How Do You Transform a Cinematic Experience into a VR Experience?
By Gavin and Jason Fox
Several theme parks rely on fans of particular movies wanting to immerse themselves in that IP. This is evident in the newest big-name rides opening including Disneyland’s Star Wars Smugglers Run, Universal Studios’ Jurassic World – The Ride and the state of the art attractions at Lionsgate Entertainment World.
As VR becomes more viable, particularly for high throughputs, park operators want to take advantage of it to engage fans. But in order for that to happen as part of an existing cinematic world, there are considerations that need to be made. Here’s how you successfully transform a cinematic experience into a virtual reality one.
Finding The Essence
Before creating something in VR, the first thing you have to be clear on is how fans identify with the property in question. All IPs have something that defines them and needs to be pinpointed as this will dictate where the pixel budget should be spent on the development of a VR world.
The rides at Lionsgate Entertainment World are a great example. Framestore created the media for five rides at this park, three of which were VR experiences. The first job was to identify what makes Lionsgate’s movies what they are. The team analysed the most important aspects of Twilight, Divergent and Gods of Egypt in order to pick out the thing that makes them unique.
The Twilight Saga for example is all about the characters. So in the case of Midnight Ride, a group VR attraction where visitors ride motorbike motion bases whilst wearing a VR headset, the stars of movies including the wolves and vampires, needed to be the most convincing aspect of the visuals. The Divergent movies on the other hand are much more about the environment so the world inside the headset had to reflect that. Capitalizing on these elements creates an immediate sense of familiarity with a property which is what immerses fans and convinces them of the experience.
Telling a VR Story
Once you’ve got the essence of a property and know where your pixel budget is going to be concentrated, finding the story of a VR experience and fitting it into the existing cinematic world becomes incredibly important. Being clear on where and when the experience’s story takes place will help you to write and direct the action and the characters – even if they are CG versions of existing actors. This is really important when operating within the existing canon of a story because more than anyone, fans of the movie know the chronology of characters and events inside out.
Deciding this early on is also important in addressing the framework of a VR experience. Having a single camera – i.e the players’ POV – and a fixed (and usually short) time frame with the inability to cut between moments means you can’t use cinematic tricks to sell the story. Any VR experience needs a narrative that ebbs and flows but still makes sense within the cinematic world. So creating a cinematic VR experience needs someone at the helm with a familiarity of movie worlds, a vision for a story and an understanding of the parameters of a VR experience.
The Engineering of It All
Once the narrative in-headset aspect of a VR experience has been laid out, the physical elements of the attraction need to be designed; these can have a huge impact on fans’ interaction with the experience.
Physical space is the first consideration. Take the Gods of Egypt virtual reality roller coaster at Lionsgate Entertainment World for example. The park is completely indoors and across several floors so the ride is constrained by the physical space that it occupies. VR can be used to create an illusion around distance and speed – in this instance the rider believes they are travelling faster and further than they actually are.
For a free-roaming VR experience like the Divergent Fear Simulator at Lionsgate Entertainment World, the physical world is just as important as the virtual one. Visitors can reach out and touch a chain link fence they can see in their headset; it grounds the experience in reality. Add to that 4D elements like sound, wind and changes in temperature, and the experience is amplified.
In any situation where there’s a physical element to an experience, the calibration between the virtual and real environments is key to making sure it sells; as is the use of sound design. When designing something within a cinematic world, you can instantly generate a feeling and aesthetic with certain pieces of music. Think John Williams’ Jurassic Park or Harry Potter themes. They have an instant recognition with fans and establish the feeling of their particular cinematic worlds.
Experiences Like No Other
Considering the essence of a movie, creating the right narrative and understanding the limitations and possibilities of a VR experience is essential for translating a cinematic world into a VR one.
Watching your favourite movie on repeat is one thing but being a part of it is really something else. There’s no comparison for the kind of engagement that VR experiences can allow. It can make properties like Twilight and Star Wars more exciting than they’ve ever been because fans are no longer passive viewers; they’re now active participants. And that will engage fans in a way that’s not been done before.
Gavin and Jason Fox are creative directors at Framestore.