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Sleepy Hollow & Narrative In VR with Stefan Grambart
Narrative experiences in VR have come a long way this past year, and Secret Location was at the forefront with our Emmy-winning Sleepy Hollow VR experience. This new medium poses many challenges to historically reliable cinematic and scripting techniques, forcing VR storytellers to innovate and develop new strategies to engage audiences.
As the creative lead on Sleepy, I want to share my experiences working on our first VR project and outline our discoveries and challenges around what it takes to tell a meaningful story in virtual reality.
Content creators in the Film & TV industries, game developers, and VR enthusiasts
ASSUMED AUDIENCE KNOWLEDGE
Awareness of virtual and augmented reality as new media, and the difference between the two.
FIVE THINGS AUDIENCE MEMBERS WILL LEARN
How Secret Location brought Sleepy Hollow to life in VR
A method to script 360º narrative experiences
Live vs computer modelled actors
The importance of audio as an immersion technique
Leveraging contextual interactivity
who were looking to promote season 2 of their hit show.
We pitched them VR, which was still a nascent technology.
• Many Kickstarter backers still waiting for DK1s.
• Eight months away from the release of the DK2.
• A year out from the launch of the ﬁrst GearVR.
• Facebook & Google not even mentioned yet.
Mentioning VR just confused most people.
“The Happening” (2008)
“Oculus Rift? The Transformer?”
“Transformers: Dark Of The Moon” (2011)
Image credit goes here
We had our emerging platform, but…
What’s the secret to telling
a good story in VR?
We had to ﬁgure that out for ourselves.
• Implement sound & action cues to direct the
user’s attention towards the primary story area.
• Place points of interest outside the focal area
that add context to the active narrative.
• Develop dynamically generated content that
can be delivered to the user in a predictable way.
Orientation & the subtle prompts that guide the audience.
We had to account for lineups, acclimation, and narrative.
Pacing the Story
The audience orients themselves within
the scene, get familiar with VR and the
space they are in.
Ichabod Crane appears and addresses the
audience with a warning. Ichabod leaves,
and the sound of the approaching
Horseman ﬁll the scene.
The Horseman appears
to cut oﬀ the
The Horseman lifts the
audience’s head like a trophy,
giving them a good view of
the Horseman CG model,
ending on a title card.
Crow caws loudly and ﬂies
towards Ichabod’s entrance.
Acclimation is essential to let new audiences get grounded.
How do we bring the audience back to the story?
Cinematography tends to
break in a frameless format.
A lot of our visual
language depends on a
deﬁned screen edge
Our crow drew the audience’s attention
to the primary story area.
3D Spatial Audio
Audio direction doesn’t rely
Sound eﬀects positioned in
the 3D space are an eﬀective
means of grabbing the
Leading action can’t be employed with a heavy hand.
POINTS OF INTEREST
Everything helps to tell the story.
The audience can ignore your story.
We developed a way to plan a frameless narrative,
placing points-of-interest outside the main story area.
Skirt the edge of the valley by using an animated style,
“Inside Out” (2015)
Be careful not to fall in; cute & creepy aren’t too far apart.
“Tin Toy” (1988)
During Sleepy we worked with
stereoscopic capture on green
screen, and we learned a few
•Actors need to be close to the
camera to capture emotion.
•Shoot at the distance you’ll display.
•Our project manager isn’t a
great actor (sorry Luke).
Image credit goes here
Constantly pushing the limits of our performance capture.
There’s some naysayers
who think VR is for games.
“There seems to be a lot of
something that, to me, is a
- James Cameron
“It’s good, but it’s not
- Ed Catmull
The medium is too nascent
for sweeping statements.
(don’t listen to them)
That’s like comparing the Lumière brothers’ ﬁlms…
“Workers Leaving The Factory” (1895)
To Star Wars.
“The Empire Strikes Back” (1980)