Will Virtual Reality change which stories we tell?

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

For a few years now I've enjoyed using panorama apps on my iPhone.

Occipital's 360Panorama iOS app can teleport you into a panorama by using the iPhone's accelerometers. Accelerometers detect where the phone is in 3D space and what angle it is being held at. 360Panorama uses this information to determine which part of a panorama to show on screen.

This means as you turn left and right (360°)…

p1 p2 p3

up and down (180°)…

p4 p5

in real life while holding the phone, the panorama display updates to show you what you would see if you looked in that direction at the place and time the panorama was captured.

In a new VR music video iOS app from 'Stor Eiglass' by Squarepusher the same technology gives you the opportunity to look in all directions during a 3D animation. If you have a Google Cardboard viewer you can also experience the VR in stereoscopic 3D, but the 2D version works just as well. The app is also available on Android.

While playing the video, I could look ahead as I flew forward...

vr1a

and look down to see what I was flying over:

vr1b

I wasn't able to choose the direction of my flight, the application flies through a virtual world, but was able to look around as things happened. As streams flew down from a tower...

vr2a

...I could look up...

vr2b

...or behind me:

vr2c

VR: No director or cinemetographer scene framing, few editor edits

From a storytelling point of view, this kind of virtual reality means that the viewer/player/user chooses where to look: how to frame the scene. They choose what is important to look at. Part of non-VR stortyelling is the ability of cinematographer, director and editor to direct the audience's view: "This is important," "her reaction is important" and "don't forget this."

The point of VR is that a solo audience member takes control of where to look. They can even change aspect ratio if they turn their phone:

vr3a vr3b

In-scene editing isn't possible because the editor cannot juxtapose different camera angles with editing - the audience chooses the camera angle.

Another aspect of editing is possible. Structure-based edits can be done with staging. Structure provides the beginning, middle and end of stories. 

Staging means that virtual physical boundaries between scenes act as edits.

In a city I fly towards a advertising billboard:

vr4a

vr4c

Flying through the billboard is a way of travelling between scenes to a new environment:

vr4b

I can look back to see there's no way back to the previous scene.

vr4d

Why are these 'staging edits' important? They help change pace and mood, making storytelling possible, so that this scene takes place in the same story as the previous scenes:

vr5

New storytelling technology, new language, new stories?

The history of movies and TV is the history of technological developments informing the way we tell stories. Movies started off as single shots being shown to large numbers of people in public. As artificial lighting, editing, sound, colour, multitrack audio, model visual effects and computer generated visual effects appeared, the way we told stories changed - which informed the kind of stories we told.

Now's the time to consider whether VR will affect way we tell stories and what stories we tell.