Travis Wu is passionate about storytelling. His production company, LumièreVR, has worked with lots of big brands you’re familiar with: NASA, FIFA, the NBA. Their goal is ‘to push the art form of storytelling.’
Today, alongside Travis sits Alex Haque of RetinadVR; he’s equally as passionate about sharing narratives.
The twist? They focus purely on live action virtual reality.
“[ This form of] storytelling is so new right now that everyone’s kind of in the dark,” says Travis. It’s for this reason that he works closely with the data, partnering with RetinadVR on crunching the numbers and working with consumer trends.
[ This form of] storytelling is so new right now that everyone’s kind of in the dark
“The rise of a new medium comes with it strengths and possibilities, and it’s of the utmost importance to explore those possibilities,” he intones passionately.
“Film is a very passive experience. It’s usually enjoyed when you’re home from work, relaxing on the couch and you just want to be entertained… VR film is a new medium that allows you to be filly immersed in a world while watching the story unfold. Where Chris Milk calls it the ultimate empathy machine, filmmakers simply see it as a new opportunity to just tell their stories.”
The problem with all this new technology is the speed with which it comes to the marketplace. Filmmakers have had little time to adjust and hone their craft.
“The things you see with Ricoh Theta, Samsung360 and Insta360, they look great on [ social media ] but when you put them into a headset, you get what we call Insta motion sickness. The resolution is simply too low for any professional to use.”
So LumièreVR set out to develop cutting-edge tools in order to support a new generation of storytellers.
“What we learned is one size does not fit all. Our studio is a combination of engineers and artists, and we work day in and day out to perfect what kind of camera, what kind of lenses really work for every kind of situations. For example, after hours we need to use certain kind of sensors in order to capture low lights. Go-Pros will never be able to handle anything after 8pm, and that’s a big problem.”
And in this new world of fully immersive media, the insights gleaned from the flat world of cinema just doesn’t translate. For many consumers, the audio and directed cues are just not working. And when consumers get confused, that signals the medium is failing.
“Only 50% of people actually look around. The other half simply don’t understand it.
[ Consumers] are focused on just small movements inside the clip, or maybe they just focus forward because they’re not trained to look around yet.
“What this tells us as filmmakers is we didn’t do a good job directing the user’s attention to where they should be looking… Most people put on the headset for the first or second time, and they either look forward or look around blindly trying to find something to look at. They’re not trained to look around yet.”
In fact, says Travis, they’re not trying to get viewers to see everything.
“Most of the background or backdrop is simply there to give the immersion. They’re not the point at all.”
These insights are gleaned through hours of data analysis.
“How to you really make quality content?” asks Alex. “This is where the data comes in. Most creative would never think of using the data – unless you’re Netflix,” he laughs. “They looked at what people’s behaviors were, what their patters of content consumption were prior to purchasing the IP for House of Cards, and they made a really informed decision.”
They bought two seasons of the phenomenally successful series, says Alex, and the rest is history.
“House of Cards is really what spearheaded Netflix into the realm that is not online media and online digital content consumption.”
And it’s these kinds of insights that the teams at Lumière and Retinad would like to translate over to 360.
“What Alex is telling us with his software is that we need bigger adjusters and bigger movements to direct people to where we want them to look.”
The motion pictures we know and love today are the results of decades of testing and perfecting.
“We have to come up with a completely different set of grammar. What data tells you is what we know is happening right now. Now it’s up to the artists to take that data and be contextual with it and understand how we use those key insights. That’s why the two are so beautiful working together.”