Virtual Reality (VR) offers a unique - although still somewhat niche for now - immersive experience, allowing users to step into a digitally replicated world. VR is more than a medium; it's an experience that transports users into a three-dimensional world, like walking into a room versus looking into it through a window. You’ll need to have a team of specialists who are aware of these differences and understand them intimately. For now what follows is some useful contextual knowledge for producers to understand when talking to clients or prospects about the potential value of a VR production.
If you’re interested in immersive storytelling I would also recommend reading this interview I ran with Tom Burton, the Head of Interactive at BBC Studios.
Buried Signals - Storydoing and storytelling
Understanding context and audience to balance linear and interactive storytelling.
I’ve also included some production best practices for you to have in mind here, although this is bonus material not necessarily required for producers.
Not all stories are suited for VR. It's a tool that is incredibly powerful for travel in space or time. Place is the pillar of the VR experience, it needs to be unique or unreachable in our lives.
Understanding the Audience
In any creative endeavor, understanding your audience is key. With VR, the challenge of understanding your audience is compounded by the medium's immersive and interactive nature. Consider factors like age, technological familiarity, and comfort levels with VR when designing your experiences. Tailor the complexity and intensity of the experience accordingly.
There is no definitive answer to the optimal length, but as soon as the content becomes less interesting people stop watching. Increased quality of headsets contributes to having a longer watch time in VR. As a baseline above 20 minutes is extremely ambitious, on average 15 minutes is a good watch time.
Collaboration and Teamwork
VR production requires a multidisciplinary team that may include designers, developers, sound engineers, and more. Encourage clear communication and a shared understanding of the project's goals across the team.
Unlike traditional film, VR allows the user to interact with the environment. This presents a unique opportunity to create a truly immersive experience. Consider how you can use this to your advantage. For example, can you allow the user to influence the story, or alter the environment?
There is constant novelty in VR storytelling, whether it comes through technological developments in audio, spatial positioning etc... There is always opportunity to experiment and try something new. With Apple Vision Pro coming soon, the opportunities will increase drastically!
Sound design in VR is crucial and should never be an afterthought. Good spatial audio can make or break the sense of immersion. Invest time and resources in designing and testing a sound environment that complements the visual experience.
Iterative Design and Testing
VR is a relatively new medium, and the rules are still being written. Don't be afraid to iterate on your designs, test them, and then iterate some more. What works in theory may not work in practice. Regular user testing can help you fine-tune your experiences to ensure they are comfortable and enjoyable.
Here’s a great VLOG explaining the intricacies of VR production in detail.
Platforms & Distribution
The distribution strategy typically falls on the client, but should you be asked it won’t be harmful to have a good understanding of the ecosystem and possibilities.
To successfully distribute a VR experience, it is essential to understand the range of platforms that are available and their unique characteristics:
- Oculus: This includes the Oculus Quest, Quest 2, and Rift S. These are standalone devices, meaning they don't require a computer to operate (in the case of the Quest models) and have their own app stores where you can distribute your VR content.
- SteamVR: This is a platform used by devices like the HTC Vive, Valve Index, and any other device that uses the OpenVR standard. VR content can be distributed through the Steam Store.
- PlayStation VR: This is a VR platform for the PlayStation game console. To distribute content for PS VR, you would need to go through Sony's approval process.
- WebVR: This allows you to run VR experiences directly in a web browser, without needing to download any apps. It's a more accessible but less powerful platform.
- Mobile VR: This includes platforms like Google Cardboard and Samsung Gear VR. These are inexpensive and accessible, but offer a less immersive experience than standalone or PC-based VR.
Planning for Distribution
Once you and your client have considered which platforms are best suited to your content and audience you’ll need to look at specifications for content submission and approval, so you'll need to plan and budget for the time it takes to navigate these processes.
You'll also need to think about how you're going to market your VR experience. This might include creating a compelling trailer, developing a social media marketing campaign, attending industry events, or partnering with influencers in the VR space.
Recently AI has empowered the 3D-virtual space immensely with new technologies enabling different types of capture, foremost amongst them the Neural Radiance Field (NeRF) which uses video and LIDAR to calculate a 3D environment and apply stunning textures. The field is moving quickly, I recommend getting on board!