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Immersed in Movies: Saschka Unseld Talks VR at Oculus Story Studio

Immersed in Movies: Saschka Unseld Talks VR at Oculus Story Studio

Saschka Unseld (The Blue Umbrella)who left Pixar to become creative director of Passion Pictures and co-founder of Oculus Story Studio, will host a discussion at Future of Storytelling Summit  (FoST) in New York on Thursday. He will be joined by Jessica Brillhart, who works in the Google Jump camera program, and their discussion will revolve around the possibilities of CG VR, live-action storytelling and re-imagining the theatrical experience.  I recently met with Unseld at the premiere of their latest VR short, Henry.

Bill Desowitz: You left Pixar for VR. What is the attraction for you?
Saschka Unseld: I got fascinated with VR working with Max Planck [who also left Pixar and is currently supervising TD Oculus Story Studio] and some of the others. Their thought was to start a small studio to do things in VR and then we realized that should be part of Oculus. We know what it’s like to do a proper animated experience. It’s not something someone can just do on the side. So we met up with them and their thought was to do exactly the same thing in-house as a unit to explore that. And now here we are about a year later.
It has sparked a sense of wonder and awe again. In film, I have to work really, really hard at it and, in VR, it’s just there. And my sensibility of film is much more quiet and whimsical, as you saw with The Blue 
Umbrella. And for some reason in VR those are the strongest moments, which makes me really happy. A lot of people really like quiet things suddenly, which is beautiful, somehow.

BD: It is wide open in terms of storytelling and there are choices to be made in defining it. What do you take from film? What do you take from gaming? And who’s going to be in control of the story?
SU: I think there’s stuff closer to interactivity from games and I think there are things farther away from games. And I think they can all co-exist. Because I know sometimes when I go home, I just want to sit down and watch something and not do anything. Sometimes I want to play a game that is really involved and sometimes I want to play a game that is really straight-forward with a lot of storytelling and only a tiny bit of interaction. The things we’re doing, I see them as constrained storytelling. I want to be in control of drafting at least 80% the timing and cohesiveness of character and narrative. I want to be in control of giving you an experience, and what you to be acknowledged as an audience and can do things but only in a limited scope. At least right now, that’s what I feel comfortable with and in that area there’s enough to explore.
BD: So coming up there’s Bullfighter, which places you face to face with a raging bull and your project, Dear Angelica. Tell us about it.
SU: Dear Angelica is such a weird thing because it’s all told through you being inside a series of illustrations and I didn’t want to animate the illustrations because I wanted to maintain as direct a connection between the actual inked illustration and what you see onscreen. So they’re all frozen moments in time. And you being inside that frozen moment and tell the narrative through that. That’s enough of a challenge already.
BD: What is the software?
SU: It depends on the project. With Henry, it’s all animated in Maya and lit and assembled together in Unreal because it runs in real-time. They’re not built for narrative storytelling like this so we hack them to work better for what we want them to do. And for Dear Angelica, which again runs all in real-time, our coder will code all the things for how our illustrations assemble in front of you.
BD: What’s your release plan?
SU: We hope to keep projects through a six-month production period because we learn so much from them. If something takes too long we just redo it. For now it makes sense to do short things but I’d like to do something longer.
BD: What will the progression be in terms of getting more immersive?
SU: I think Bullfighter will be a lot more 360 because it’s about being around you.
BD: And getting tactile?
SU: Tactile is hard because there is no technology out there where you can feel something. It’s still early. What’s interesting is the Oculus Touch where they did something with the controller where it can recognize if your fingers are on it or are loose. So you get the sense of grabbing something or letting go of something. So that interactivity is going to be interesting to find the right playground for the audience to use it. But still also not having them break the story.

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