounds like it becomes much more of an engaging experience, but much less of a plot.
Kain Teitzel: No, not at all. A good story can still be told inside VR, we’re just having to create a new language by which to sort of create these narrative experiences. In the same way that we did with film, you know, and it took 100 years to get to where we are now; by learning shots and tracking and different production techniques. We’re effectively starting low again with VR. How do we tell a story but still give people that freedom and liberty?
Kain Teitzel: Even though you give people a world of choice, most people don’t want to take that. We’re using other simple techniques such as, you know, if the user doesn’t make a choice one way or another, we still put them back on a track and help propel the story forward. But they still have options to branch off if they want to and they’ll still come back into the main plot and central narrative.
Larry Jordan: How long do these stories run, in terms of duration?
Kain Teitzel: Most of the experiences we create are between five and 15 minutes.
Larry Jordan: What gear do you use to create your experiences?
Kain Teitzel: The gear we use to create, it all depends on the type of aesthetic feeling we’re looking for, what the budget allows and what type of interactive experience we want. For a lot of our commercial clients, a lot of the work we do is linear 360 video and within that, we have a Nokia OZO camera, which is a 12 lens stereo 4K 360 video capture device and we use that primarily in most of our projects. But we’ll also use other cameras, maybe dual pair Blackmagic 180 lenses; we might use a couple of GoPro rigs. It depends if we need to put it on a drone and weight’s a factor.
Kain Teitzel: Mostly we use the Nokia OZO for our 360 video production. Then, when it comes to some of the other projects with photogrammetry, volumetric capture, you know, we’ll use dedicated services to help us create those experiences. We didn’t talk about this in the interview, but that allows us to capture a holographic performance of a real human being and bring that into virtual reality. For that we’ve been partnering with Microsoft Mixed Reality Studios, out of their Redmond Studio and the data involved in that is astronomical. That enables us to create really incredibly lifelike human performance capture, as if you’re standing next to someone.
Larry Jordan: Where does Start VR fit into this? Are you the creative team? Are you the hardware that builds the creative? What do you see as the role of the company?
Kain Teitzel: We’re the content creators and we’re trying to define a new form of narrative, which is that interactive cinematic narrative. We’re pioneering techniques, creating our own IP, but also licensing IP; to try and tell bigger stories inside VR. There’s a certain amount of video production, film production, narrative and interactive storytelling and software development.
Larry Jordan: Let’s say that I was a client that wanted you to create say a short five minute experience, doing the kind of work that you’re doing now. What would be an approximate timeframe? In other words, is this something that gets done in a week or a year, and what’s an approximate budget? Just give me some ranges.
Kain Teitzel: I think there’s generally been a rule of thumb that a minute of 360 video is $10,000; so that’s probably your very basic rule of thumb; so your five minute video might cost you 50,000. But for 360 video that’s coming down all the time. When it comes to the sort of larger, more interactive experiences, there’s software development, there’s a range of different media we have to create; a project like that might come in between 150-250,000. Then, when you’re looking at some of our bigger projects, you know, with volumetric capture and Hollywood actors, much larger production values, they might come anywhere between, you know, half a million and a million dollars and that’s still keeping it relatively cheap.
Larry Jordan: Time to produce?
Kain Teitzel: From a 360 video, the minimum time to turn that around is probably three to four weeks, but ideally six to eight and most VR projects we have will take between three and five months to produce. If it’s larger, six to nine months.
Larry Jordan: You’ve been founding companies for a long time, are you still excited about this one?
Kain Teitzel: This is my favorite one. I mean, I love this company, I love this industry, I love this business. This brings together all the things I love, which is technology; innovation; on the bleeding edge; media production; storytelling; design, you know, it’s got all the best things going for it. It’s all still so new, so there are rules to be made and broken again and again and that keeps me on my toes and keeps me driven, that’s for sure.
Larry Jordan: For people that want to learn more about the titles you create, where can they go on the web?
Kain Teitzel: To learn more about what we do, you can go to startvr.co and, on our website, you can experience some of our great work and sign up to a mailing list to hear about our new product announcements as well.
