Once again I just finished being in a movie. It was awesome. It's hard to describe the feeling of being within feet or even inches of the actor or character performing. Yes... it was reach out and touch them close. I could've hung my hat on branch that was right in front and slightly above me but it didn't block my incredible view of the multi-storied treehouse I was in. Let me rephrase that... the multi-leveled TREE I was in while watching Henry, an Emmy award winning VR short from Oculus StoryStudio and narrated by Elijah Wood.
This is a first class production in the light of a children's story but unless you are a very angry old fart... I just can't see anyone not getting at least a little enjoyment out of this title. It's another free offering from Oculus StoryStudio that ups the bar for participating in a movie since we don't just watch them in virtual reality.
I've covered this type of thing before as the first time I watched a StoryStudio short was Lost, another entertaining short with good production value that featured a lost item in search of its owner. It too was very immersive as VR is supposed to be and was a great introduction to viewing a story in VR versus playing a game or plain old sightseeing. This story is a children's story but I'll be viewing it again because I just couldn't get enough of the fabulous treehouse setting. The vision, the art of the scene is amazing even in cartoonish 3D form. The characters invoke emotion as characters should but being three dimensional in VR adds another take entirely.
The story centers on Henry, an extremely cute and very lovable character except for one thing, he is a hedgehog and he likes to hug. In fact, he can't help himself so he doesn't have friends because hugging a hedgehog is just short of hugging a porcupine... at least in Henry's world. One hug and the would-be friends are running or flying for their safety, completely disappearing which leaves poor ole Henry a bit down in dumps. Having no friends is certainly no fun. Even in VR.
The opening mood is festive anyway as it shows the interior of his treehouse while he is busy in another room (the kitchen) preparing his birthday meal. Yes, today is Henry's birthday. He sits down at the table to his special treat only to get sad realizing how alone he is. He squeezes his eyes shut and with all his might blows out his candle and makes a secret wish. You can almost feel the energy drain out of the room during this time. Being in VR makes you feel for the little guy immediately and I'll bet some viewers will want to reach out an hug him... which thank goodness you can't or you'd run away too.
I'm going to leave the description here for fear of spoiling the experience because it is just that, an experience not a viewing. Besides... a viewing doesn't even sound good. It conjures up going to a funeral home so I'll stick with experiencing since that is how it felt to me. A good enough experience that I'll watch it again... and again. As I have with Lost.
I'm still trying to wrap my head around this 360-degree experience. Live action in VR is no problem so will we be watching in the center of a production having to turn side to side and around to see everything or will the story maker keep the action in front of us? Will we go off exploring if we're given navigation? Probably so and that might not be what the director had in mind, at least at this stage of VR. A navigable movie genre is probably in our future. All of this is plausible now and once the audience grows to the proper point of saturation are you going to be one of the audience or one of the directors/creators? Food for thought if you are serious about producing immersive stories.
M.D. McCallum, aka WarLord is an international award winning commercial graphics artist, 3D animator, published author, project director and webmaster with a freelance career that spans over 20 years. M.D. is currently working on VR projects and characters. You can learn more about MD at his website.