Digital Production Buzz: Explaining The Basics of VR

I had the honor of joining Nick Bicanic, Brian Glasscock, Duncan Shepherd, Chris Bobotis, and James DeRuvo in explaining VR with Larry Jordan on his show Digital Production Buzz. The segments are pretty short so it was hard to cover much of this enormous subject, hopefully we did a decent job in tackling smaller pieces of the larger topics! My section was titled “Explaining The Basics of VR”, and was summarized by Larry thusly:

VR and 360-degree video are such new technologies that we are still figuring out the best ways to use them to tell stories. Accepted production techniques don’t work, while new techniques are still being discovered. Tonight, Andy Cochrane, director of The AV Club, shares his thoughts on how he creates 360-degree movies; what works and what doesn’t.

We covered a few different areas in the interview, but this exchange was the most important to me:

Larry Jordan: That gets to a really core point. Is VR best used for telling stories? Or best used for providing experiences?

Andy Cochrane: That’s actually one of my big scream from the mountaintop crusades. The word ‘storytelling’ does not apply in virtual reality because you’re not telling an audience anything. It’s not passive entertainment, it’s not theater or film or TV that you watch or listen to. Even if it’s 360 video and there’s no interactivity, the very fact that you are fully immersed in that video and the fact you can look anywhere and you have freedom to not look at the actor, you can look at the floor if you want, takes it out of the realm of storytelling where we’re crafting stories, and takes it into a realm of pure experience. That’s not to say that narrative doesn’t belong. There’s absolutely story happening but often the story is the experience. So if you ask somebody what that new movie is about, they’ll say there’s a character and he does this, and that and then falls in love with a girl. If you ask somebody about a virtual reality experience, they’ll say it’s really cool, you’re teleported to another planet and you do this and that. It’s all first person and experience based, and the story is your story. It’s your experience. That’s my big crusade. People who craft stories are absolutely welcome in the medium, but if they expect to be telling a story, they’re going to really burn themselves out.

This was the topic of the speech that I gave at FMX 2016, and obviously a year later remains one of my biggest areas of focus in discussions about immersive entertainment. You can read the episode transcript here, listen to the whole episode here, or subscribe to the show as a podcast here.