Storytelling in the virtual age
Go VR Immersive co-founder Howard Tian shares his experience creating content for the technology and where its headed next
Inside an abandoned warehouse in the border city of Shenzhen, Chinese police officers exchange gunfire with Hong Kong triads. And you are standing right in the middle of it, with the sound of bullets whizzing past your ears, but miraculously you are unharmed.
Welcome to the crime thriller Infernal Affairs Series − with a virtual reality (VR) headset.
“Virtual reality has had a profound impact on how content can be created,” says Howard Tian, co-founder of Hong Kong tech start-up Go VR Immersive, who also directed the Infernal Affairs Series.
Tian’s mini-film is set 10 years after the original Infernal Affairs crime thriller film starring Tony Leung Chiu-wai and Andy Lau Tak-wah, which was released in 2002.
The Infernal Affairs Series was created using multiple 360-degree cinematic VR filming systems, which immerses to audience in the film and experience the heart-pounding action of good versus evil, simply by wearing a headset.
“With the help of the technology, we can now explore the potential of immersing audiences into the film, as if they were really there,” Tian says. “The audience is placed in the center of the story. They can rotate their heads, see different angles, and experience what’s happening around them.”
The Infernal Affairs Series was commissioned by China’s leading online video platform iQiYi, and is a collaborative effort between Tian’s Go VR Immersive and Chinese-language entertainment provider Media Asia.
Tian and his 20-member crew spent almost four months of planning before one week of shooting the film. The series has four episodes in total, each between five to seven minutes long.
On the differences between immersive storytelling and traditional filmmaking, Tian says the point of view of each camera angle must linger a little longer than normal.
Directors still use storyboards to plan the sequence of the film, but VR has changed the point of view for an audience where the scenes are now frameless and more fluid than in traditional film, where each shot needs to be longer to let the audience explore.
The length of the film is also something to consider, Tian says. Some people can get dizzy when the images in their headsets fail to change in line with their body movements, and some feel sick.
“The ideal length of a VR film is between five to seven minutes,” Tian explains. “So before the technology can develop these problems need to be solved. I don’t see a two-hour VR feature film being made any time soon.”
Tian hopes to explore more aspects of immersive storytelling in the future, not limited to film. Go’s next project is a live-action VR dating game titled Crush Academy, where players will have the opportunity to date a “real” model, actress or singer in the virtual world.
“Most of the dating games include computer-generated characters, but not real people,” Tian says. With the help of the technology, he hopes to create an interactive environment where users can take a walk, go shopping, or finish missions with their virtual girlfriend.
“The goal is to have 100 female characters from various Asian countries,” Tian says. “We are also looking forward to a male version of Crush Academy if the feedback is positive.” The game now has a demo version of around 10 female characters, and is now looking for funding and display platforms.
Besides being the co-founder of Go VR Immersive, Tian also acts as the technical director of Kaleidoscope VR Hong Kong. Kaleidoscope is a worldwide community with its main mission to give independent artists exposure and the support they need to do great work.
The inaugural Kaleidoscope VR Hong Kong Film Festival will be held on April 30. The Sunday festival will showcase top quality VR content to local Hong Kong creators, and give them a chance to present their works on an international platform in future.