Welcome back for the third installment of our VR Visionaries series. Previously, we highlighted Scatter and the launch of Zero Days VR, as well as director Jérôme Blanquet and the release of Alteration. In today’s post, we celebrate the launch of Miyubi on Rift and Gear VR with Felix & Paul Studios Co-Founder and Creative Director Félix Lajeunesse.
What inspired you to create in VR?
Félix Lajeunesse: Before diving head-first into the world of VR in 2013, Paul [Raphaël] and I were directors focused on the creation of immersive cinematic experiences and installations. We were using holography and 3D-stereoscopic projection technologies to immerse viewers in 360° experiences and tell stories in a highly sensory and experiential way, so making the leap to VR was the best way to push our work forward. What we learned in those early years of immersive cinematic storytelling—both from a creative and technological standpoint—became the foundation and inspiration for our journey into the VR world.
What factors do you bear in mind while working in VR that don’t come into play with more passive experiences?
FL: We often compare the process of creating a VR experience to the work of Alexander Calder and his suspended mobile sculptures; we aren’t satisfied with a VR experience until we feel like we’ve established a sense of global balance and equilibrium between all the components and concepts in the piece. For instance, we want the story and its tone to be in symbiosis with the concept of what the viewer represents in the story and what justifies the viewer’s presence in it. Then, if we use interactivity, we want it to be seamlessly integrated and present enough to increase synergy with the viewer. At the same time, we don’t want to divert the viewer from the story and put the focus on their action like in a video game.
We also try to harmonize the tone of the staging and actors’ direction with the viewer’s state of mind. In Miyubi, for example, you experience the world as a two-foot-tall vintage robot and see your own body, so we established an acting style and tone that would blend well with that twisted point of view. If we achieve the right balance, then the sense of presence is elevated, the VR experience feels right, and viewers are emotionally and psychologically engaged and lose track of time. If we don’t achieve that balance, then it’s like a crumbling house of cards. We believe we’ve made it work with Miyubi—an experience that’s over 40 minutes—and we’re proud of that.
What was it like working with Funny Or Die?
FL: Paul and I originally wrote the core concept for the piece as well as its broad storyline, but we felt it was essential to collaborate with top comedy-writing talent to really develop and flesh out the story, its characters, and its tone. Funny Or Die’s Creative Director Owen Burke jumped into the adventure as screenwriter, and Executive Producers Chris Bruss and Christian Heuer came on board to co-produce the VR experience.
What obstacles did you face while creating Miyubi?
FL: Tone was the biggest challenge. We wanted the story, the world, and the characters to feel real—that was essential since we filmed at 60 fps and knew our VR viewers would stand in hyper-proximity to the actors—but at the same time we wanted the overall tone to be stylized and offset enough to mesh with the core idea that you’re a cheap Japanese robot in 1982 with hidden Easter egg programs implemented in your brain. So carving out that tone and applying it to all aspects of the production (acting, writing, art direction, VFX) was our biggest challenge.
What was your key takeaway from the experience?
FL: That it’s possible to tell a three-act story in VR. We had explored VR narrative with Wild: The Experience, Jurassic World: Apatosaurus, and the first three Cirque du Soleil VR experiences, but all of those were short-form with a run time below 13 minutes. At 40 minutes, Miyubi represented a significant step forward for us—and arguably for the medium itself. That came with significant risks and unknowns.
Besides Miyubi, what’s your favorite VR content right now?
FL: I’m really proud of how the full VR version of The People’s House: Inside the White House with Barack and Michelle Obama took shape. Available on both Rift and Gear VR, this 21-minute piece vividly shows how certain stories and experiences can only be expressed through VR. I was also really impressed with Dear Angelica, as well as the Mindshow VR experience, which lets viewers improvise and impersonate their own stories in VR.
Thanks for taking the time to speak with us, Félix—we hope even more filmmakers are inspired to take the plunge into VR content creation.
Stay tuned next week for the next installment of VR Visionaries, when we’ll take you behind the scenes of Through You. Until then, check out Miyubi on Gear VR and Rift for some love, family, and technologically obsolescent fun.
— The Oculus Team