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Whats the end-to-end process of making a VR film?

Welcome to episode number 31 of my 31 day challenge where every single day, I've been answering your questions about creating a career or business that you love and in today's episode, the final episode of my July 31 Day Challenge, I'm answering the question, what is the end to end process of making a VR project?


This is a full transcription of the podcast episode. Instead, you can listen to the episode here:

Okay, now into the meat of the episode then. So what is the process of making a VR project? Because the truth is that this idea is so unique to virtual reality and I'm so convinced that this is the only medium that I can tell this, this story through that I'm going to put myself through that pain of making it in this way. So you've got an idea. you've checked yourself as to whether or not it definitely has to be made in VR, because if there's any other way, any cheaper way to make something that will probably reach 20,000 times the audience that you will do in VR. Then you've checked yourself, you've double checked, you've decided - I'm making this VR piece I'm so passionate about it. So where do you go from there?


Number one, is not what you think I'm going to say. A lot of you who already work in VR think I'm going to talk about pre production, but I'm not. The first thing you need to consider is your distribution strategy. I've talked about this in a different episode about distribution. This is the number one thing you need to consider in the process of making your VR project, the distribution of your VR project will totally change the way that you creatively approach a project.


So when I'm talking about distribution, I'm talking about is it a 360 piece that's going to end up on Facebook or YouTube? Is it a VR piece that's going to end up on a HTC? Vive Pro, as part of a wider art installation? Is it a VR piece that I want loads of people to experience together sat side by side so that when they take the headset off, they can have a conversation? Is it a VR piece that is actually made for someone to view at home, but I want them to see it in a six degrees of freedom headset, I want them to see in a quest, you have to think about who the audiences that you're going to be targeting with the piece like who is the kind of person that is going to kind of like be seeing this piece? And how are they going to experience it? Because that will totally change the creative decisions. And in those considerations, although lots of people think that - oh, if you're an artist, and you've got an idea, you should just like be bold and stick to your artistic vision and not go back on it not, you know, not change it for anything, it's all or nothing, baby. But the reality is no, no, no, no, no, that's the opposite of what you want to do. What you want to do, is have this idea, but then keep it malleable and be able to shape it around what the technology and what the audience capacity will allow.


Okay, so for example, with Bad News, my latest project, I'm now I'm in that stage where I've got the idea, the script is starting to shape up, I already got like about three versions of the script, but now we're starting to consider distribution, we're starting to consider - who is the most important audience for this piece? And the truth is because it's funded by the BFI network, the most important audience is a cinema audience, it has to reach a mass it has to have mainstream appeal. And it has to reach a mass cinema not a mass in an audience, but it has to reach a cinema audience. Not specifically anyway, an arts venue audience, it is not designed to be a piece of VR that is seen by one person in a confined installation art space. Okay, this is a piece where ideally, in an ideal world 20 to 30 people at a time will sit in a headset and all kinds of experience the same thing. Now, I've very stupidly chosen to make it voice interactive, because I believe that that will really engage people in VR and really see the uniqueness of it the power of stepping into the character shoes and actually having to like speak parts of the script, you become an actor in the film, essentially. That's the selling point. But what I have to consider now is like, is that like, how are we going to approach the creative process with the fact in mind that we want to reach reach a slightly broader audience than just a kind of like one or two people at a time? Okay, given that they will have to be speaking out loud, they will have to be kind of commanding the piece. So all of a sudden, that changes how we go about creative. Not only that, but it also changes the kind of space that we will need. For example, for that audience, for a broad cinema kind of like audience to have like a broad appeal, what I don't want to do is make it a stand up six degrees of freedom experience. Now, I'm not going to lie to you, I might end up doing a version that is, that if I feel like there is a version that will most likely get more profile, if it is developed in that way. But the main output for this film, the main way I'm going to be creating it is to be sat down in a cinema chair, or in like a peloton, that's an exercise bike, a positron chair, whatever it might be group of people together being able to experience it, but they'll have to have some kind of, you know, distance between them because they will need to kind of interact with it, they will need to...will need to pick up on their microphone, that kind of thing.

So those those are creative decisions that I'm now having to make and to feed back into the script.


So hugely important. So think about your audience. Think about your distribution channels fast, then you can go into pre production, right? Then you can start to look at - okay, well, what's this script gonna look like? Now for me, obviously, I've just told you that I've done this the opposite way around, I wrote the script first but that's only because in order to get the funding in the first place, I had to have a bit of a proof of concept and I didn't want to actually create a prototype because I thought I could, I could paint a better picture of what my vision for the project was by writing a script because I feel like the power of words kind of I've always thought that I've always thought the VR is very much akin to reading is way more like reading than any other? Well, I think it's most akin to dreaming, actually. But while you're awake, I guess reading is like the most similar experience, because you can read words on a page in your brain creates the world, right, creates the universe around it. And I thought that, that was kind of like, the best way to do that is to give people and especially the folks over the BFI, the best chance of getting funded. And starting with that big picture idea of what it was. But now I'm kind of retro actively changing the script to fit the distribution plan, right.


