Virtual reality is taking off a little slow, but the team at Holospark is practicing its VR storytelling skills so that it can deliver cinematic moments the way that the best movies and games do.
The Bellevue, Washington-based VR studio has a half-dozen people on a Séance: The Unquiet, a ghost story set in VR. It hired a couple of actors for a demo that turned out to be both dramatic and spooky. Holospark is working on a ghost story for the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive VR headsets. The team is using the Unreal game engine and the latest in Hollywood performance capture technology to create cinematic storytelling.
Séance will be a ghost story with characters, drama, scares, and dramatic music. I saw a demo of it and I was impressed with the detailed touches. The lip-syncing was good, and the eyes of the characters followed my own when I looked at them. The female character is like a fortune teller, and she gets into your personal space, as she sits across the table from you, as she tells you about a dream she has.
“It shows you the power of the medium,” said Bruce Sharp, VR art director at Holospark, in an interview with GamesBeat. “When they get in your personal space, it gets uncomfortable.”
“That deepens your connection with the characters,” said Séance co-creator John Scott Tynes, who is executive producer on the project.
You’ll be rewarded if you interact with the actors by looking from one face to another. For instance, one might wink at you while the other is talking. Or maybe you can raise your glass in a toast when the characters ask you to do so. The intent is to make the character look more realistic the closer the person is to you in the 3D space of VR.
“We want to work on characters who feel present and deliver an emotional performance like you haven’t seen before in VR,” said Sharp. “We capture the performance of the actors and make it feel real. The characters see you and react to you. We think the character presence will make this into mainstream entertainment.”
Sharp and Tynes think of their upcoming VR creation not so much as a video game but as a new medium. It’s more like an episodic TV show in VR.
“We want to create dynamic moments of interactivity, like a ghost passing through you,” Tynes said. “We used two veteran actors and captured it, put it into the Unreal system, and they will make you feel a part of a studio. It’s built from the ground up for this new medium.”
Holospark previously created The Impossible Travel Agency, which combines classical music and other worldly visuals in VR.
“VR is like an amplifier of immersion and talent,” Sharp said.
Tynes is optimistic about VR because Facebook plans to launch its $200 Oculus Go headset in 2018, helping to bring down the price of VR to mass market levels.
“We’re eyeing holiday 2019 as a time when the second and third-generation VR devices hit the market and reach a mainstream audience,” Tynes said. “We see an opportunity to do awesome entertainment, like a TV series in VR. It will be immersive and accessible to people, much like they just access a TV series on Netflix.”
So far, Séance is just a demo, but it looks pretty good. Holospark has been playing with the ideas for storytelling in VR for a couple of years.
The studio has a long way to go, but I liked what they’ve shown me so far. They’re looking to find partners to help them create this new kind of entertainment. With adequate funding, Séance could turn into a bigger project.
“When you think about it, when Darth Vader cuts off Luke Skywalker’s hand in Star Wars, the person with the best view of the action is the actor,” Sharp said. “And you can get that kind of view in anything except VR.”