Larry Jordan: That’s all one word, startvr.co and Kain Teitzel is the Founder and CEO of Start VR and, Kain, thanks for joining us today.
Kain Teitzel: Thank you for your excellent questions Larry. Have a great day.
Larry Jordan: Ian Forester launched VR Playhouse in 2015, uniting digital entertainment and live storytelling with immersive experiences in 360 video, pre-rendered VR and interactive VR and all the different fusions in between. Hello Ian, welcome.
Ian Forester: Hey Larry, thanks for having me.
Larry Jordan: How would you describe VR Playhouse without using all the terms I just used?
Ian Forester: At our core we’re a creative studio, we came together to create transformational experiences in the digital space and, as we were quite early, before the massive hype of 2015-16, we became a go-to for people looking to create VR content; so we became a pretty robust service offering for a company who wanted to get into the space.
Larry Jordan: What is it that you find so attractive about virtual reality?
Ian Forester: You know, to me, I think that there is a lot to be gained from the agency of being able to affect the media with your behavior; even if you’re just talking about 360 video. Just that agency of being able to look around, I think, has a powerful effect psychologically. I’m excited to see what the long tail of the medium becomes as it becomes more prevalent and as we start using it as a device.
Larry Jordan: You’ve been working in VR for a couple of years. How is storytelling different in VR than from traditional media?
Ian Forester: I’d say that, in traditional media, the authorship and the character and the role of the author is very well defined and has been well defined for a long time and that role is to say, sit back, take a load off, be easy, I’m in control now and I’m going to show you everything you need to know. There’s a real masterful art in ordering information and presenting it in such a way that makes that a very pleasurable experience.
Ian Forester: Like I said, there’s a real masterful art to that. I think when you’re talking about immersive or interactive work, what you’re talking about there is less a single stream downward, but more you’re setting traps, you’re creating what a teacher friend of mine calls serendipity machines. I think that, you know, creating little pockets of delight for people to discover is very fun and rewarding to me. I think that’s part of the difference.
Larry Jordan: It sounds like you’re almost designing an Easter egg hunt.
Ian Forester: I think that’s a great way to put it Larry.
Larry Jordan: In your website, you talk about something called spacial mapping. What is that?
Ian Forester: Spacial mapping is sort of a broad term to include the capture of any type of physical space and transferring it into the digital world. If a place exists in real life, how do we map its space and then, you know, be able to import it into some kind of interactive engine, or even just being able to film it with a virtual camera. You know, I use that term because it encompasses, broadly, capture using light arc, or capture using photogrammetry; capture using light field cameras, as well as volumetric cameras and conversion techniques.
Larry Jordan: I’ve got a philosophical question for you. There seems to be a bigger social question, as we move toward VR, in that we’re pushing viewers into their little individual worlds surrounded by the headset. Given that it’s hard enough to get people to communicate on a day-to-day basis, are we fragmenting and isolating us in society even more?
Ian Forester: Well, I think that’s certainly one way to look at it and that is a pressing concern, I think, for everybody in the VR space. One of the reasons that I decided to jump into the space, beyond my passion for communicating the types of experiences I was doing in the analogue world for a digital pipeline, was, I could see the opportunity and I wanted to be part of the group that was creating this future; so that I could influence it in a direction for people to connect to each other.
Ian Forester: I think that there is far more profit to be made in separating people into what I call thought ghettos and then charging them to gain access outside of that cohort. I think this is something that Facebook’s made a really prime example of. You get pushed into your own sort of thought feedback loop and that becomes its own virtual reality, its own echo-chamber of a reality. How do you then break outside of that? Well, you have to cross through the center of the circle and that includes going through Facebook and there’s a toll for that; you have to pay for that access.
Ian Forester: Like I said, there is a real danger of that, you know, as well as the massive new data that is available from VR users, Kevin Kelly, the former Founder and Editor of Wired said, you know, if the cell phone is a surveillance device we all willingly carry in our pocket, VR is a full surveillance … You know, to track the kinds of behavioral metrics of somebody before VR was prohibitively expensive and very invasive to their lives; so it was nearly impossible to gain consent for that. In VR, those metrics are readily available and that kind of surveillance is invisible and cheap; so it now becomes very possible and attractive for people who want to profit off of it.
