Number9VR is a virtual reality content and production studio specialized in the creation of immersive VR experiences. Our team includes VR application and interface designers as well as filmmakers, branding specialists and screenwriters. Our goal is to create enduring, memorable experiences that stand out in today’s saturated media.
We conceive, design, produce and distribute VR experiences across multiple platforms such as mobile, VR, AR, 360 video and others. Our vision is to add value to your business by providing rich, immersive experiences with custom packaging and delivery for optimal audience engagement.
Today, most people have seen so much audiovisual content that they see no novelty in anything that the industry offers. Audiences, hypersaturated with image and sound, find more pleasure in interacting with digital devices or even in creating their own audiovisual content.
“Traditional” audiovisual narration in 2D is in decadence. The reasons are many: The Western cultural crisis, the decrease in markets for cinema, competition with new media, and the new mental configuration of a population that is stimulated to check their mobile phones more than a hundred times a day, with half their attention away from the here and now.
Hollywood, the West’s great producer of audiovisual content, seems to have assumed the belief that audiences have seen it all. In desperation Hollywood takes refuge in formula. Its productions are increasingly stereotypical in form and content; to establish a complicit rapport with audiences Hollywood creators desperately resort to intertextual quotations and ironic self-reference. This is a symptom of cultural and economic exhaustion—the attempt to relate to audiences by admitting a limitation, the (supposed) limitation of a medium believed to be exhausted.
This approach ignores that audiences are:
- Much more ignorant than creators generally believe.
- Much more intelligent than creators generally believe.
Much more ignorant: The average viewer knows next to nothing about audiovisual narrative devices, nor about narrative traditions outside of the segment of popular culture that is of their immediate interest. Most viewers have no idea of the existence of such a thing as a screenwriter (even if they’ve almost undoubtedly heard the term), a director of photography or an editor. A viewer may have seen a lot of “making of” videos, but she has no idea of the tools and mechanisms that an audiovisual narration uses to influence her feelings. This ignorance is partly responsible for the general public’s naive belief in almost any message that mass media will throw at it.
Much more intelligent: An average person has a capacity for receiving and understanding content that is far superior to what most producers, writers and directors believe, and is open to new narrative experiences that are both new and highly sophisticated. This fact is not contradictory but indeed probably complementary to audiences’ ignorance, which by definition implies a lesser degree of prejudice in the face of things new. Evidence of this is the ability of children to effortlessly follow complex narratives. An example is the animation feature Mononoke Hime by Hayao Miyazaki, an epic with a highly complex plot, a large cast of characters, many turning points and a mature viewpoint that approaches complex issues with a remarkable degree of depth—and which is also a very entertaining film for children from about age six.
Audiences are like children: innocent and receptive. In this sense, they are in an ideal position to dive into new narrative forms.
Commercial film as it began to consolidate a little over a century ago derived from the very nature of the filmic image. Defined by a frame, a lens and a camera angle in relation to its subject, images captured on film are quite distinct from ordinary human vision—they are, by comparison, extremely limited.
Cinema began to tell stories almost from the beginning. The limitations of the filmic image made it necessary to create a syntax for articulating different places and times in a coherent narration. This syntax did not pop up overnight nor in an organized way. It was developed by practice over the course of years. The genius of filmmakers like Griffith or Eisenstein turned the limitations of film into advantages, in the very foundation of a new mode of representation which derived in what is now known as “classic” cinema.
But while the film industry became dedicated to telling stories ostensibly built on factual information (characters, actions, places, events) and transmitted by images, the substance of the filmic image itself is contrary to the signification imposed on it by narrative systems. An image is not a sign (it is not language), it is not abstract. It is specific and expressive. Because of the medium’s nature—framing, lens, angle—and because of our own perception, we tend to see images as charged with affectivity. This makes it practically impossible for an image to operate solely as a signifier or articulation operator within a system of conventions. Images lean not toward signification but toward affective expression. In good films, stories give way to the nature of images, which they use to delve into archetypes of human experience that transcend the tenuous channels of reason. Film narration and its superstructure of syntactic operators comprise the logical starting point that is usually believed necessary to access the substance, the dream that unfolds in audiences’ unconscious, the vast representation of experience that transcends definition and measurement.