So you write your script, or if it's a documentary piece, you start to like, look for contributors, or people that are going to be a part of it, you start to piece together what you think the story might be, during that process, especially if you're working in 360. This is when you start to need to make like the technical considerations. So for me, for example, in my script, I've got scenes that are happening in things like a coffee shop, or in a bookshop. Now, the reason I've chosen their locations, is because I happen to know people that manage or work in those environments, so I know that I can get access to those locations. So I'm not just like pie in the sky, just thinking I'm just gonna have an infinite budget, and I'll just be able to hire these places. No. I already know that I have access to those places, I have access to those people. When I'm writing the script, especially as an independent creator, as much as I always will reach out to high profile talent, and I'd love to have them involved. I always need to know that I can go to people that I can rely on, and maybe actors that I've worked with before, or kind of building roles that, for me seem like - okay, worst comes to worse, if I have a really minimal budget, and I have to like pull in kind of friends or like actors, you know, friends, who are actors is kind of like their not their full time job kind of thing. Like, I know that I can always fall back on that. So I write roles, and I write locations, especially when I start out with an idea. With that in mind, like, can I make this piece on my own? if worse comes to worse? If I didn't get all the money I needed? Could I still make this project happen? That for me is always front and centre. So obviously, you're looking at things like in those locations? What is the lighting like? Obviously, I'm specifically talking about photorealistic 360 at the moment, but for game engine, it's obviously like a slightly different process. But you still want to think about things... like what's the environment? And always come back to like, what's that going to be like for the audience? When someone puts on that headset? What's the experience you want them to have? What emotionally, do you want to kind of do to them? What journey do you want to take them on, when they're in that headset? What do you want them to think when they take it off? And every creative decision should kind of draw back to that question.


So you started to think about the technical piece, you've started to think about how much crew so I need for this? Realistically, when I'm creating a shot like this, how practical is that? How long might that take? This is when you start to get your producer cap on this is when you start to think about the practicalities of like - okay, well, three day shoot, so I've got three days shoot, I've got budget for X amount of crew, X amount of light equipment, if we're talking 360 and I probably shouldn't have this big fancy swirling drone shot that's going to take like half the day to shoot or a one shot that we'd like five pages of dialogue which is going to take the actors about 20 takes to get, you know like well maybe I'll keep the scenes a bit shorter? Maybe we'll keep the scenes seems a bit shorter, but change location more often. Because a that's less taxing for the actors. Because remember, very difficult to edit within a 360 scene. So really, you need actors that if you know us actors that have like a theatre background.


If you're going to be creating in a game engine like Unity, maybe you need to think about - okay, well, now I've decided that this is going out on a Quest, so now I need to think about what the style of this animation or the CG is going to look like? Given the fact that I've only got a certain amount of... I think they call them poly counts or something like that, in the Quest itself, it can only handle this level of graphics. So I need to now think of a very clever stylised way of getting across the atmosphere that I want, whilst also being able to port to this headset. So all of those technical considerations, do as much of the work in pre production as you possibly can, because I promise you, you're gonna save yourself such a massive headache.


If you think through all of the logistics, all of the practical implications of your creative decisions in pre production. Once you've done that, obviously, you move on to production and again, for 360, that's when you're like showing up and you're executing what are the key things to think about? Well, you want to think about how those actors are moving within that space? We talked about this in the episode about directing 360 but the idea of directing audience attention, you're using choreography, you're using sound, you're using space you're using editing, you know, you're kind of editing obviously comes in post production, but you're using and you're maximising the space, the location that you've got. If you're doing movement, are you making sure you testing and playing back in a headset to make sure that it's smooth to make sure that it doesn't make the average person feel sick? Are you making sure that the tripod height for your 360 camera is the same every single shot? If that's the intention, to make sure that you don't keep changing the height and making people feel like a bit vertigo.


