Virtual reality and 360 experiences are the greatest outbreak in filmmaking and gaming. Within a short span, many contents have rolled out when technology and hardware are still developing and evolving. When it comes to creating contents for this medium, the process and techniques are bit different. As a designer, we need to find ways to streamline these differences with the existing process and methods.
How is VR storytelling different?
In storytelling, filmmaking has a very long and prominent history. First cinematographic motion picture to be screened was Lumière brothers’ short films in 1895. Since then motion pictures have established a prominent visual language among the audience and filmmakers, and framing is one them.
Framing allows us to present the subject more aesthetically, add more depth and grabs or shifts the attention of the audience. As a storyteller, it gives us the power to show the audience what we want to. But we don’t possess this power in a VR or 360 environments, as they are frameless.
I will discuss in a separate article about applying the methods of framing in Virtual Reality.
Pre-production plays a very crucial role in any form of visual storytelling, so in the case of VR as well. I propose this step first as it helps you quickly convert your concept or script into a visual format. Starting with very quick, rough and tiny thumbnails based on your concept or script is always a better option. As you are still in a problem-solving stage, it helps better to come up with multiple options and figure out the sequences. Based on your thumbnailing sheets you can move to the next stage i.e visualising and blocking of your scenes in 360 degrees.
Here we will basically try to block our thumbnails in a 360 environment. It can be done by simply arranging objects like coins, erasers, sharpeners or whatever object you can find near you. You can also use any 3D software like Cinema 4D, Maya, Blender and start the blocking with primitive shapes like cubes, sphere, cylinders, etc. What we gain by doing this exercise, a checklist of information — Gaze, Depth of field and other views in the scene (as of now we have not planned out what is in left, right and behind the user).
As VR is becoming popular, many storyboard layouts are being used like drawing in 180 degrees, unfolded cubic panels (separate drawings for the front, back, right, left, top and bottom views), unfolded cubes (comprises of nine views). But you don’t need to jump into such complex formats from the beginning of the process. A storyboard can serve various purposes like,
1. Initial ideation and concept
In this stage, it need not be very detailed, traditional storyboarding is enough so that you can quickly ideate, iterate and focus on the subject in the scene.
2. For sharing within the team
Here also traditional method can be used at the beginning, and a more detailed layout (like an unfolded cube) can be used as your concept starts taking shape. Panels for other views can be detailed out separately on the basis of scene staging and main storyboard panel.
3. For pitching a concept to stakeholders or clients
A detailed storyboard is a good option for pitching the concepts at initial stages if you don’t want to invest time and resources in creating a prototype or animatic for your application or film. Since you have a better understanding of your scene now, additional details like transition, effects, audio & visual cue and interactions can be included along with the template while presenting.
Also, these storyboards can be a good reference for proceeding with the paper prototype or animatic. At this stage, a visual documentation for audio and visual cues will be ready (the storyboards which you have created for pitching) and can be tested by implementing them in the prototype or animatic. Another option could be working with the files from a 3D program created during “Scene staging”.
However, many 360 grids are available (or you can create your own) on which you can start sketching if you have not created any 3D blocking for your scenes. Do you find it very complicated to draw over those complex grids? No problem it is a very suitable occasion to start with a 3D application now. It is up to personal preference, which workflow suits you better. After all, in the end, we want to tell our stories and want the users to get immersed in it. A well-planned pre-production process can help you achieve that more efficiently by cutting down the production cost.