Adapting a Philip K. Dick short story into cinematic VR | Industry
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I saw the first part of the cinematic virtual reality (VR) narrative in a demo with the leaders of Toronto-based Secret Location. The full 30-minute film will debut in September, and it has a poignant storyline, a beautifully animated environment, and a moving soundtrack.
The Great C will transport viewers to a post-apocalyptic landscape in which the remnants of humanity are ruled over by an all-powerful artificial intelligence supercomputer known as the Great C. Each year, the nearby village is forced to send a young person on a pilgrimage to appease the mysterious machine — a journey from which no one ever returns.
The story follows Clare, a young woman who finds her life upended when her fiancé is summoned for the annual pilgrimage. Forced to leave the safe confines of her village, Clare has to decide whether to accept the rules of this harsh society or fight against the oppressive reality of her world. The film spans 20 virtual environments. I asked the developers why they decided to create a film, even though they made all of the assets necessary for an interactive VR game.
“Our position has been how do we use the medium and try to do something unique with it, like cinematic VR,” said Ryan Andal, president and cofounder of Secret Location, in an interview with GamesBeat. “We want to push the medium forward enough so that it can inspire other people to take risks about what is comfortable or not comfortable in VR.”
Andal said that The Great C’s story has a strong narrative on a single path, which makes it better as a linear cinematic story within VR. As a game, it probably wouldn’t offer enough choice for the player to change the outcome of the story.
With The Great C, Secret Location wants to push the boundaries of cinematic experiences by utilizing film techniques in areas such as editing, composition, and story structure and adapting them for a new medium, making VR feel visceral. This cinematic language is melded with real-time, room-scale characters and environments to engage audiences in a storytelling style tailor-made for VR.
Dick is the author behind stories such as The Man in the High Castle and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? — the latter of which inspired the classic movie Blade Runner. The Great C will be the first-ever adaptation of a Philip K. Dick story into VR.
“We are fans of Philip K. Dick’s work and wanted to do something that was obtainable and fed the sci-fi fervor for VR,” Andal said. “This story was not tightly described, and that was appealing to us. There’s also an interpretation that we have on the ending that is different.”
The title will be available for Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and PlayStation VR. It took about nine months or so to make The Great C.
Toronto-based Secret Location produced The Great C with the support of the Canadian Media Fund. Secret Location was founded in 2009 as a services company. Four years ago, it moved to doing more of its own projects. Entertainment One, which has a movie library valued at $1.7 billion, acquired the company in 2016. Secret Location won a Primetime Emmy Award for a VR project called Sleepy Hollow Virtual Reality Experience. Secret Location also created the Vusr suite of VR tools.
Hands-on with the first ten minutes
There are three episodes, with each about ten minutes long. I played, or rather watched or experienced, the first 10 minutes in the Oculus Rift VR headset. It started out with a hunting scene where an older man and a child are stalking a deer. It was a close-up shot, and I wasn’t really directed where to look. I wondered if I should look at the young kid and the archer or follow the arrow toward the target. The bowstring snapped and the arrow took off after the deer. I looked back and forth to see where the action of the shot really was, and I didn’t know if I was looking at the right thing.
In another scene, the enforcer goes to a village that tries to resist the command of sending a sacrifice, as none of those sent ever return. The enforcer attacks the village and lays waste to it. It’s a terrifying scene, and very well done. It shows the consequences that can ensue if you disobey the commandment of The Great C.
At another point, we cut to Clare and her boyfriend, lying in a boat. There’s a closeness between them as they lie there. But there are ominous signs, like the crows who are like spies of the all-seeing Great C. They are happy together and want to get married. They’re just about to do so at the altar, but then the summons comes. The boyfriend has been chosen as the sacrifice for The Great C. They consider escaping, with one of the characters feeling rebellious and the other compliant.
In one scene, as you can see in the picture above, you see the enforcer of The Great C’s commandments looking over a village. She looks down at the villagers, who are like ants. She has a commanding and intimidating presence, and this is exactly the intention of the filmmakers.
I felt it was very interesting, like Secret Location was taking an old work of art from the dusty shelf and reinterpreting it.