New Technologies: Is VR The Future? 

New Technologies: Is VR The Future? 

Immersive tech agency Somewhere Else has produced VR films and immersive experiences for Adidas, UEFA, Samsung and has even created a 4-Dimensional brewery tour for Budwesier. Ahead of a masterclass at ASFF 2018, Somewhere Else’s Daniel Fraga discusses a selection of their exciting projects, exploring the impact of new media on the cinematic landscape.

ASFF: Somewhere Else has produced VR films and experiences for a range of big names, including France Télévisions and Adidas. Can you discuss a couple of these projects?
DF: Adidas’ goal was simple – to excite and challenge their customers in unexpected ways. The key was to find an unforgettable way to market TERREX, a line of outdoor apparel and accessories. adidas provided us with 360-degree footage of accomplished climbers Ben Rueck and Delaney Miller ascending the Delicatessen mountain in Corsica.

We integrated this content with interactive, real-time 3D VR so that users feel like they’re part of Ben and Delaney’s journey in a whole new way. Jumping in and out of breath-taking 360 footage, the story unfolds and tension builds. Suddenly, Delaney slips – just a few meters away from the summit. That’s when players are thrust into her shoes to complete the climb from a first-person POV, with their own two hands. The experience was showcased in 50 TERREX shops across 10 cities in China.

France Télévisions wanted to promote the launch of Season 2 of their TV series Witnesses (Les Témoins). We were brought in to leverage immersive technologies to bring the audience closer to the story and characters from the show – like Emilie, who has been kidnapped and locked in a basement.

We designed an “escape room” game where two players collaborate across time & space dimensions to save her. This all happens in a (real) set recreation of the basement where Emilie was held. One player explores the physical space, whilst the other player – fitted with an HTC Vive – enters Emilie’s mind in VR. To find her, they communicate and interact with physical and virtual objects to find clues.

This was the world’s first escape room to integrate virtual reality into its gameplay. It sold-out for the entire duration of the four-month campaign (2017) and has just been re-launched for 7 months at le CentQuatre in Paris.

ASFF: How does new media change traditional approaches to narrative storytelling?
DF: New media – like virtual and augmented reality – requires a new kind of storyteller. It’s not about transposing techniques and methods from other media like film or theatre – it’s about being at the forefront of a new creative discipline, that is emerging as we speak. One of the very interesting things that these technologies teach us, is that all reality is, in a way, virtual. Everyday life is already at the intersection between fact and fiction. Our names, months of the year, cities – aren’t these fictions (albeit useful ones)?

What these new media allow is not merely to design new kinds of experiences, spaces, stories or emotions. It lets us design people through these experiences. To purposefully design the feedback loop between humans and the environment – so that by designing the latter, we can design the former as well.

We need to employ insights from different disciplines such as architecture, behavioural psychology, comparative mythology, critical theory, alchemy, theatre, service design and more. In other words, we must use Ontological Design to leverage the power of this new discipline with technologies such as mixed reality, the internet or or AI.

The most interesting creative endeavours of the coming “Age of Experience” will be those that fully understand this premise – that we’re creatively constructing identity, subjectivity, perception. After postmodern deconstruction comes metamodern reconstruction. This is how traditional narrative storytelling will be jolted back to life by immersive technology and mixed reality.

ASFF: What is the future of VR filmmaking – will it transform contemporary cinema?
DF: VR filmmaking is a contradiction in terms. It is an experiential medium; cinema is a linear and passive matter. Cinema will remain Cinema. VR will be something different and complementary.

VR can be thought of as a form of world building. It puts the user inside a universe with its own rules, discourses and specificities. For example, if you want to translate movies to VR – say Star Wars – what’s important is not to directly re-create an immersive Star Wars storyline. It’s key to make the user feel that they are a part of that universe; to architect the environment in a way that pays attention to even the smallest of elements.

If truth is in the eye of the beholder, then we need to design the things perceived by that eye. Reality is the prima materia of immersive technologies – in a way that is novel when compared to cinema. That is why VR is a platform, not an idea. This implies a whole new relationship between creator and audience – one that is holistic and which requires our frames of reference to be updated.

ASFF: What projects are you currently working on?
DF: We just completed Happily Contained, a project we did in collaboration with artist Miao Ying for Artnight 2018 – the largest, free contemporary arts festival in London.

Happily Contained is an interactive transmedia installation that questions our perceived reality, who creates it and why.  Installed in the show apartments for the Embassy Gardens development in Nine Elms, Miao’s VR experience is conceived as a form of “lifestyle hypnotism”, casting the viewer as consumer on a journey in search of utopia and contemporary ideas of home. From post-war suburban American tract housing to Chinese ghost cities, she investigates the construction of identity and desire.

ASFF: What are you most looking forward to attending at this year’s ASFF?
DF: Discussions like The Ethics of Illusion: VR in the Everyday bring up issues that we need to address today if we are to understand the implications of an immersive world. Short films like Life Cycles, for example, show us how cinema and VR are addressing the topic of behaviour patterns, its cycles and its narrative.

Essentially, I believe festivals like ASFF have role to play in establishing and nurturing narrative substructures for life in broader society – world building, if you will.

Tickets are now available for ASFF 2018, running 7-11 November. Find out more here.

1. Images courtesy Somewhere Else.