A typical conversation (perhaps) about VR, circa 2015

A typical conversation about 360VR, circa 2015

Certainly there have been discussions among the VR community similar to the one which follows. The starting point of the chat was Beach Road, a VR film co-produced by Stephen Black and hiverlab. We present our exchange simply as a record of the present time, when VR, especially VR storytelling, is still an alluring frontier. Aint nobody jaded yet!

The following is an edited and slightly modified version of a Facebook chat that took place in late August, 2015. I was conversing with Alexandre Calil Sicchieri Silva, one of the movers and shakers in the Brazilian VR scene.

ALEXANDRE

Hi Stephen. I have seen the video a couple of times and showed it to some people too. I already have an opinion on it but I am now waiting for the postman to deliver a Cardboard. Can I give you some feedback now? Would you like to ask me questions?

STEPHEN BLACK

Alexandre.. the floor is yours...

ALEXANDRE

Right… OK, I might have another insight once I have my Cardboard headset...

SB

Wait! So... you have only seen it how?

ALEXANDRE

On the cell phone…

SB

Oh! Oh no!

An analogy I came up with...

Watching VR on a cell phone is like using a thimble to drink champagne.

ALEXANDRE

Hahaha maybe.

SB

DEFINITELY!

ALEXANDRE

... but it's still champagne

SB

true...

I didn't say it was the best analogy, or the most accurate

but you know what I mean.

ALEXANDRE

Haha. I think I do.

SB

Total visual immersion (or something close to it) cannot be compared to VERY non-total immersion. Does that make sense? What I mean is that moving a phone around in front of you is extremely different than HMD viewing experience.

ALEXANDRE

... although on the cell phone you can have some of it for sure, as you have to spin around to get the 360 view

SB

...that 360 is not what you see with a HMD.

ALEXANDRE

Yeah, I know.

SB

...and audio?

ALEXANDRE

Audio was good.

SB

Please tell me you used earphones.

ALEXANDRE

My speakers are really good;  the best on the market

SB

OK...smile emoticon...and it sounded OK?

ALEXANDRE

It did, loud and clear.

SB

Glad to hear that.

No pun intended.

OK, a little pun intended.

ALEXANDRE

But sadly, the full immersion review will take a while…

SB

So you watch all of the VR stuff on your phone?

ALEXANDRE

Yes, all on my phone, because I don't have an HMD at the moment. A member of a group I administer on FB has kindly sent me a cardboard. But it hasn’t arrived from the US yet. Maybe it will be here in another 2 or 3 weeks.HMDs are extremely expensive in my country

SB

You are really committed…

ALEXANDRE

I know, right… People really expect me to have all the HMDs available in the market.  Hahaha... and experience it all day, like a no life boy. Ha ha. Playing games and watching films in VR

SB

No life boy!

Ha ha… good one

ALEXANDRE

All I know about VR comes from what I read.

SB

As you know, much better than I, most of the VR now is gaming, porn or "tourism". Personally,  I am hoping to find a sweet spot between storytelling/narrative, art  and gaming. Beach Road was /is very very simple. 

ALEXANDRE

Storytelling is growing big!

SB

Beach Road was a great learning experience...

I hope the audience for storytelling grows...

ALEXANDRE

It will.

SB

So much potential.

(CLICHE POLICE!

Arrest that man!)

ALEXANDRE

How are you connected with hiverlab, the VR company? I am not really aware of them...

SB

I met the director by chance and we seemed to click.

His name is Ender.

ALEXANDRE

Is he a local?

SB

Interesting question!

I am an American who has lived in Asia most of my adult life.

I have lived in Singapore since 2002.

Ender was born and raised in China and has lived here for 6 years...

SO….

ALEXANDRE

I see. I was wondering about this because I thought you were hired, temporarily I guess, to make the storytelling possible. Which I think you did really well! I wasn’t sure how you were involved; I thought that perhaps you only worked on developing the app itself.

SB

No. When I first met Ender I told him I was I was ecstatically waiting for a chance to work with 360 VR and explained my experiences as a producer, artists, writer, director and cameraman. I said I could put together an extremely efficient shooting schedule and that I would do everything I could to make post production as smooth as possible. Also, FWIW, I am the actor in Beach Road. Ender said yes and the shooting was nearly flawless. One scene we couldn’t use because a file became corrupted. I selected the music and Ender edited it to what you now hear.