Ian Forester: I think that we’re going to have to understand what this tool is and where it can be used. It can be used, you know, to create incredible experiences for people and some radical change in the lives of individuals; but we also need to temper that and understand that with a real priority placed on transparency or personal ownership of data. I think that’s going to be the next big fight when it comes to technology and today’s FCC decision is an interesting data point in that progression.
Larry Jordan: It will be an interesting thing to watch as the future unfolds. For people that want to keep track of the products that you’re creating and follow your work, where can they go on the web?
Ian Forester: Sure, you can check us out at www.vrplayhouse.com.
Larry Jordan: That’s all one word, vrplayhouse.com and Ian Forester is the Founder of VR Playhouse. Ian, thanks for joining us today.
Ian Forester: Thanks Larry.
Larry Jordan: Take care, bye-bye.
Larry Jordan: Ryan Ritchey has been an Editor and Producer for 17 years, working in industrial video and documentaries. He also served as an Associate Producer on the recent revival of the cult classic TV show Mystery Science Theater 3000. But, what I’m excited about is, he’s the Creator of VRonMac.com. Hello Ryan, welcome.
Ryan Ritchey: Hi Larry, thanks for having me.
Larry Jordan: What first got you interested in VR?
Ryan Ritchey: Well, for the longest time, I was in the camp that this whole VR thing was a fluke and wasn’t going anywhere. I think it was because it didn’t speak to me. Then about ten or 12 months ago, just about a year, we took my two Nieces to a local VR arcade, for lack of a better word; it was only two different headsets. When I saw them use it and saw how they interacted with it, I started to think, you know what, this isn’t necessarily a flash in the pan and, so, with my background in video editing, it looked like 360 video was sort of the bridge between the world I knew and sort of getting into this world of VR.
Larry Jordan: Why VRonMac?
Ryan Ritchey: I ask myself that every day. What had happened was, I’ve been an Adobe Premiere Editor and then a Final Cut Pro Editor basically from Final Cut Three and that means I’m used to a Mac workflow. Over the summer, with the announcements at WWDC regarding VR support coming to the Mac, I was really excited; this is my chance to get involved. As time went by, I kept looking for information and resources and where are we right now. I’m doing this and I couldn’t find them. My Wife actually got tired of me every night complaining, I can’t find the information; why can’t I find this information? She said, you know what, you need to just make the website you’re looking for; so that’s what led to creating it.
Larry Jordan: Stop complaining and do the work.
Ryan Ritchey: Exactly.
Larry Jordan: What are your goals for the site and, by the way, I’m looking at VRonMac now. It’s one word, VRonMac.com and it’s just a very clean, lovely, information rich site and I’m really impressed with it. Nice job and, in the short time you’ve had to create it, it looks lovely. What are your medium and long-term goals for the site?
Ryan Ritchey: For me, you know, it’s interesting. I feel like, for now, the same group that is interested in creating VR and creating 360 video, in large part, is the group that’s consuming it. For now, we don’t have a huge installed base with the bigger headsets, the Vive and the Oculus Rift and so forth; so I’m approaching it as, let’s look at what’s happening on the creation side. What’s new for 360 editing, you know, what’s new in Adobe Premiere, what’s new in Final Cut and, then into the gaming engines, Unity and Unreal. But then, as this stuff starts to come online that you can experience it on a Mac, you know, also we want to have reviews of, well here’s a web VR experience you can have today with your Mac.
Ryan Ritchey: It’s really both sides. I want to keep an eye on creation, because that’s important to me and my business and then, also, the experience and how you can consume this content on a Mac.
Larry Jordan: Well, does that mean you’ve given up editing, or are you doing VR on the Mac on the side? How does this fit in with your schedule?
Ryan Ritchey: VR Mac is definitely a side project, it will not pay the bills; so I’m still an Editor and Producer first and foremost. But I’m really interested in exploring what we can do with 360 video, especially how that bridges the gap between traditional video and then the VR side, which we start to get into more of a video game model at some point.
