The first part of Invasion!, a short CG feature for virtual reality (VR) head-mounted displays (HMDs) hit the Gear VR last month. Baobab Studios’ first project offered a glimpse of this style of VR movie just ahead of the launch of the Oculus Rift and Oculus Story Studios’ first two pieces with it. The free app is well worth watching, serving as a delightful first look at what this new medium has to offer. For the most part it’s a straight forward experience, though there is one moment that really highlights how VR can enhance stories.
Invasion! tells the story of a ridiculously adorable bunny rabbit and its close encounter with two goofy alien invaders. Within the first few minutes you’ll meet your new friend, who curiously bounds up towards the camera, set upon a frozen lake, to meet you. Baobab Studios wants you to connect with this cutesy critter through proximity over anything else, and it’s not hard to form a bond with the Pixar-esque creation when you feel like it’s really in front of you.
It’s not long before the antagonists turn up, however. Though the audience quickly learns that these unwanted guests are dim witted, their violent first appearance, involving the landing of an enormous space ship and the disintegration of surrounding wildlife makes them something to fear. But while you look on as the two bicker abot what the blow up next, something extraordinary happens. You take a quick glance back to your buddy, only to notice he’s no longer standing next to you, he’s standing behind you.
The rabbit is seeking protection and it’s chosen you as its guardian. He cowers in terror, shaking as he tries to sink into the floor. It’s something we’ve not yet seen in VR, using a viewer’s own presence within a piece to make them a defender of another character, and it’s an empowering feeling, even if you’re not able to do anything to actually save him. It also communicates a message of trust between the audience and protagonist, and instils a sense of empathy.
It’s another VR moment that’s just a few seconds long, but demonstrates something you can do with VR that can’t be done with traditional media. In terms of storytelling, this technology stands to build stronger links than ever between viewers and the characters that are in the action. It’ early days for VR film, but pieces like Invasion! prove that there’s lots to be explored.