"Real" is Perception Squared's first cinematic Virtual Reality project. We are extremely excited to be exploring this new medium and the unique storytelling opportunities it holds. The workflow for creating live action virtual reality films is largely unexplored. With this project we did a lot of things that no one had ever done before and had to figure out a workflow that best suited our needs. We are incredibly happy with the final product but equally excited to get to work on the next VR project.
A few years ago Connor had an idea for a short film based on a painting that had been circling the Internet. The painting was of a disheveled girl sitting in the corner of a dilapidated apartment staring into the green glow of her VR goggles. This image evoked a whirlwind of ideas surrounding the future of VR and motivated the script. The goal with "Real" was to tell a story that make the audience question what they perceive as real. The main character is struggling to decide which reality she prefers and at the same time those questions are being asked by the viewer as they experience this story from their own VR headset. What makes "Real" unique is the transition between the typical 2D format and the 180 degree 3D format. Virtual Reality is used as a storytelling device to take the viewer into the main character’s perspective inside the goggles.
This film, including production, post, and VR app creation, was self-financed on a shoestring budget. The mostly volunteer crew filmed for 3 days and post was completed over the next 8 months. Connor Hair built all the props himself, even teaching himself how to solder and code LED programs for Arduino to make the goggles animate practically. Needless to say, this film was produced with passion, blood, sweat, and tears.
The biggest hurdle during pre-production was creating a stereoscopic 3D camera for a point of view perspective in VR. Having no prior experience in stereoscopic filmmaking, Connor researched all the current VR cameras and weighed the pros and cons of each system. Not finding something he was happy with, he decided to build his own camera rig. The final camera rig was fashioned out of Ikea brackets, wood, and two GoPro Hero4 Black cameras. From there, Connor spent months testing different configurations and experimenting with camera settings and frame rates, trying tirelessly to create the highest quality VR with the available resources.
After the camera, finding locations that fit the story was the next major challenge. The apartment location in the film is actually where Connor and his girlfriend live. With it’s unfinished concrete floors and industrial vibe, it fit perfectly in the dystopian world of the film. The walls, cabinets, and appliances were all distressed to fit the script. We also used the rooftop of an apartment building in downtown LA and various locations along Matador Beach. The beach location added significant production value to the film and was one of the most memorable shoot days.
"Real" was filmed over 3 non-consecutive days. It was a relatively small crew and we had to essentially shoot two films at once. We shot each VR scene twice, once on the Gopro rig for the 3D VR version and once with the Red Dragon for the 2D only version. We wanted to cover our bases and have a high quality 2D version that we could submit to festivals. The production was tough but went relatively smoothly. We got all of our shots and only had one day of planned pickups. We shot our pickup day a month later, which happened to be a blessing in disguise. Included in the pickups was a scene where the main character is in bed with her husband. Originally this was written as a very small scene that didn’t carry much weight in the script. After shooting principal photography we were able to assemble a rough cut of the film and realized that the scene in the bed would be a great spot to develop the relationship further and allow the audience to see why Kate is struggling to let go of him. We extended that scene and shot it during the pickups. It is now one of Connor’s favorite scenes in the film and he can’t imagine the film without it.
Fred Beahm of Spliced Films was the editor of the film and helped push the film quickly through post-production. In addition he also did all of the VFX work including painting out unwanted beach-goers, developing glitch transitions, creating a sci-fi phone UI, and enhancing the cityscape. He had never done any VFX for a stereo 3D film before, but he jumped in headfirst and did some great work. Fred also worked to keep hundreds of files straight in a projects with multiple cameras and three different framerates. It was definitely not your typical short film workflow. Connor programmed all the VR translations because he was the only team member who knew all the specifics of the rig and VR viewing software. After locking the picture, Fred and Connor created a custom VR workflow for color correction within DaVinici Resolve 12 that allowed them to view the film in 3D on the Oculus Dk2 while making adjustments to color. It was important to view the grade in the Oculus because that would be the primary device people will watch the final film on.
We then sent the film to Austin Healy for sound design where along with traditional sound design we also added in a few 3D sound elements that were created from foley and specialized with the Oculus audio SDK in Unity. Dan Reeves then composed a beautiful and dark soundtrack reminiscent of the music from Blade Runner and Ex Machina.
After the film was finished we needed a way to get it to the end user without requiring them to tinker with VR viewing software. We also wanted to present it in a nice polished package that would best represent our company and the work we do. We got in contact with Steve Doornbos owner of DrashVR and creator of the popular Oculus experience "Titans of Space". Steve was excited to come on board the project and quickly got to work on the application. We also had help from Paul Turcott in creating the 3D models for the main menu. One of the elements we wanted to add to the application was starting the viewer off in the woman’s apartment from the film. This element acts as a menu for the film but also adds another layer of depth to the experience. At film festivals we will be setting up a viewing station similar to what the woman’s bed looks like from the film. In doing so we make the viewer question their reality as soon as they take off the VR goggles. They see a virtual bed in front of them at the end of the film and as they take their goggles off they see a real one in the same place. This causes the audience to question their reality and drives home the themes presented in the film.
THE FINAL FILM
We are extremely excited to share the final product and we hope everyone enjoys watching it as much as we did making it.