Larry Jordan: You are balancing between the old and the new; the older form of traditional movie making and VR. What do you see as the medium term for VR? Is it still a flash in the pan, you just want to take advantage of it; or has it got legs, is it going to replace filmmaking as we know it? What’s your thought?
Ryan Ritchey: The analogy I use is, I think we’re at the point where, think about the telephone and if you were standing there with Alexander Graham Bell and said, well what do you think is going to become of this telephone? At that point you couldn’t even imagine the uses; the fact that, years later we would use that same copper line for internet and that kids would need to have these devices with them all the time. I feel like that’s where we are with VR; it is its own thing, it’s not just a video gaming system and it’s not video production.
Ryan Ritchey: Medium term, I think what we’re going to start to see is a movement to, you know, more of the phone based headsets or mobile headsets; because I think those are what we’re going to see deployed in mass. The bigger question of, what content will people be watching on those headsets I think is still up in the air.
Larry Jordan: For people that want more information about your website and VR in general, where can they go on the web?
Ryan Ritchey: Sure, they can stop by VRonMac.com, or also on Twitter, VRonMac.
Larry Jordan: That’s all one word VRonMac and Ryan Ritchey is the Creator and Founder of VRonMac and, Ryan, thanks for joining us today.
Ryan Ritchey: Thank you, it’s been a pleasure.
Larry Jordan: Heres’s another website I want to introduce you to, doddlenews.com. doddleNEWS gives you a portal into the broadcast, video and film industries. It’s a leading online resource, presenting news, reviews and products for the film and video industry. doddleNEWS also offers a resource guide and crew management platform specifically designed for production. These digital call sheets, along with their app, directory and premium listings, provide in-depth organizational tools for busy production professionals.
Larry Jordan: doddleNEWS is a part of the Thalo Arts community, a worldwide community of artists, filmmakers and storytellers. For photography to filmmaking, performing arts to fine arts and everything in between, Thalo is filled with the resources you need to succeed. Whether you want the latest industry news, need to network with other creative professionals or require state of the art online tools to manage your next project, there’s only one place to go, doddlenews.com.
Larry Jordan: Nick Bicanic is an award-winning Film Director and Software Entrepreneur; he’s also the Founder of RVLVR Labs, a virtual and augmented reality storytelling company. He’s currently working to figure how to make virtual reality storytelling compelling for audiences. Hello Nick, welcome back.
Nick Bicanic: Hey. Thank you very much for having me.
Larry Jordan: Well we had so much fun the last time you were on a few months ago, we decided it was time to invite you back to learn more about what’s happening in the world of VR. What I wanted to do tonight, because we’ve been talking with some other folks about VR as well, but they’ve all been focused on production and the point of view of the audience. What I’m interested in hearing from you is, the process of writing a script for VR. When you’re writing for a VR project, what do you need to pay attention to?
Nick Bicanic: Well, in my opinion, when you’re writing for any kind of project, the first and foremost thing you pay attention to is the story. At the risk of sounding obvious, that doesn’t change, no matter what medium you’re in. Whether you’re writing a graphic novel, or whether you’re writing a movie or a short film or, in this case, a piece of VR, you have to think about story, character and plot.
Nick Bicanic: The easiest way to describe this is to think about, what is different in the way in which you approach writing for, for example, 360 video or interactive narrative; versus how you might write for more traditional things; be that a video game or a movie. The answer is, not a massive amount. At the high level, a story is a story and if you can nail story, character and plot, you can nail the emotional connection with the audience; the rest is details. They’re important details but they’re details nonetheless.
Larry Jordan: Well let me play devil’s advocate. How can you write a story when you have no control over the flow and you have no control over the order at which the people that are viewing your story consume it? It becomes much more of, not a story but an experience.
Nick Bicanic: You’re touching on something that is, at the moment, a sharp distinction between multiple parts of VR. There is such a thing in the VR industry that’s referred to as 360 video or VR video and, in this particular case, the experience is not as interactive as you’re suggesting. For sure, the person who’s consuming the experience, the viewer shall we say, can choose where to look; but they cannot, for example, decide to go in a completely different direction. The story can only go where the camera has been. If you decide to add elements of interactivity or, shall we say, viewer agency, you’re describing something that’s much more of a video game than a direct narrative story.
