The Mission VR is a forthcoming short film shot specifically for virtual reality. The film is being produced in conjunction with Jaunt VR and New Deal Studios, a visual effects studio based in Los Angeles that has worked on major motion pictures.

Since coming out of stealth a few months ago, Jaunt VR has been aggressively developing technology and content in their mission to bring 3D 360 degree, ‘cinematic’ virtual reality to market using their VR camera platform. Scott Broock, Jaunt’s VP of Content, has the dual challenges of educating filmmakers about the possibilities of cinematic VR, and ensuring there’s a healthy pipeline of films to experience once the Jaunt viewer is released. Jaunt has embarked on a series of partnerships with visionary film companies to create these films.

See Also: Exclusive Sneak Peek at Black Mass, A VR Horror Short By the Director of Paranormal Activity 5

the mission vr matthew gratzner
Director of The Mission VR, Matthew Gratzner

To that end, I had the opportunity to participate as an extra in one of Jaunt and New Deal Studios’ upcoming short films called The Mission VR, a World War II period piece that takes place on the Eastern Front. The film is directed by Matthew Gratzner, who is co-founder of New Deal Studios and has worked on major motion pictures such as Men in Black, Iron Man, Shutter Island, and Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol.

While I’m not permitted to discuss the plot or other production details yet of the two day shoot, I can share some photos and takeaways from the weekend.

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I can’t wait for Road to VR readers to see this. You’ll put on your Rift, a pair of headphones, and you’ll be transported a few feet away from where I was standing today. A lot of new ground was broken this weekend; I’m permitted to share more details in the next few days, so stay tuned. I’ll also provide some additional insight into some of the production challenges this new medium presents.

See Also: Jaunt VR Reveal How Their 3D 360 Video Technology Works at SVVR #10

Everyone on the crew I had interaction with this weekend was a pleasure to be around, even under stress when setting up some of the more complicated scenes. Producers, director, wardrobe, makeup, PA’s, each person was a consummate professional. It makes all the waiting around much more tolerable.

At this point, Jaunt has not released any content to the public produced using their 3D 360 degree camera system.

You can also follow the production on twitter at @TheMissionVR where the production team has been teasing with plenty of photos.

  • Alkapwn

    Hopefully they release a trailer for this sometime in the near future!

  • Zach

    My huge question with all of this is how they will:

    1. Control the attention and focus of the viewer.
    2. Hide the ancillary production.

    Film sets take great advantage of the limited field of view of a camera. The crew sits just outside the frame triggering sfx cues, lighting adjustments, not to mention communicating with the director. Are we going to look down in VR and see the steadicam operator and turn around and see the sound guy and the G+E truck and craft services?

    I would think they’d either painstakingly paint out and fill in unwanted elements, or limit how much you can move your head.

    • @Zach – all good points. I’ll have a follow-on article in a few days that addresses some of these points generally, and specifically how some of those things were handled in this production.

    • Jacob Pederson

      Control the focus of the viewer? Short answer, you can’t. The whole point of VR is the viewer will be able to look anywhere, anytime. However, video games have been steering first person gaze for decades. Lighting techniques, environmental design, and audio cues, all help the player know where to look. Hopefully VR filmmakers will be aware of these techniques.

      • cly3d

        >>Control the focus of the viewer? Short answer, you can’t.

        Not entirely true. You’ve made good points on use of lighting etc… this was the same debate on proper “framing” for Stereoscopic 3D.

        Citizen Kane, back in the day, although a 2D film, had given enough clues to modern 3D film-makers on how to effectively use the medium of S3D… but no one really had the patience to listen.

        For VR, lighting, Depth of field and yes – even hijacking the head-tracking stream *can* work.
        On the question of hiding the camera crew, depending on the decision of the storyteller (Director) you could use the above techniques, including limiting the limits of horizontal head rotation on scenes where it might be impossible to hide crew.

        On other scenes, there might be a clue worth exploring more, in the paratrooper photo/ snapshot above. – Green screen and background plate replacement. Might be a bitch to do in Stereoscopic 3D and for the edge blending/stitching, but not impossible, given the algorithm / CUDA prowess JauntVR seem to have.

        In short, Green-screen the crew away, or hide the tiny video village behind a green cloth, and replace with a background-plate, in addition to other tools (lighting, depth of field, horizontal head rotation).

        In VR film-making, the idea is to give the Director or Storyteller, first dibs at capturing audience attention… just like in a regular Stereoscopic 3D film, while allowing the audience’s eyes to wander if they so choose to…

        I’m working on a milder version of this, and yes – while forcing Oculus Rift scene “cuts” that I believe don’t cause nausea.
        Downloadable demo scene on the project’s indigogo page: http://igg.me/at/maya360
        *hint* :)

  • Zach

    Film creates a dream like state where the filmmakers act as an observing consciousness on behalf of the audience. Because you willingly give your attention, they can craft a meaningful experience with a series of fixed viewing choices.