Another thing I should have brought up in, in distribution really is like thinking about your audience. Is this a first time VR audience? If they are, then you really need to like think about that. I feel super passionate about the fact that if you are giving someone their first VR experience, no pressure that you're basically holding in your hand, for now, their entire opinion on a whole industry is in your hand, so if you betray their trust, if you show them a piece that makes them feel sick or putting them in a horror thing, and making them actually crapped their pants, like all of these things you need to consider. I know it's funny to watch gifs of people shitting themselves, like when clowns jump out at them or whatever, but you really need to think and obviously, like, if you've prepared them for that, if they've asked to go on a roller coaster, or do a horror game or whatever it might be, then of course, that's one thing, but just really think about that, just think about the fact that every time you put someone new in a VR headset, your aim as someone who works in this industry is to try and get them to fall in love with the medium. To try and make them feel comfortable to get them to a point where they do want to do more VR or invest in their own VR kit, the the fate of our industry depends on that depends on how, what quality of experience someone has the first time they put on a VR headset. So really take that responsibility seriously, please, I beg you.


So again, how does that feed into creative? So things like maybe you don't want to put moving shots in your piece if it's a first time VR audience, because that can make someone feel very, very sick. And maybe you don't want to have like jarring kind of action. Again, like first time, it's really difficult because first time VR experiences are very, very different experiences for people that have been using VR for years. And this is one of the problems with creating VR in general because there's so many fragments of audiences and this is why you really need to consider your audience right up top and hence my dilemma basically about like, you know, the kind of audience that would enjoy Bad News.


So anyway, production, we've touched on that, but loads of things to consider in production. If you're starting out, my biggest recommendation is just go out and test test test! You'll soon find all of the pitfalls with production and same with game design, you'll soon find out what gives you the headaches, and what are things that you need to consider ahead of time next. And if you want a whole episode on that, and I'm thinking about doing like a whole series in future where every single day of the week, I break down a different part of the production process. So let me know if that would be interesting?


Then you go into post production and I'm not going to go into the nitty gritty, other than you know, like editing is just as much a part of the directing of VR, as anything. So make sure that you're thinking about where those kind of points of interest are in your piece. Are they lining up so that if someone's looking at a different point of interest when you cut to the next scene, that point lines up? Or are you intentionally wanting them to kind of discover the piece? How are you using sound? Make sure that you're colour grading things really nicely. I remember when I first started editing 360 stuff, and I didn't realise even though it looks really high contrast and saturated on my computer, when I translate when I kind of ported that to a headset, it looked really washed out and grey and I was like - oh god, I need to like double the saturation on it and sharpen it and like I again, it's been a while since I've used some of the consumer cameras and the more higher end production cameras like the Titan and things like that, they do tend to have quite a good amount of sharpening on the image anyway, but just testing your headset, again, make sure that you're viewing the content back in the way that your audience will be seeing it. You should always always be looking at your project in the way that your audience is going to consume it and I went through a little period of thinking - oh, I can kind of guess what something looks like in a headset because I've been doing 360 for a while now, and that is true, I can kind of tell from a shot looking at it on a 2D screen, I can kind of tell what that's gonna feel like in a headset, just from experience, but I still always make sure that I look back in a headset because there's always something that you've missed. I remember once actually putting out a project, it was a real rush job and I'd forgotten that we needed to paint out some of the kit that I put on a bench nearby and totally forgotten about. And I delivered the piece of the client, and they were like - there's a kit bag on the bench in this shot, is that meant to be there? And I was like - oh no, actually, this is a draft, don't worry about that, that'll be painted out in the next version and then basically, you know...I had to quickly, get my post production artist and comp person to like paint that out. And it's only because it looks so small on a 2D flat screen when you see the stretched out 360 image in a headset, it's obviously much closer, because that is literally the nature of 360.


And that's the other thing when you're on set, that's a big thing. I know I'm jumping around here but in production, make sure again, same story, make sure that you're viewing. It's really hard. I know at the moment because 360 cameras don't automatically let you preview in a VR headset, but you have to look back onset before you wrap any scene because it would be like trying to judge whether a 360 shoot is successful, based on just like the preview that you get on an iPad, or a phone from the camera would be the equivalent of a movie director not looking at their monitor, but just looking at the actors in the shot. And just thinking well, the cameras kind of set up in the right place, I'm sure that lens looks vaguely right and then so, the actors were really good. So I'm sure that we've captured it. Like we have to look back at the footage in the way that our audience is going to see them, we have to be able to look back at the full 360 in a headset. And I know it's annoying, I know it's painful to have to onset, take that file, put it on a headset preview and a headset, change anything that needs to be changed in the scene and do that all over again until you're happy with that, I know that's annoying. I know it can be very tempting to not do to not do it. But please, it will save you so much headache and heartache when you kind of get into the edit and you're like - oh crap, like I didn't notice that. So I would highly recommend doing that.