Nick Bicanic: Obviously there’s a gray area in the middle, where you could have something that’s a partially interactive narrative where, depending on what you might do the plot might bifurcate or branch, as people often say in the industry. There are various different degrees of types of narrative; there is a traditional passive narrative, where the story goes in one particular direction and you can’t affect it; there is the opposite extreme, which is a fully interactive environment. It’s easier to think of it as a video game than it is an experience, because in a video game we know that you can pick up a joystick and move the character into various different directions and do different things; and then there’s the middle ground, which is a hybrid form; a partially interactive narrative, or a branching narrative. Frankly, the rules are still being written on exactly how this stuff works and what you should do.
Nick Bicanic: The point that I was making is not that there’s no difference between interactive narrative and traditional passive narrative, but there’s no real difference when you apply it to VR; so, if you’re thinking about writing for an interactive game that’s played on a PC, the similar skills would apply when you’re doing that in VR. If you’re thinking of writing for a traditional movie or a short film, exactly the same writing skills apply when you’re writing a 360 video, which will be consumed in a VR headset.
Larry Jordan: How much of the VR script is written ahead of time and how much of it evolves during rehearsal and performance? I’m thinking of the difference between say shooting a film and live theater. Live theater gets its whatever it is from the rehearsal process and filmmaking gets its whatever it is from the actual process of shooting that scene. Is there something similar with VR?
Nick Bicanic: There is, for sure. Let’s assume, for the moment, that we’re talking about the segments for VR which involve photorealistic images; in other words cameras and people. Because, the moment you push into computer generated imagery, you change the dynamics completely because, in effect, the animator is controlling absolutely everything and everything takes place in the computer. If you are shooting real people, so actors, then there is definitely an element of what you can call either blocking, or staging, or choreography, or all of the above, which helps the final story take shape.
Nick Bicanic: But, I don’t know that there’s a hard and fast rule for this yet, because, this is a storytelling language that is still evolving. We don’t have the benefit of 100 years’ worth of fairly stable and known tools for montage and mise en scène and camera movement. What we’re doing here is that, we have to try and think in a slightly different way. We know that the audience member could look in any particular direction; so, in a way, we have to act a little bit like a magician, because we’ve got to take a guess as to which way the audience is looking and try and get them to not look in completely the wrong direction.
Nick Bicanic: At the same time, we don’t want to confuse them and we don’t want to make it entirely obvious; because the last thing you want to do is constantly be, as a viewer, responding to somebody who’s going, hey, hey, look over here, look over here. If it’s too obvious it’ll get really annoying.
Nick Bicanic: For sure, there is an element of a story that forms itself during a rehearsal; but in many cases, the degree to which this happens is dictated by the budget. You might not have the time to spend two or three days doing detailed dress rehearsals and, shall we say, table reads or whatever the equivalent of a 360 video table read would be; which would allow you to think about camera movement and blocking and choreography. The more of that you can do, the more immersive and emotionally engaging experience you can make.
Larry Jordan: Let’s get back to writing the script again. How much of this blocking or staging do you see as your writing and how much of it occurs during the rehearsal or shooting process?
Nick Bicanic: A lot of that depends on the experience of the writer. In many cases I, as a Director, don’t mind one way or the other; I’m perfectly happy to interpret a traditionally written screenplay with traditional screenplay beats. In my head, I internalize the vision both for how I feel I’d like the camera to move and approximately what the rhythm of the edits would be in these movements.
Nick Bicanic: One of the reasons that I do that on my projects is that I have significant experience both as a Director and as an Editor. If you are working with a much bigger crew and a much bigger project, where you are forced to specialize more significantly, that can get a little harder. In many cases, you are forced to rely on multiple people to have to interpret all of these different things and, in many cases, much like in heavy visual effects shoots, previsualization forms a key part of the production process. You would go, written screenplay, into basic previsualization and/or storyboard, into some element of blocking/choreography and then into your shoot.
Larry Jordan: Which gets me to the projects that you’re working on. What was a recent VR project that you did? Because I want to have you bragging for a minute.
