Cine VR Immersive Storytelling
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by David Tamés
Revised on November 2, 2022

Introduction
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An introduction section discussing Cine VR Immersive Storytelling will be added during the Spring of 2024.

Examples
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This is an evolving list of exemplary immersive media storytelling works implemented using 360 video or interactive 360 video. These works are best seen with on a VR headset (e.g., a Quest2) and the YouTube/360 Video Player or another video player. Avoid watching them with Cardboard or GearVR. Dedicated headphones are recommended if you are not viewing in a quiet space.

Are there compelling 360 video projects that should be on this list? Please let me know.

Four Feet: Blind Date
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Maria Belen Poncio, 2018, 19 min, 360 Video, Fiction

Anxious to explore her sexuality, Juana, an 18-year-old woman in a wheelchair, overcomes her fears, doubts, and an inaccessible city to meet ‘Felipe’ for a blind date. Together, they discover how their bodies feel. Four Feet: Blind Date stands out because of its excellent writing and storytelling-relevant use of point of view and how your gaze is guided throughout the experience as you are invited into Juana’s world from a perspective closer to hers. For more about this video, see Doing Inclusion, Making Strong VR Experiences: Lessons from the team behind 4 Feet: Blind by Samuel R. Mendez (Immerse, March 8, 2019).

Notes on Blindness – Into Darkness
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Ex Nihilo, ARTE France, Archer’s Mark, 2016, Interactive 360 Video, Documentary
View: Arte.TV (available for Oculus Quest)

Notes on Blindness – Into Darkness is based on the audio diaries of John Hull, a writer who gradually lost his sight and documented his experience using an audio cassette recorder. The work was originally produced for Samsung Gear VR using Unity by creative directors Arnaud Colinart and Amaury LaBurth as a companion to the documentary film Notes on Blindness (Peter Middleton and James Spinney, 2016); however, it uses an entirely different visual language than the film. The work immerses you in articulations of sounds visualized as outlines fading in and out of your visual field as Hull narrates his experience, enabling you to feel what the loss of sight might be like as sounds take on a new role in revealing the texture and topography of your environment.

Notes on Blindness – Into Darkness was not my first VR experience by a long shot. However, it was my first VR experience that felt like an eloquent use of the emerging audiovisual grammar of VR. We’re moving beyond the seductive enchantment of technical wizardry and into the world of immersive storytelling. I walked away with a visceral understanding of phenomena that, up until now, I had only been able to read about. Many of the VR projects I’ve experienced leave me thinking, “Just being there is not the next best thing to being there,” for me, the work needs to add something beyond immersion in an audiovisual field, and Notes on Blindness – Into Darkness accomplished this. The language of immersive media storytelling is evolving; we’ve started to see the equivalents to cinematic works like A Trip to the Moon (Georges Méliès, 1902) after several years of seeing works more akin to the actuality films of Auguste and Louis Lumière which first screened in 1895. In other words, we’re in the early days of a rapidly evolving medium.

First Impressions
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The Guardian, 2017, 360 Video, Documentary
View: YouTube

This video, based on cutting-edge research in neural development and color vision in infants, provides viewers with an immersive experience of the world from an infant’s point of view during the first six months of life. When I first saw this five-minute VR micro-documentary experience at Sheffield Doc/Fest, the setting included bean bag chairs and large, colorful blocks to set the context. Assistants helped you put on the viewer and headphones. At first, you can only see blurry objects in a monochrome field as a narrator explains what’s happening regarding neural development. Color enters your visual field slowly, at first reds and greens, and eventually blues and yellows. The sharpness of the objects around you increases gradually as you look around the environment of your bedroom. You see and hear the coming and goings of your parents, another child, and the family dog, as the narrator explains how crucial social interaction is during this phase of neural development. First Impressions was created by the Guardian’s in-house VR team, including Nicole Jackson and Francesca Panetta, and is part of a series of editorially independent VR films.

Traveling While Black
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Roger Ross Williams, 2019, 360 Video, Documentary
View: YouTube

The Green Book was a critical guide for African Americans struggling to travel safely in the United States during the Jim Crow era. Traveling While Black explores the complicated legacy of this book and makes excellent use of your ability to look around as the story unfolds. In one particularly effective scene, you can change your gaze to look at the past and present with the impactful use of 360 storytelling.