So when it's post productions done, then obviously you distribute, you decide whether you're going to, again, you would have already decided this upfront, but maybe you want to send it out to festivals first. Firstly, maybe send it to a few people that it within your circle, to get some feedback? To get some ideas on what needs to shop and change anything that you need to? Yeah, anything that you need to change, anything that they kind of highlight is like - oh, maybe you want to think about this, or this scene didn't quite work for me or all that edit was a little bit off, maybe you should do this or maybe send it to people that you trust within who kind of work in VR, or maybe...I really enjoy showing it to my parents, I always think that my parents are like so removed from the tech world. And they don't spend any time in a VR headset other than when I shoved them in one. So I always think that their first reaction is always really telling of what the average kind of consumer would think if they saw the piece.


So have a phase of testing it, see what works, see what doesn't. I mean, in an ideal world, if we all had unlimited budget, we would be able to do like little test scenes before we went into production. But that's not always possible. So make the use of that during editing, to make sure that it flows nicely to see what the kind of reaction will be from audiences, anything that needs to be cut out anything that needs to be added, to add it in that kind of thing and then you send it out to festivals. I would always recommend, well, obviously this is completely dependent on what you want to do with your piece, but I would recommend you send it to festivals just to try and get it a premier. Try and get it some laurels, try and get some profile before you put it out into the world. Basically, this is the area where you're starting to market the piece, right? So if you can get in touch with the curators, and you've got some way of kind of like getting to them personally, it might be best to sound them out because often the horrible truth is for festivals is yes, they want to programme the best work but also because of the way VR is they will have to be programming based on the space that they've got available, based on the hardware they've got to show, they'll only be able to take a select number of pieces, they'll already have an idea of the kind of slots that they're looking to fill. And they might even have themes in their head around things that they want to programme so they might be looking for like pieces that fit into that. So if you can maybe have a conversation with that they won't always be forthcoming, they might say you just have to apply and see. But you know, if you don't get into a festival, don't be disheartened, because having been on the receiving end of that, I know, sometimes it literally comes down to the fact that they don't have enough headsets to programme all of the things they want to and the place where yours could have sat, there's already another piece that they've already confirmed, or maybe they can't get a sponsorship deal to get enough headsets to run a 360 cinema, so they're not focusing on 360. Or, you know, there's all sorts of different like kind of things going on in the background. And generally speaking, the VR sections or film festivals are very, very, very, very, very underfunded, even if they are the biggest festivals in the world. Just think like when someone needs to view 1000s of film submissions! Yes, that's painful and time consuming. But there is a very simple way to do that. Like, literally someone could do that on their phone, if they wanted to, like I could literally review submissions for Sundance by sitting on a train and watching films on my phone, that would actually be quite enjoyable. But with VR, it's totally different, and even if there are less submissions, that person has still got to sit in a headset for a long time and it could come down to something as simple as someone's been in a headset for three hours and it's bugging out and the experience isn't working. And it totally tarnishes what someone thinks of your piece and that's what you're up against. That's the reality that no one talks about in this industry and I want to be super honest about it.


This happened recently on, I was judging for an awards panel recently and when I was judging, there was a couple of pieces that didn't work technically, like properly when I went in. Now luckily, I'm a creator, so I can kind of go - you know what, I'm not going to penalise them for that because it's not their fault that the tech didn't work but that could colour someone's kind of experience with your piece, they might not be able to get it working. So again, if you're working on more of an app or a game based piece, for God's sake, make sure that you check and check again, that it actually works on the kind of headset that they're going to be using and that's the other thing you might develop for Quest and the festival or the person reviewing submissions doesn't have a Quest there or they they're not going to be programming for the Quest because they've got a sponsorship deal with Vive. Honestly, there's so much that goes into these decisions. So it is not just about whether your piece is good enough or not to go into these festivals. But if you can get into a festival, having said all that, having flogged that horse to there, if you can get into a festival, it is good because it does kind of give you profile, it gives you an opportunity to showcase your piece for free, essentially. And it could also be an amazing opportunity to get together with fellow creators network, also meet some of your audience, get some of that feedback. It's just a general good time, good vibes only and then once that's done, you decide on the distribution.


Are you' going to try and put it out on a platform like Amaze VR? Are you going to try and go after like location based or you're going to put on a pop up VR cinema? Are you going to package it with speaking? Are you going to sell workshops on how to make VR films? So yeah, then you start to think about how you're going to get into the wider world? Are you going to put it up on Steam or Oculus store so that everyone that has a VR headset at home can use it? Are you going to run a bit of a marketing campaign? Are you going to do a screen capture of the 360 experience and put it on YouTube so that people without a headset can see it? All of these things that you need to consider!


So thank you again so much for listening. I hope this has really helped some of you and if it was I would love to hear from you. Find me at @alexmakesvr on Instagram and Twitter or email me at alexmakesvr@gmail.com. I really love hearing from you.

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