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VR Archives - The X Gene

A demo of Tilt Brush, bright colours

We Went To The FilmVic VR Industry Day

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We got to participate in Film Victoria and ACMI’s free VR Lab as part of the VR Industry Day, November 2016. Producer Simon J Green was a successful VR Lab participant and, thanks to those kind organisers, had the opportunity to develop our VR concept with a range of experienced VR content creators from VRTOV, Sandpit, StartVR, Grumpy Sailor, Visual Playground and PLaTO Reality. Here he is, letting you know what it was like.

First I wandered around the playground of VR experiences and demos, trying some I’d done before like the excellent NYTs solitary confinement piece, and new fun like the carnival games in Vive that were just good old fashioned, Wii style fun.

Finally got to try Collisions, the first VR film with stories from Aboriginal Australians. The possibilities of such incredible spaces and people were under-utilised, but the highlights were the drone shots as Nyarri Morgan used his fire craft to light the scrub and the central element of the nuke going off as Nyarri told his story. His story was the best part, and I’d have loved to see more focus expanding his story into a visual, 360 medium. Awesome to see it all coming together and paired with ILM.

The session with the other creators was the best bit. Everyone, even the mentors, acknowledged we were all so new and fresh in this, so everyone was learning from everyone else. Still, we got great tips on the little things you can only discover through practical creation. And then I met three groups of people I’m now collaborating with.The workshop was an excellent leveller. There were older, more experienced traditional filmmakers in the room who, frankly, have not been the most open and willing in other settings, but who in this space could only be at the same level as the rest of us. It broke down some very tired, rather useless hierarchies, allowing us to all connect as creatives.

Something I took away was feeling that my team are making great progress in the business and distribution side of the industry, which is giving me so much confidence going forward as we turn The X Gene into a dedicated VR company. That came from, again, openness and a willingness to share both the ups and downs of our experience. As a result, those who saw my strengths, I could see strength in, and we came together to work on stuff after the lab.

I could feel our relative beginner nature, but in this context it was completely appropriate and appreciated, because we’re all starting out. What I loved was the openness. Our industry, I’ve found, keeps their doors closed, but with newer generations of makers and technology, those barriers are breaking down. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was delighted with the people I met, both the other participants and the mentors.

Enormous thanks to FilmVic and ACMI, and all the mentors and companies who gave their time, gear and expertise to the days. We’re creating a new medium with people around the world, and finally, Australia is participating on a relatively equal footing. For now, enjoy an egalitarian medium.

360 Video Test: Directing Viewers’ Attention

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In a medium where the viewer chooses where to look, the 360 video director and cinematographer must use far subtler cues to ensure the important beats of a story are seen. In 2015, The X Gene and Virtual Reality Ventures worked together on a test shoot, attempting to bring the viewer into a high-action scene but still keep their attention on one point. If you’ve been inside a headset, you know you can look anywhere: up, down, to your left or right, or turn and look behind.

Here’s the result, and after the video, our observations:

The camera does not choose

In 2D filmmaking, action is planned, but the camera then moves around that action, filming different angles in short bursts. Often, the action is manipulated or cheated to get the best results when it’s all cut together. In 360 video, it’s all about the action first, with the camera almost (and in our case actually) a character to be considered as part of that action. It moves through in one long take, as everyone moves around it. A cinematographer doesn’t choose how to shoot, but rather how to move through action, choreographed like a performer.

360 video is way more like theatre

The best way to plan a 360 video shoot is to first nail the location or set, then block out how the actors move and interact over a set period of time. That is your scene. If someone fucks a take, you simply start again, but once you get it, done! So think like a theatre director whose audience is in the round, only the round keeps moving … or, to stretch the metaphor, the audience is reverse-in-the-round. Identify what is happening, where the stories are taking place and when the key moments of those stories happen, then block your camera to take your audience as close or far from those moments as is appropriate to convey meaning.

Think like a Renaissance painter

Two people run on either side of the camera. You only see one of them, so you follow her and discover she’s joined up with her comrade you never realised until now was on the other side of you. Now you watch those two run away into the distance. That’s how we made sure viewers, at the very start, were oriented the right way for the story. We picked an action sequence because that genre is the most raw, blunt way to convey story. There’s literally rising action, physically overcoming obstacles and the foe is actually vanquished to death. These codes and tropes let us use things like bullets to drag the eye, as viewers followed the stream of nerf pellets to see where they came from. This was most effective in our little twist, as we got the viewer to look up at a machine gunner, breaking away from the obvious and default eye-level as the bullets rained down. These are like live action, moving, temporal versions of how Renaissance painters directed the viewer’s eye around a canvas.