6 x 9
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The Guardian, 2016, 360 Video, Documentary
View: YouTube

6 x 9 was the first 360° documentary produced by The Guardian. When I saw it at Sheffield Doc/Fest, I was led into a 6 x 9 cell to watch it, enhancing the impact of this video that places you inside a cell measuring 6×9 feet and telling the story of the psychological damage that can result from the isolation of solitary confinement.

After Solitary
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Emblematic, 2016, 360 Video, Documentary
View: YouTube

This work follows Kenny Moore, who was convicted of aggravated assault, burglary, and theft and sent to Maine State Prison at age 18, where he expected to serve an 18-month sentence. But after a series of fights and disruptive behavior, he was sent to solitary confinement, where his disruptive behavior only worsened. All in all, Kenny spent five-and-a-half years in solitary confinement and nearly 20 years in and out of prison. Moore narrates this immersive 360 video documentary, offering a visceral window into the practice of solitary confinement and the effect it has on people subjected to it. Produced by Frontline and Emblematic with support from The Knight Foundation.

Clouds over Sidra
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Chris Milk and Gabo Arora, 2015, 360 Video, Documentary
View: YouTube

This was the 360 video that fueled much of the hype around “VR as the empathy machine.” Chris Milk’s TED Talk, How virtual reality can create the ultimate empathy machine, was instrumental in orchestrating the hype. However, many people have suggested the hype is, well, just that, hype. Two particularly good articles among the many that have been written since Milk’s controversial TED Talk offer a sobering rebuttal to his argument: Not a Film and Not an Empathy Machine by Janet Murray (Immerse, October 6, 2016) and Oculus Whiffed: Virtual reality was supposed to help us understand each other unlike any other medium. That’s a delusion. by Inkoo Kang (Slate, November 2017). It’s important to keep in mind that this work was released during the peak of virtual reality excitement and hype and it is instructive to look at it with some perspective.

Pearl
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Patrick Osborne, 2017, 360 Video, Fiction
View: YouTube

Pearl offers a very engaging fixed POV animated narrative that unfolds around you; your only agency is where you look, but it’s a heartwarming, well-told story that provides a metaphorical ride through time and place.

The Joy of Frogs
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The Guardian, 2018, 360 Video, Fiction
View: YouTube

Every spring, ponds around the UK start stirring, and frogs come out of their winter slumber to mate. This video gives you a unique perspective on this story that’s as old as time. It's a lot of fun to watch, and it puts you in a specific place at a particular time and place that makes a lot of sense, providing a value-added experience that the flat presentation lacks. makes good use of the medium's affordances while retaining compatibility with the flat presentation version.

Mr. Robot: Virtual Reality Experience
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Sam Esmail, 2016, 360 Video, Fiction
View: YouTube

This is an excellent example of using movement and jump cuts in 360 video. Some folks suggest you should avoid jump-cuts in 360 videos, hogwash! This video proves that this rule can be broken if you understand perception, editing rhythms, and audience psychology.

The Party: A virtual experience of autism
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The Guardian, 2017, 360 Video, Fiction
View: YouTube

Brings you into the world of an autistic teenager, Layla, who is at a surprise birthday celebration. The work is based on a concept by the author Lucy Hawking and written by Sumita Majumdar, who drew on her own experiences as a person with autism in similar social situations. Throughout the film, viewers hear Layla’s thoughts, voiced by the autistic teenager Honey Jones. The storyline was developed after extensive focus groups and interviews with people on the autism spectrum and with input from the National Autistic Society, the Autism Research Trust, and the University of Cambridge.

Cosmic•Atomic
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Christopher Bouton, 2019, 360 Video, Documentary
View: 4K (Vimeo), 5.7K (Vimeo), 8K (Vimeo), Cardboard (YouTube)

Cosmic•Atomic synchronizes the short film Powers of Ten with its ancestors/descendants, placing the viewer within a 360-degree kaleidoscopic ring of mirrored ascent/descent. The journey begins in the Netherlands with Kees Boeke’s Cosmic View: The Universe in 40 Jumps, a 1957 book exploring outer space and our inner selves through orders of magnitude. It then takes us, in turn, to Miami for Charles and Ray Eames’ 1968 “rough sketch” film adaption of Boeke’s book, to Montreal in that same year for the National Film Board’s Cosmic Zoom version, to Chicago in 1977 for Powers of Ten, the Eames team’s final draft commissioned by IBM, to Venice in 1996 for the IMAX remake Cosmic Voyage, and finally to the Googleplex for the 2012 Cosmic Eye smartphone app. Cosmic•Atomic compresses sixty years of scientific imagination that preceded/followed the Eames’ vision and invites you to feel them all at once.