    For example, a huge character beat could be as simple as a glance, but represent a major change of awareness for the character. How can you be sure not to miss that with a roaming perspective? A finger nervously tapping, framed tightly, can speak volumes about an emotional state. The juxtaposition of images in editing montage can create other layers of meaning. (Like the intercutting of battle scenes and a claustrophobic hotel in the intro of Apocalypse Now)

    My fear is that a live action VR experience will feel boring and voyeuristic in comparison. There is no concerned observer (to borrow from directing instructor Michael Rabiger) to let you know what details are important in the scene! My fear is that this will lead to melodramatic situations with false performances to get your attention, silly lines where the actors pretend to talk to you, all while observing as if strapped to a theme park ride. In short – creepy peeping rather than emotional engagement.

    Interactive content has a bright future however, because …. you can interact with it! It’s got the key component of putting you in a reactive environment with reactive characters. I don’t see a way to do that with pre-recorded narrative live action filmmaking.

    This will be fine for concerts, races, sporting events, nature, travel, but I’m really skeptical for narrative storytelling.

    But, somebody has to prove that it works or that it doesn’t! So I’m glad for these folks attempting to answer that question for everyone. Suffice it to say, it will be a different thing entirely than narrative filmmaking, but I fear that the best thing about narrative filmmaking will be inaccessible in that medium. More power to them.

    • eyeandeye

      Perhaps when it is time to show a nervous finger tap or other subtle or important emotion, they can fade into an extreme close-up, where all you can see is a giant finger…tapping…tapping…and then fade back to your previous view.

      Either that, or highlight emotional gestures in bright red and sound a klaxon from the direction you need to look.

      • Paul James

        If the technology evolves further, you could potentially have contextual picture in picture (say with a floating frame showing close ups etc.)

        It will be fascinating to see how the language is extended and evolves as VR cinema becomes more prevalent. We could find that VR film making becomes an entirely segregated storytelling medium that only bears a passing resemblance to traditional 2D cinema techniques.

        Exciting times!

    • Psuedonymous

      But, somebody has to prove that it works or that it doesn’t!

      Theatre seems to work well enough. There are numerous forms that include the audience being surrounded by the performers rather than just limited to a stage.

  • cly3d

    This article by Brian finally got me to move ass and put down my thoughts on: The language of Visual Storytelling in 360 Virtual Reality
    http://bit.ly/UVC7eq

  • Zach

    >>”It will be fascinating to see how the language is extended and evolves as VR cinema becomes more prevalent. We could find that VR film making becomes an entirely segregated storytelling medium that only bears a passing resemblance to traditional 2D cinema techniques.”

    Exactly right.

    At first, filmmakers will do what they are comfortable with until they learn the new language. For example, early filmmakers simply pointed their static cameras at whatever was amusing — a train, an animal, the ocean — and audiences were transfixed. Eventually, the proscenium format was broken by cinematic fragmentation (cuts/angles) and our modern immerse film language of placing the viewer ‘in between’ the action began to develop. 3D cinema is providing a modern case study. Traditional films with a sloppy ‘3D’ conversion detract from the experience. Edge cases like Avatar and Gravity really come to life with the additional depth since they were designed with 3D in mind. When you look at the 3D film landscape we’ve got comparatively few examples of films moving the language forward. Perhaps it’s stalled because it isn’t different enough from traditional cinema, or there aren’t enough stories that lend themselves to embracing the technique.

    Theater works because the audience understands the contract of sitting in a chair and watching the performance. Theater isn’t *generally* as emotionally captivating for most audiences because you aren’t placed ‘in’ the action. It will be interesting to see how a floating viewpoint or fixed viewpoint changes the experience. What about the audience’s body? Film works a bit like an invisible window of consciousness so there isn’t an expectation for you to be present. Cuts mimic our shifting point of view, and the director provides the authorial point of view.

    My current guess is that filmmakers will try to borrow the narrative film making techniques that they are comfortable with and fumble around for quite a while as they learn what is appropriate to the medium. I imagine a extreme closeup in VR! You’d be stuck 12 inches from someones face! Yikes. A cinematic extreme closeup feels natural because it mimics our *conceptual* perception of the importance of what is framed. As you concentrate on someones face from across the room, the importance of the rest of the environment fades and you see just the face — so mirror that with a cinematic closeup and it feels right. As VR gets higher resolution, I suppose a closeup will not be forced on us, but discovered, just like in reality.

    I think that the primary difference will center around the director being the creative author of the story vs the observer being his own author of the story. When the observer is the author, the level of emotional engagement will vary — just like in real life. Go figure. I guess that’s what you should expect in a medium designed to mimic reality. :)

  • Zach