(Did you notice our director in plain sight behind the camera man during the headshot the end?)

Lighting is a thing OR Location & production design are huge

We picked our location deliberately, because the gantries on the second floor let us hide two giant 2k blondie lights that let us flood the place like we were sun gods. Lighting is totally doable, but you need to work harmoniously with location and production design more than any other medium.

Full trilateral 360° isn’t necessary

Nup. Especially not for anything you want the viewer to watch from a couch for a decent period of time. Looking behind you isn’t enough of a thing, we think, to justify using full, XYZ 360° vision, which is why we bought a 360 camera with 235° field of view: about the same amount of lateral movement you make turning your head from side to side.

This is just the start

We learnt way more during this test, and we’re gonna apply it and build on it in our next tests. Stay tuned, storytellers!

IMAGE: of virtual reality surgery. A VR drill inside a fragment of skull on a 3D screen

Virtual Reality Surgery in 3D

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Virtual reality surgery is the way in which surgeons of tomorrow will be taught. We got to play with it.


I tried it: YOU CAN FEEL THE BONE.

The Department of Otolaryngology is home of Melbourne University’s Virtual Reality Surgical Simulation laboratory. This group, that brings together researchers from the Faculties of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences, Engineering and Education, seeks to define the role of simulation in surgical training.

VR surgery involves immersion into a 3D world where the “patient” can be touched and operated on. Their team has developed a virtual reality surgical environment for ear surgery that was the recipient of the University’s Knowledge Transfer Award for 2008. The group has also developed a prototype for dental simulation. They’re involved in exciting research that will determine how best to train surgeons in VR, and provide real-time feedback to trainees.

See the Professor and his team’s work
http://medicine.unimelb.edu.au/ehac/otolaryngology/research/virtual_reality_and_surgery

Shot in Oct 2015, edited May 2016 by Simon J Green.

Music by Avaren: Drift, Mudz, Oceania & Vertigo available here under Creative Commons
https://soundcloud.com/avaren/sets/for-others-use

Kelsey Schwenk from Studio Thick agency talking virtual reality

Virtual Reality: how we’ll use it, Kelsey from Studio Thick

By | Advertising, Innovation, Marketing, Technology | No Comments

Kelsey Schwenk is Engagement Director at Studio Thick. Thick partner with progressive businesses and organisations to reimagine their strategies, products and services for a brighter future. Kelsey leads client partnerships, guides innovation, and ensures we’re having a diverse impact on the world. We got excited with Kelsey recently talking about our experiments in virtual reality, so we spoke over Hangouts about how the world will use VR, why agencies like Thick will utilise it, and how creatives like The X Gene will execute it.

Simon J Green: Thanks for joining me Kels! So first, tell me about the exposure you and Thick have had to VR so far, even if it’s only a little. It is an emerging comms channel, after all!
Kelsey Schwenk: In our office we have an Oculus that we’ve been playing around with, but we keep up to date on what’s going on in the world with it, mostly. At the V21 Conference this year, it’s all anyone was talking about. It’s interesting – most people were looking for ways to use the tech to do something cool, not the other way around. I’m thinking it should be, “Here, I have this problem, I wish I had a way to solve it” and have VR be the solution.
S: So at the moment VR is an answer to a question no one’s yet asking? That’s why I think relationships with agencies like Thick are important. You are finding the problems businesses have. Being aware of VR’s limitations and opportunities means you can see if those problems might be solved by VR.
K: One group wanted to simulate off-roading in a truck, so they created this elaborate experience… when it probably would have cost less to just drive the truck off road in real life. It is like creating a really elaborate kids ride, and gaming was the big push, obviously.
S: Seems like the easiest way to get people aware and inside the experience. I’ve seen a VR rally driving experience. You sit next to the driver as he goes nuts in the dirt. Virtual Reality Ventures, our VR partner, always use the rollercoaster demo to quickly give people an idea of the tech.
K: One of the best examples I’ve heard of is actually not “customer” facing though. It was an agency using VR to show their clients what their designs would look like in a concept store that didn’t exist yet, so they could ‘feel’ what the space looked like before committing to the design.