Nick Bicanic: I appreciate that, I’m always happy to brag. I’ve been doing a lot of work in scripted narrative. Although, as a company, we’ve done a lot of different branded content projects, the most recent project we got a lot of acclaim for was a scripted narrative piece called Cupid. Scripted narrative is very hard to do in 360 video; generally people have been quite scared of editing; they’ve been quite scared of increasing the pace and it’s made for what, in my opinion, is a lot of beautifully shot, amazing environments, but not necessarily dynamic fast-paced stories.
Nick Bicanic: We tried to do something a little different, with a project called Cupid and it was very well received; it was featured both on Oculus Video and on Samsung VR. We’re actually currently in discussion with Samsung about doing a number of follow up episodes; essentially an extended season of the entire show; so that looks really good.
Larry Jordan: That’s very exciting. For people who want to keep track of the work that you’re doing, where can they go on the web?
Nick Bicanic: The best place is to go to our website, which is rvlvrlabs.com.
Larry Jordan: That’s all one word, rvlvrlabs and Nick Bicanic is the award-winning filmmaker that’s running the whole place. Nick, thanks for joining us today.
Nick Bicanic: Thank you for having me.
Larry Jordan: Bye-bye.
Larry Jordan: You know, I was just thinking, this morning, as I waited for Apple to launch the latest versions of Final Cut Pro X, about the process of upgrading. Upgrades are a delicate balance. As users, we always want the latest and greatest features, but, we don’t want the upgrade to change the way we work and that is a difficult challenge to meet.
Larry Jordan: As I wrote in my blog this morning, what Apple has done with this release is to position Final Cut for the future; the application now supports 360 degree video, HDR, HEVC and HEIF codecs. These codecs allow us to import and edit video and stills shot on iOS 11 devices and media frame sizes can now range up to 8K; which I think is a ridiculous amount of resolution and an excessive amount of bandwidth, but someone will find a way to describe it as the salvation of western civilization as we know it and we’ll be stuck using it in the future.
Larry Jordan: The engineering to support these changes on Apple’s part is massive; but, for many of us, who aren’t working in these formats, it can seem a bit anticlimactic. But I think a better way to think of what Apple has done is that, now, we won’t outgrow the software as we experiment with new ways of working with media. Fortunately, Apple didn’t change the interface, except in two key areas; color grading and 360 VR. The color tools have undergone a massive update, with color wheels returning to the app and the new addition of a wide variety of color curves. Once you start using the new color tools, you’ll never look back.
Larry Jordan: While 360 VR can feed an HTC Vive headset, providing you have the right computer, for me, what is more exciting is that any Mac that can run the latest version of Final Cut can now display and edit VR on their computer monitor. This opens most of us to playing with VR without making a huge investment in new hardware. As you heard earlier on tonight’s show, there is lots of opportunity in VR out there and, finally, Apple has given us the ability to play.
Larry Jordan: For those who want to learn more about this latest release, I’ve created new video training, almost 26 hours, that covers everything from workflow, to editing, to color grading, to effects. You can learn more by visiting my store at larryjordan.com/store. It’s a compelling upgrade and I’m looking forward to hearing what you are doing with it. This is just something I’m thinking about.
Larry Jordan: I want to thank our guests on tonight’s show, Kain Teitzel from Start VR, Ian Forester of VR Playhouse, Ryan Ritchey of VRonMac.com, Nick Bicanic of RVLVR Labs and James DeRuvo of doddlenews.com. There’s a lot of history in our industry and it’s all posted to our website at digitalproductionbuzz.com. Here you’ll find thousands of interviews all online and all available to you today.
Larry Jordan: Remember to sign up for our free weekly show newsletter, that comes out every Saturday. Talk with us on Twitter @dpbuzz and Facebook at digitalproductionbuzz.com. Our theme music is composed by Nathan Dugi-Turner, with additional music provided by smartsound.com. Text transcripts are provided by Take 1 Transcription; visit take1.tv to learn how they can help you. Our Producer is Debbie Price, my name is Larry Jordan and thanks for listening to the Digital Production Buzz.
Larry Jordan: The Digital Production Buzz is copyright 2017 by Thalo LLC.
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