SXSW 2016
Is the Future of Storytelling Blue?

A study of the use of color in ancient societies found no mention or use of the color blue, with the exception of the Egyptians. Not in Greek, Chinese, Icelandic, or even the Hebrew version of the Bible. Often called green, even during later visits to these native tribes, it appears differentiating and comprehending the color blue is an evolution of our perceptions.

In a panel discussion called Immersive Content: The Future of Storytelling on Tuesday at SXSW, Ricardo Laganaro, film director at O2 Films and Director of the most-viewed 360 video on Facebook, compared virtual reality to the evolving comprehension of the color blue. To merely talk about VR doesn’t make sense; we must see it and begin to experience it to truly understand the medium.

Joining Laganaro on the panel was American Filmmaker and UN Senior Advisor Gabo Arora. Arora founded UNVR, directing the UN’s first VR film, Clouds Over Sidra, and subsequently making VR films Waves of Grace and My Mother’s Wing, the latter of which just had it’s world premiere in Tel Aviv.

Believing that VR is the best way to create empathy with an audience, Arora’s films highlight the situations and even pain of others. Quoting Susan Sontag in her book Regarding the Pain of Others he said, “It is passivity that dulls feeling.” This is the difference between flat screen and VR films. Flat screens can be a passive medium. VR immerses people in the experience. And when you’ve stepped into a 360-degree view of another world, it’s hard to turn away. It’s when these emotional stories are combined with the technology that you can truly begin to understand what people are really like.

To be an effective storyteller, one must first understand that there is a whole new creative language that comes with VR. As Arora put it, “It’s important to think of the technical things, but really it’s the other half of storytelling and creativity that’s easy to overlook.”

Drawing from their experience, Laganaro and Arora shared five lessons learned for merging technology with storytelling and creativity:

1. The Medium Is The Message: The approach to film of identifying content, building a narrative, and bringing it to life with technology does not work with VR. Rather there should be continuous push and pull between content, narrative, and technology, each influencing the other, and when done correctly the technology will be invisible.

2. The Fidelity Contract: People take time to understand the language. Entering a VR experience is a pact between the creator and the audience. The creator must set their priorities so as not to overwhelm the audience, otherwise people will get lost. Sure they’ll remember they saw something cool, but they will not remember the content.

3. Establish The North: Introduce a focal point. While VR allows room to explore, people need to know where to look and how to follow the story and mechanics of the video.

4. Solve The Role Of The Camera: This is key to evolve the language, is the camera a character or invisible presence? Playing a character has worked well with CGI-built VR films, while the invisible presence may be ideal for fiction.

5. Test, Test, and Test: Make sure the story truly engages the audience and immerses them in the experience.

While tried and true, Laganaro emphasized that these learnings will evolve as VR is a growing medium.

And in a word of encouragement to all the storytellers, he added, “the blue sky is the limit.”

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  1. Ben Morris

    Great post Tyler. Thank you for great insights and I love #4 and #5. The medium of VR is so interesting due to the perspective question which is much different than traditional video/film camera lens. #5 is so true because the tools are still a crude and we need to provide feedback to developers and engineers. Some cool stories coming soon..

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