It Takes a Tech Village to Make VR

Making of the VR Film, To Patch a Broken Star

Published on in Director's Cut

My name is Sabya Clarke and I am a VR director, writer and producer. Key members of my VR team for To Patch A Broken Star (2018), a cinematic VR experience, will share our experience of making a VR movie.

I’ve been drawn to new ways of telling stories for as long as I can remember. My dreams have always been too big for “2D boxes.” The idea of being able to build my own world around the story I want to experience hit home the first time I watched Avatar. The use of technology to captivate the audience and draw them into the story struck a chord. My goal is to do the same for audiences with my production company, Cinemagick.

Sabya Clarke on Directing VR

 

To be a VR director means that I guide the story, visuals and sound of the experience. However, unlike a regular film, everything in the world must be built from scratch. I work with a completely different set of professionals, such as developers and engineers to create an experience that is the complete opposite of making a 2D film.

For example, To Patch A Broken Star uses motion capture technology and the viewer has 360 degrees to explore my world. There is no camera to point my audience to what I want them to see. I have to use light, sound, action and lots of creativity to get their attention. I’m also exploring the use of technologies beyond headsets, such as sensory vests that vibrate at key moments or figuring out smell-o-vision. I’m excited about the future of VR, and rather than join the debate about more female directors in film, I’m choosing to help blaze a path for female directors in VR.

Frank Alonso on World Building, VFX and SFX

 

My role is to work with Sabya to make her vision a (virtual) reality. This role involves harnessing cutting-edge 3D technology. The first step is digital casting. First, I create several characters so that she can see which character most closely fits her vision, and then we refine from there: exploring different options until I have exactly what she’s looking for. The next step is to set up the scenes, and get the right lighting and colors. Then, I add the characters and animate them.  I use motion capture technology so the animations are captured from real human movements for To Patch A Broken Star. Then, I begin audio implementation, adding SFX then music. Lastly, I begin applying post-processing effects to the scenes to give them a visual edge.

My advice to up and coming professionals who want to build worlds and do VFX and SFX for VR is to start with something as simple as a cube in an empty room, then start adding things to it. There are many resources to learn how to use VR applications. 

Daphne Mallory on Producing VR

 

Creating and managing a cinematic VR experience is more like developing a game than a movie. As a VR line producer, my role is to manage the timeline and budget for making the VR experience and organize beta tests to ensure a quality VR experience.

For example, I liaise with Frank to get updates on milestones. I research and cast amazing voice talent, such as Joy Ogbekene, Devin Justice, Pavel Anni and Tatiana Batik. If you take on the role of VR producer, expect to wear many hats...or should I say headsets! Speaking of which, decide from the outset what headsets you want to design your VR experience for. It affects your budget, quality, and viewer access. To Patch A Broken Star is designed and will be beta tested for use with Oculus Rift and HTC Vive VR headsets.

Joy Ogbekene on Voicing VR

 

Working with Sabya whilst based in Nigeria is an example of the opportunities for voice talent in VR. My top recommendation to other voice talent is to find a studio engineer who has a well-trained ear. As we say in Nigeria, “two good heads are better than one!” My engineer gives me feedback on how I can improve the lines. Also, the process for voice acting is similar to working on an animation movie. My background is in theater, and I have a bank of life experiences and emotions to draw from to make characters come alive. Use that in your work as a voice talent. Sabya sent me a reference picture for Ma Tele, the character I play.  If you don’t have one, ask for it. Also, treat yourself as a brand. I post pictures of myself recording in the studio, and when I have permission, I post clips of my voiceovers. And no matter how short the lines, give every word, your best effort.

Devin Justice on Voicing VR

 

When Sabya interviewed me on Skype, I had no idea that she was in LA (my mom didn’t tell me, and I live in New Jersey). I’m glad I didn’t know because I would’ve been super nervous. I recorded my audition at home, but I recorded my lines at a friend’s home studio. If I had to choose, I would recommend working at home, and to invest in your own microphone, headset and computer. My advice to other young actors who want to try voice acting for VR is don’t scream too much because you can mess up your vocal chords. Don’t smoke! And, drink tea with honey. Finally, never stop trying to get better. Voice acting is like playing with your friends and everyone plays a different role. When you voice act, just become the person of the role you are playing, and you will do great.

As you can see, like any film, it takes a village. In my case, it takes a tech village: one of the coolest, international, diverse, craziest, most futuristic, head in the clouds, nerdy village that I can find. And I’m grateful that we can collaborate well, despite living and working in various locations.

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