VR music videos seem to be digging out a sweet spot of quick and fun VR experiences that use the depth of virtual reality to immerse viewers in music with powerful and impossible visuals. Chocolate, a new VR music video directed by Tyler Hurd, furthers the case for VR music videos with electro-kittens, masked dancers, and champagne.
Based on a song of the same name by electronic artist Giraffage, Chocolate turns the viewer into a metallic tri-legged robot with wobbly fingers that are oddly satisfying to shake. You’ll start out staring at your new robo-self in a mirror, and once you get past your wiggly fingers, you’ll see that your three legs animate in a convincingly creepy way as you move about the virtual space. Indeed, this is a semi-interactive experience that’s rendered in real-time.
After you get a feel for your robo-body, the song starts and a psychedelic landscape surrounds you, complete with rolling neon hills and a troupe of masked dancers surrounding a giant mirror that you’re standing on. The dancers are wearing oversized Mayan-like masks with cat faces, and groove to the music in unison around you.
As Giraffage’s smooth and cheerful beat sets in and the dancers get to shaking their hips, it’s clear that Chocolate represents a successful departure in animation style from director Tyler Hurd’s prior VR works. BUTTS (2015) and Old Friend (2016) featured decidedly exaggerated and comedic animations that Hurd says were inspired by the likes of Ren and Stimpy (1991-93). Chocolate, on the other hand, takes a somewhat more realistic approach. The art style is still cartoonish by most measures, but the animations assume a more choreographed look that relies less on absurd body language and more on movements that speak to the beat.
The dancers are just the start of the fun. A short while into the song and a tingle in your robo-hands hands causes you to look down just in time to see them transform into cannon-hands that shoot out metallic kittens. Yes, you shoot metallic kittens from your robo-kitten-cannon-hands. And it’s great.
As the kittens fly through the air, everything goes slow motion on queue with the beat as all the airborne kittens turn to you with their huge eyes and sing out the electronic melody in unison. You’ll go through a few kitten-cannon blasts before an interlude has the distant hills dancing like trippy rolling waves. And that’s when the floating cat heads and giant cat kings arrive… but I’ll leave it at that for now.
Immersed in all the action (and literally the focal point of the whole performance), it’s hard not to want to clap your hands to the beat and groove with the dancers. Chocolate feels like a success in that it got me moving, kept my attention for the three minute song duration, and now I’m bumping to the original track as I write this article. But I’m excited to see Hurd and other pioneering VR music video directors take the interactivity to the next level.
Aside from getting to choose which direction to fire the kitten-cannons, and getting to look at my wobbly fingers, the experience wasn’t significantly interactive. I want to get deeper into the music by influencing or contributing to it in some way. At a minimum, it would have been great to have my own sound effect when clapping so that I could add my own beat to the song. 3D audio also would have formed a greater level of immersion by connecting the audio to the virtual objects that are supposed to be emitting it (like the singing kittens).
Taking things further, some very light gamification (a skilled kitten shot through a hoop?) could have scored me an extra layer to the song, or perhaps given me access to an instrument as wild and creative as the robo-body I was already inhabiting. Or let me make up the dance moves while the dancers follow, like a choreographed call-and-response.
The music and the visuals already convey an urge to dance, now let me play with it all in a way that can only be done in VR.
This sort of interactivity will require a deeper collaboration between the director of the music video and the song’s artist, but it feels like the natural next step if the goal is to immerse the viewer both visually and sonically. Chocolate shows me that we’re getting there.
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Executively produced by Viacom NEXT, Chocolate is making its debut at the Sundance Film Festival this week at the New Frontier VR Palace. The experience is built for the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, and will launch publicly in the first half of 2017. The creators have teased additional platform support in the future, likely coming to mobile platforms as a static 360 degree video.