Two Important VR Shorts for 2017


2017 is shaping up to be VR’s biggest and most important year yet. It comes off the back of a record breaking 2016, a year that saw around $1.8bn of funding for VR / AR companies. The figure has been steadily increasing over the last few years and one would expect 2017 to beat last year’s total.

In addition to this there has been some amazing content delivered to VR, with film-makers developing the language of VR storytelling and understanding the results that can come from pushing the technology. Over the last week, I’ve seen two excellent short pieces in VR; Pearl and My Brother’s Keeper.

With Pearl, many who are enthusiastic about VR are claiming that the medium has its first Oscar nod, as Peal has been nominated for Best Animated Short. It’s a big deal. Not just the prestige that receiving an Oscar nomination would bring but the amount of attention a nomination brings to a project – this is the kind of boost that VR needed, something that placed it more central in the minds of the public at large.

The piece itself is a lovely tale, simple really but it resonates strongly. Does the fact it’s in VR add to the emotional connection? Yes, because you’re present for the key moments in the family’s life, the car is a huge part of the story – essentially a character itself and you get to inhabit it for a while. You see what it saw, witnessing a range of emotions yet unable to communicate any empathy to the father or daughter, watching them grow and then grow apart. The aesthetics really suit the piece as well, it doesn’t feel like a game because it’s animated and it doesn’t take you long to accept the stylised world as real.

The sound design was excellent too – sound can often be overlooked when it comes to evaluating how impactful a piece is – but in Pearl the small details shine through; from the way a song sounds from an old tapedeck to how noises change when you go through a tunnel. It’s another reminder of how captivating VR is and how hard it is to actually create a work of some quality.

My Brother’s Keeper
My Brother’s Keeper is a live action short set during the Battle at Antietam of the American Civil War. Its appearance at Sundance earlier this year told us a couple of things; that Sundance are embracing and acknowledging VR as a valid storytelling medium and also that My Brother’s Keeper is a very strong piece of work. The story is about two brothers that confront each other on opposing sides of the American Civil war – through flashbacks and voiceovers, we get to see how they set out on different paths and how they meet again on the battlefield.

Firstly, the stereoscopy was great (it was shot on the studio’s own creation called a “Johnny 4” cam) there were a couple of scenes where the depth kinda hypnotised me as it was so… “there”. But of course this meant that it felt even more like being present with the characters.

There were some powerful, beautiful shots (one in particular was a flashback scene that captured shafts of light coming through the gaps of wood in a barn) that were all the more effective because it was in 3D 360. Some creative approaches were applied in the direction, playing with what’s been conventional in VR up til now. One shot might have stirred a mild discomfort as it was unusal for VR but that made the scene all the more memorable and evocative – and it’s great that film-makers are exploring the language of VR right now, the potential of connect with audiences on VR is only beginning to be realised.

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