Adventures in VR Land

Since I started diving head first into virtual reality, it has been a huge learning curve. With the state of the industry right now, the video-based technology is still a bit clunky and expensive (not to mention totally inaccessible to most artists), the workflow is highly technical, and the whole thing requires a strong vision and patience. Luckily, I have had some help along the way and have found a community of technologists in Silicon Valley who have not only helped me accomplish what I want to do, but taught me a ton in the process. It’s the most technical work I’ve ever done, but I’ve found that in about six month of hands-on practice, I’m pretty up to speed with everyone else who is an ‘expert’.

These past several months, I’ve had the opportunity to develop and film my first VR project, Being Henry. I knew I wanted to bring documentary storytelling to VR and experiment with putting the viewer inside the perspective of the main character. I did a little searching around for a topic which would be appropriate for this approach, and came upon the story of Henry Evans and Robots for Humanity. Henry experienced a stroke in his 40s which left him paralyzed from the neck down. With the support of his family and some inspiration from a news broadcast on robotics, Henry began to collaborate with scientists and engineers to develop assistive technology to improve the lives of disabled people.

Partnering with MindVR, we used a prototype camera rig with 13 Go-Pros to capture stereoscopic 360 video from Henry’s point of view. We also paid a visit to the De Young Museum to film Henry on a virtual tour using a telepresence robot. We were the first team to ever film in virtual reality at the De Young, so it was very exciting. The film is currently at a rough cut stage, with most of the story in place. I’m still problem solving how to resolve a few technical issues that are more in the wheelhouse of programmers and visual effects artists. Since it’s an entirely new production pipeline, I’m learning as I go and finding out that I can’t do this alone.

I’m hoping that in the next few months I can make the connections I need, fundraise completion funds, and find a distribution parter to get this project out into the world. We recently showed Henry the rough cut, and it amazed him. He told us that it was an excellent portrayal of his perspective, and his reaction was the best compliment I could have gotten. I can’t wait to polish up the finished piece and get in out into the world. I have a feeling it will blow some minds.

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