Virtual Reality and the Future of Storytelling

1st February 2017 - Angela Buna

Clark Stanley teamed up with SuperSphere VR and the Diamond Brothers to shoot a stellar Virtual Reality spot for Volvo. We sat down with the collective brain trust to ask the most common questions the production world is asking about VR. 

First, here’s the spot, put on your VR head sets and enjoy: 

Volvo Virtual Reality

Q: What was your client’s expectation for the VR deliverable and how did they hope their target audience would receive it? 

A: The expectation was to bring the audience to a place where they could look back at the year that was and to consider the year ahead. Utilizing a forest location, a group of friends around a campfire on a crisp New Years Eve and a poem evoking this spirit, the scene was set.

Our intention was to connect the audience with the emotions associated with the change of the New Year and to have them reflect on the past and the possibility before them.

Obviously our hope was that this would be well received and that the combination of the VR piece along with the traditional media would enhance the overall brand statement.

What sets the medium apart is the ability to transport the viewer to somewhere different, whether it’s another planet or another part of our world, immersing them in everything from entertainment to empathic documentary.

Volvo Virtual Reality and the future of storytelling

Q: Do you feel clients are ready for this format and are they planning their marketing strategies to include VR 360 content? This includes budgeting and placement.

A: Absolutely. VR is on every creative radar out there and clients want to get into the game. It’s primarily a matter of what the threshold for experimentation is internally. There is a lot of testing the water going on, a lot of simple execution to “see how it goes”. But then you will see someone go all in and it’s remarkable. They find the edges and then they push.

Mobile devices, Computers, Gaming Consoles, all have multiple uses, so the consumer feels the value. However, without good content no medium can survive for long so it’s incumbent on all VR creative to push the ball forward if we want it to stick around.

Budgets are always a consideration, particularly when the placement is still in question. This question will resolve itself relatively quickly. Unlike 3D, which had limited options when it came to how one could see it, Virtual Reality projects will have multiple options and will cross multiple platforms.

In reality, there will be VR mandates across the board in the near future. Those early adopters who explore and find solutions for how their brand can benefit from VR will benefit from their confidence to do so.

Q: From a director’s perspective, what separates the Diamond brothers from traditional directors when it comes to this format?

A: A primary strength that the Diamond Brothers have is the rare combination of creativity and a deep technical background. They bridge “story” and “technology” concerns in a manner that really sets up the most appropriate approach to any creative challenge. They are often able to provide some insight to the creative process that significantly improves the final delivery both in methodology and concept.

Volvo Virtual Reality and the future of storytelling

Q: What technical challenges separate a VR 360 shoot from that of a single camera shoot?

A: There are lighting challenges, as they tend to be the largest and most obvious pieces of gear on set. If you have made the decision not to show them in your final delivery then where do they go? What (and where) you want the end viewer to be looking will influence camera position. 

Blocking and camera movement do not follow traditional frames, it’s not a box or rectangle, it usually has no border.  Because the viewer has the freedom to look at whatever they feel motivated to look at, you need to be aware of the entire scene.

Q: Do you feel you have the technical support needed to execute your director’s vision or is there still a steep learning curve within the industry to play catch up?

A: The learning curve for a traditional crew is greatly diminished if there is a guiding hand listening and responding openly. The problem solving and creativity workflow is not that different from any other shoot and to date we have not found any major hurdles that were not solved traditionally.

Q: What is the difference with the post-production process and timelines required to finish such a piece in relation to traditional filming?

A: Well stitching for dailies is an extra step not needed in a traditional post pipeline, after that editorial color and VFX/post are not much different. In the final conform you would add the Final/HQ stitch to just the material in your cut akin to making selects or collating Hi-Res material for a traditional conform. There is still an audio mix but in addition to a stereo mix you have Spatialized Audio a la Ambisonic, Atmos, etc. as a deliverable. Very often there are fewer cuts in VR experiences but again these are not hard and fast rules as there currently aren’t any in VR right now aside from “Don’t make people throw up.”

Here at Clark Stanley we are always looking for new and innovative ways to engage audiences through storytelling content. VR is a fast growing new technology that is still in the early stages of understanding “what is possible”.  To have such a new, immersive storytelling platform available is very exciting, and we at Clark Stanley look forward to pushing the boundaries of the VR space to offer our clients and brands the VR experience to help engage with their existing and future audiences.