The supposed exhaustion of classical cinema left a void that can be filled by audiences’ capacity to receive new narrative forms.
This is the context in which stereoscopic 360 video makes its appearance. The 360 image is radically different from the traditional film image. In 360 there is no frame—the image is an accurate reproduction of the human eye’s field of vision, and the viewer can turn to look wherever she wants, just like in real life.
Because of this, someone watching a 360 video has no control over what she sees. She can’t turn away or stop the video. She can’t look at her mobile phone as she would at home or at the movie theatre. She can’t stop looking at the screen because there is no frame, only the enveloping visual reality. A viewer who wants to escape the narration has to resort to the drastic action of taking off headset and earphones. The viewer’s body, though, wants to stay: its vestibular system reacts to visual stimuli, and the viewer’s perverse mind also wants to stay—it is, after all, the same voyeur mindset of all cinephiles. Audiences want to watch 360 video. In our experience they watch until the end credits are over.
No one knows what path fiction in 360 will take: what will be the dominating aesthetic (or if there will be one), whether some genres will work better than others, or whether there will be genres at all. In our experience we were able to observe certain events, and found certain inclinations in ourselves and in audiences:
The impression of reality is so strong that it can even create physical reactions in a the viewer, such as the impulse to grab a virtual object or to protect oneself from some threat in the virtual world. Perhaps because of this impression of reality, fascination with the new medium is so strong that viewers have no problem in watching long moments of narrative inaction in which “nothing happens.”
Since there is no framing, it is difficult to predict the effects of a cut, specially in continuity within a scene. This is one of the reasons why 360 video does not easily lend itself to transmitting, much less manipulating, factual information. For example, in 360 video the traditional tools for manipulating information in order to create suspense or deceive audiences (such an extreme close-up to transmit a single important fact) are not valid, at least not for the time being. This would seem to place 360 narratives some distance away from certain kinds of thrillers or complex melodramas. Additionally, a viewer immersed in 360 video needs to process much more immediate information than in traditional film, and will probably be able to effectively retain a smaller number of plot-related facts.
Fascination with the new medium combined with difficulty in cutting favours shots of longer duration. Close-ups are difficult to achieve due to the distortion of the lens at short distance from the subject; a minimum distance between camera and subject is required. This further favours wide shots of long duration, during which a viewer can look wherever she wants.
Directors have the option to attempt to manipulate the viewer into looking at the desired area, or to respect the viewer’s freedom to look where she wants, and thus to assemble a narrative with multiple possibilities of fruition that derive from what the viewer was looking at during specific moments. This creates the interesting possibility that two viewers can read two different stories even if they’ve watched the same video.
The viewer of a 360 video has a tendency to identify not with a specific character but with herself—the viewer tends to believe in her own presence in the virtual space. The screenwriter and director need to bear in mind how the viewer will deal with the fact that she cannot move around the virtual space, or that other characters don’t see her. Attempting to induce a viewer’s identification with a character is problematic and in many cases may not work at all, certainly not with the traditional methods (camera placement, POV shots, etc.).
For all these reasons, attempts at storytelling in 360 as if it were traditional film tend to fail.
On the contrary, it would seem that 360 favours experiences with little or no factual information, where the director does not attempt to impose rhythm (at least not with the microprecision that is possible in film) and without the array of possibilities offered by cinematic montage. This at first glance can seem like a limitation, but it could be an advantage—viewers’ total immersion in the material lends itself to a new type of experience, whose nature and variations we’ve just begun to discover.
Regarding fiction, we believe that the illusion of complete immersion makes the technical device transparent, yielding an image that is more pure. This new medium offers the possibility of taking mass audiences to instances of storytelling that today are difficult for traditional media: Working with “slower” rhythms, giving story elements greater freedom to flow, assigning more importance to sensory and physical information. We believe that all of this tends to build stories that are not centred on a logical narration but on something else. Whatever this is, and whether it is suddenly discovered or gradually constructed, it provides a higher degree of experiential purity and a greater impact, and has the capacity to powerfully influence perception.