360 video is ushering in an emerging era of VR storytelling – situating the viewer inside of a virtual environment and at the center of a story that unfolds within it. Presence, Authenticity and Dimension are three pillars for VR storytelling with 360 video.
The essence of VR is the feeling of being present in a virtual world. VR storytelling should facilitate the viewer’s experience of presence in the story space, and integrate this dimension of the viewer’s engagement into narrative structure and the mechanisms by which the story unfolds. Adding presence into the mix transforms fundamentals of storytelling. For example:
Time: presence-based storytelling requires new temporal structures and editing rhythms distinct from film that give the viewer sufficient time to engage holistically with place and context as well as with story.
Space: Narrative can advance through shifts in environment and story space as well as through plot and character. Ideally, it advances through an artful synthesis of the three.
Character: The viewer occupies the position of a character or “character ghost” in a presence-based story, as 360 VR storytelling embeds the viewer within the story space – a position previously reserved for the cast only.
Because VR enables an unprecedented level of intimacy between viewer and story, authenticity is a critical factor in harnessing the full power of the medium. Whether “real” or “hyper-real,” an authentic connection to narrative, character, and key story elements is essential. Just as a film camera situated on a theatrical stage would likely result in a narrative that appears inauthentic on the screen, staging narrative scenarios with standard film/TV techniques often reads inauthentic in VR. First person gaming and reality television are arguably more viable predecessors for VR storytelling. Techniques that capture and convey an authentic slice of virtual life from the vantage point of a viewer embedded within the story space will undoubtedly establish new standards for 360 video and VR storytelling.
Because VR is novel and engaging in its 3D nature, conveying an ongoing sense of immersive depth and dimension is key. This is a particularly important challenge in working with 360 video, which lacks the intricate, navigable dimensionality of a CG environment. Even so, there are approaches creators can use – short of stereoscopic cinematography or photogrammetry – that help amplify dimension in a 360 video. First and foremost is to think of the story experience 3-dimensionally, edit in VR, and avoid “flattening” it into a traditional 2D media format. As opposed to “telling a story,” 360 video creates immersive narrative moments that the viewer is invited to enter, witness, and even participate in. The story space is 360, and this sphere presents a unique immersive composition framework akin to a cinematic frame or a theatrical proscenium. And beyond the visual, spatialized sound design can further amplify perceived depth and dimension in 360 VR story space.