Basically, Ender was able to focus on creating those wonderful subtleties that add so much to a project. Once he had a basic edit, he showed it to me. I suggested only a minor change or two and then wrote the script to fit. I did the voice over. It was an extremely smooth production. I wrote a five post series on my blog about this.

ALEXANDRE

I really liked the way the script interacted with the scenes. It makes sense to me now that you wrote the script after there was some editing...

SB

Well, honestly, we had no choice. This is really is a new way of telling stories;making films. The lessons I’ve learned from traditional scriptwriting couldn’t really be used here.

For example, I was very concerned about the issue of scene length...

No closeups of a quarter second duration, for example. How could I write a script with one actor in scenes of unknown length?  We really wanted to go into the editing room and discover the optimal length for each scene; we wanted to allow enough time for the viewer to look around.

ALEXANDRE

I gave it to some students to interact with , and because they're learning English, I wanted to see if they'd be able to hear you and react accordingly. It worked. Even with me, during my first experience, I was naturally looking around when you said to do it... haha; although that was just the script.

SB

Because I have lived in Asia so long, I really try to communicate with simple words... I mean that in a good way.

ALEXANDRE

Precisely, I think some scenes were a bit too short, not giving the chance to explore what was going on completely. And pausing shouldn't be an option I suppose. But people would watch again to see if they catch the details.

SB

Yes! That was really what I was wondering about: repeat viewings!

Not just with my project, but with VR stories in general... I think that, because of the 5 minute duration "sweetspot", (that is the result of the HDM comfort/eyestrain factor), that a great VR story is one that can deliver a great experience when viewed many times. A great game can be played again and again; the easter eggs, clues etc. aren’t always obvious the first time you play them. VR stories can learn from those techniques.

ALEXANDRE

As an English teacher, I always think of the linguistic aspects. That's why I asked if the director was a local. It must be challenging to use simple words, although I know it can work.

Well, I'm definitely watching it again haha but with my Cardboard! Let’s see if I get the details!

I think you've chosen a very atmospheric soundtrack for it. It was calm and enjoyable.It suits the story and the scenes. And the way you told it too, it was clear, well paced and interesting. Of course the scenes and the 360 experience are distractions, which makes you want to see it again to get the whole story right.

SB

Thank you for your insights Alexandre.Bani Haykal and Chen YiQi really created a nice piece of music for us.

I am fully aware that the beauty of seeing 4K in 360 overpowers first time viewers. I think it will be a quite a while before people can really judge the story and the craft/art. For now it is mindblowing to see 4K video! And, you can look all around! That’s why I say that looking at a 360 VR production on a cell phone is like using a thimble to drink champagne. It works, but it is far from ideal.

Seriously, VR is so new that directors and scriptwriters are all inexperienced; we all need to develop a sense of timing...AND...this seems silly to say...but...CHAIRS!

If I know that my work is going to be seen by users who are seated in gamer’s chairs that can spin around easily, then that is one thing...

But, if people are sitting in a normal chair, I have to be realistic..

In that case, then there probably will not very much be happening at the back...

ALEXANDRE

Precisely! A lot of lessons to be learned..

SB

Yep! Nothing like a first experience to provide some insights. Alexandre, this has been great. This is kind of funny… I don’t have a mobile phone nor a HMD and you, at this point,  can only experience VR with a cell phone. I really think this situation is great. But I am also excited about the future…

Alexandre

Absolutely!

SB

Alright, here in Singapore it is the afternoon and I should get back to other things. Take care and good night!

ALEXANDRE

Yes, it is 5:30 AM here and I should go to bed!

Alexandre Calil Sicchieri Silva, aka Xan

Combining a passionate and committed interest in VR/AR with over ten years of English teaching experience, Xan is currently consulting and planning educational VR/AR projects. He also administers a group and two VR-related  pages on Facebook.

Stephen Black is a writer, artist and producer. Along with hiverlab, he produced Beach Road, the first VR storytelling project in Singapore.

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