Search Unity

2017 is going to be a watershed year for cinematic VR,” says Tony Parisi, our Global Head of VR and AR, after returning from the Sundance Film Festival, New Frontier. (You can also watch his recent interview with Bloomberg.)

The New Frontier showcase is where VR/AR technology meets film, art, live performance and music. Needless to say, we are beyond excited to have taken part this year in celebration of artists and creators using Unity to bring their VR and AR visions to life. ASTEROIDS!, Heroes, Life of Us, Hue, and Chocolate all made their debut in Park City, to name just a few fantastic Made with Unity projects that were featured. If you’re curious you can check out our Sundance landing page for more details.

Yesterday, we hosted a small exhibition here in our San Francisco office for press (and Unity employees) to check out a handful of these experiences, with a short panel discussion with the creators (moderated by Tony) to kick off the day. Participants included:

Larry Cutler,  Baobab Studios Co-founder and CTO (Asteroids!)
Melissa Painter, Director (Heroes)
Tyler Hurd, Creator (Chocolate)
Nicole McDonald, Creator (Hue)
Aaron Koblin, Within Co-founder and CTO (Life of Us)

Each of the panelists come from vastly different backgrounds — documentaries, traditional CG, music videos. And each has had to adapt and evolve their techniques for storytelling in the VR and AR mediums. Methods for directing the viewer’s gaze in traditional film become an interesting challenge in VR. “Taking a page from magicians… they have great techniques,” says Baobab Studios CTO Larry Cutler. “If I want you to look at me, I’m going to look directly at you. If I want you to look at something, I can look directly at that thing,” he continues. “We’ve been studying other art forms to figure out how we can still have this technique after narrative. But it really is a balancing act.”

Unlike other storytelling mediums, viewers of VR and AR experiences have a distinct sense of presence. Creators have to balance all the different levels of interaction with the story they’re trying to tell. And the sense of agency — how much or how little — you give the user can affect the experience in different ways.

“I think it’s really interesting to explore what it takes to feel intimacy with digital objects in these environments, and we thought a lot of about that,” says Heroes Director Melissa Painter. “Does it feel more powerful that you can command [the dancers] vocally? Do you want to be able to hold them? What are the kinds of interactions you want to have?”

“Jaron Lanier talks a lot about what he sees as one of the most novel things about virtual reality: the ability to embody different kinds of creatures and beings,” says Within CTO Aaron Koblin. In Life of Us, players are sent on a journey through eight different stages in which they are totally different creatures. “It’s that kind of neuroplasticity where your brain immediately realizes ‘Oh, I have an extra limb and this is what I do to control it’. It just kind of clicks and you become that thing. So what we were trying to do,” Koblin continues, “was allow you to go through these transformations, to go through the discovery […] of what it feels like to now sprout arms; and all of a sudden being able to fly; and now we’re breathing fire; and accidental discoveries that were joyful and bizarre, and a little uncomfortable at times, but also quite fun.”

We’d like to thank everyone who attended yesterday’s event and especially to the creators Larry Cutler, Melissa Painter, Nicole McDonald, Tyler Hurd, and Aaron Koblin for sharing their insights.

So, what do you think? Will 2017 be a watershed year? We’d love to hear your thoughts about cinematic storytelling in VR in the comments below!