Henry – A Virtual Reality Experience

Henry virtual reality

Henry with his birthday cake

New methods of storytelling are being discovered, used, tried and tested. Animation as we’ve discussed in previous posts is filled with all kinds of stories that can take those watching to another world, beyond the realism of ours, yet be so compelling. But it is limited to what one can see on the screen or in the shot, and the director will draw our attention based on shot choices.

With the introduction of portable and accessible Virtual Reality, new developments have been brought to pass which in turn allows us to experience stories like never before. One of these is a story of a hedgehog named Henry.

Developed by Storystudio and the Oculus team, Henry is a Virtual Reality experience, relying wholly on character interaction with the audience. It is the story of a hedgehog (Henry) as it celebrates his birthday, and wishes for a friend. We, are able to watch those events unfold (spoiler free this one).

However, with a film, a director can, as previously mentioned, focus our attention to what is important. How then, does a virtual reality film accomplish the same task?

the focus of our attention in virtual reality

It is not a video game. The virtual camera does not require the audience to move. No. Instead, (and this is something the team at Storystudio did so well with Henry) it influenced the attention of the viewer through subtle motion and sounds.

Henry virtual reality

Example of camera movement in Henry.

A ladybird flying makes our eyes want to follow it, when there’s nothing else moving. Different tones of shading will draw our eyes to where is brightest, much like a spotlight. Surround sound will shift to where action often is, on Henry. Even though we are free to pay attention to what we please, because of the use of sound and subtle movement, our eyes draw naturally to Henry. Thus, the movements within the virtual space became the driving force of the viewer’s attention, and not shot choices.

And perhaps most important of all are the light movements of the virtual camera. Nobody stands 100% still. There is always, some small movement. When surprised, or startled, people naturally take a step back, or lean back.

This small change allows us to feel like we are present in the moment at all times. It becomes more than paying attention to what we want to see. Those watching are led to what the storytellers want them to see. Those watching increase in empathy of Henry because they are there!

Virtual reality, for character centric stories, are an incredible method of film-making.
Films will often times tell the story through different angles. Perhaps from the antagonist’s point of view on top of our protagonist.

The story in virtual reality limits the point of view we are looking through; we can only analyse our own. But through leading the viewer via the senses, a story can still be told, and experiences can be felt.

REFERENCES

https://storystudio.oculus.com/en-us/henry/

Fig. 1 – Henry from Henry Virtual Experience
Figures 2 – Henry from Henry Virtual Experience

 

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