Meeting Robert Redford

S: Ivy League universities have been moving those globe-style live-action cameras through their campuses, to give newly admitted students the chance to walk through before they actually get there. Tours of places and sites seems like the most obvious application – do you think it’s crucial for increasing the public’s awareness of the tech?
K: Awareness isn’t the issue… it’s access. And finding the right application that is going to make everyone out there download the app or get Google Cardboard. Tourism is an easy application for the tech, particularly for experiences where photos and videos don’t sell the experience enough. I think it has a ways to go before it becomes mainstream though – it’s almost a novelty at the moment. I could actually see it being more beneficial to having remote meetings where interpersonal exchanges are key. It’s just not the same on a web-cam.
S: What does the virtual reality space give: or more, what do you want from remote meetings, that you don’t get with today’s experience?
K: It allows you to be/move naturally, as you would in real space – you don’t have to alter your natural behaviours (other than wearing a headset). So conversations would flow more naturally, I think. And seeing reactions and emotions. When you’re giving a presentation to a blank screen, it’s impossible to know if you’re doing a good job.
S: So you could turn to someone and speak, and that would be a cue to everyone else, a cue that’s missing from today’s remote meetings?
K: Exactly! But I see entertainment as the driver – that’s where the innovation will come from.
S: True! In movies, meetings are always held with VR figures, but really it’s for the exact same reason we’re discussing: so the viewer (and the fake people in the SHIELD Security Council) can see who’s talking to whom, and convey meaning beyond a face and words.

Stories That Explode in Virtual Reality

S: Facebook is bringing in the live action, globe camera video style. What do you think that will do?
K: So is YouTube. I think it’s going to change the types of videos we see… just like GoPro did a few years ago. Hopefully, by democratising the technology, we can allow the innovative creators in the world a new vehicle/medium to show their stuff.
S: When we’ve been playing with VR, we’ve been pushing the live action(moving cameras through a space, and letting the user move through that, instead of 3D models, environments and animations). Experimenting with how the  viewer will experience the content, how we get them to look where we need them to look to tell story. But when we think as producers or for business development, we’re acutely aware that the browser-based, flattened version of interaction is most likely.
K: It’s a whole new level of cinematography. I think that’s the difference between a GIF and a movie. Both are valid forms of entertainment, but for entirely different purposes… (and budgets).
S: Almost like arthouse cinema and blockbusters – a smaller selection of dedicated audience will take up the full virtual reality experience. But when we want lots of people to see it, Facebook and YouTube will be our besties.
K: Yup. As long as they can make it easy to access and understand and create.
S: Telling stories through this VR medium: we’ve been pointed to some excellent white papers by the video game industry on how to direct stories in a sandbox world.
K: They’ve been playing with it the longest, I think. I remember seeing demos of it at PAX years ago

The Creative Struggle

S: So for those creators you’re talking about – agencies like Thick will be the ones making use of us to find solutions to client problems. What do the creators need to know, and what do the clients need to know, to make that work best?
K: The biggest thing is to find the problem to solve. Not invent a problem just because you want to use the tech. Finding an experience or a story that you want to tell that you just can’t do any other way. Otherwise it’s just playing to a fad. In the work we do at Thick, it’s finding the right channel to communicate your insights, or testing something out that would be too expensive to build otherwise! That’s probably how I see us using it in the future: using it as a tool, not the end experience.
S: Testing in a Virtual Reality sandbox. With VR audiences.
K: …and then translating that into ‘real life’, yes. Like a prototype.
S: You’d get the global audiences of the internet in a more ‘real’ appearance.
K: Well, you can test context. So you know what it’s like to be searching on a mobile phone on a busy tram. Or how you walk through a concept store, or at a construction site. It all depends on the context of your solution.
S: We could test movies in a virtual cinema, and build into the program the ability of the audience that logs in to still play with their phone – and see how bored people get of the movie. How much time is spent actually watching the screen.
K: The context in which we use our screens is very important (and often overlooked) in design and testing.

Wrap It Up Kids

S: Well thank you very much Kelsey. This is all excellent, juicy stuff. Anything you want to add in summary?
K: Just that I’m excited to see what the masses do with this tech – I have a feeling we won’t know the real potential until we make it super accessible to everyone.
S: We need the VR version of what the iPhone did for smart phones.
K: Or GoPro for video, yes.