Virtual Reality is still a very young medium, often difficult to set up and configure. As a director, every time I release a new film, I enter a certain unwritten agreement with my audience: You will go through all the trouble of downloading the video, configuring your player and HMD. You will strap the viewer on your head, you will put the headphones on. As a return I promise not to waste your time – to make the experience worthwhile. To show you something you have never seen before.
This philosophy dictated my choice of topic, tools and art direction on this project.
The Pull was created using Cinema 4D and Octane Render. It consists of five physically simulated rooms of increasing complexity. All motion and collisions are a result of simulating physics on the objects you see in the rooms.
In essence, the experiments you see as an audience, are the very same experiments I’ve run as an author – having a pretty good idea of what I expect to achieve, but letting the simulation take control of the scene.
I chose Octane Render as my production engine to give the film a unique look, half-way between realistic and graphic. The engine allowed me to achieve very realistic illumination model, created without any invisible light sources or tricks. The lamps and screens you see in the scenes are what illuminates the rooms. I was also able to use precise motion blur without much impact on the render times, allowing me to run the video at 30 rather than 60fps.
The final master was produced at 4K² resolution (4096x4096px) using two equirectangular projections for full stereoscopy. Rendering two viewpoints instead of one effectively doubled my production time, yet I am convinced it was worth it. The ability to perceive depth in the scene makes the audience feel present in the scene and makes it totally worth the hassle of setting up a VR viewer.
I used After Effects for all the post-production, color grading and additional VFX. In there I created the final edit, transition animations as well as 360° vignette wipes. The vignettes are an element I came up with to help guide the audience to look in the desired direction. They are something most people don’t notice, but have proven quite effective in resetting the gaze vector.
Throughout my work in After Effects I nearly never took off my Oculus Rift. Thanks to Mettle Skybox VR Player plugin I was able quickly preview my work in VR without the need of rendering. It helped me identify and fix problems extremely quickly by simply looking around the scene. This project, in fact, was the very first time I felt like the tools were ready for my ideas and did not require hacking and brute-forcing.
For audio I collaborated with Impossible Acoustic – a team of very talented foley and sound artists with a lot of VR audio experience. Here’s what Brendan J. Hogan had to say about his process:
I spent a lot of time getting way too tweaky playing with synthesizers and finding different tones to use. I threw away probably 75% of what I made. The rest of the design was a lot like a minimalist music composition. There aren’t that many unique gestures so the challenge was to try and create lots of subtle variation to keep things evolving. For the sounds of the furniture I sealed a mic inside a plastic tub and dropped chairs and banged on things. That plus some filtering and distortion made for a unique effect.
When publishing The Pull I decided to try something new. Instead of traditional static stills from the film, I decided to include the stills in 360° viewer, using Kuula – a brand new online service for spherical images, created by my friend and fellow VR enthusiast Bartek Drożdż. It’s a pretty cool feature you can check for yourself in the 360° Stills section below.
It has been two months since I started working on The Pull. A lot of that time was spent watching my computer turn into a heating unit, radiating constant 83°C (182°F) from both GPUs running at 100% capacity. There were many hours of physics simulation, days’ worth of modeling and quite a few re-dos. I am extremely happy to finally be able to share this short film with you. It’s my favorite VR work so far and I’m sure you will enjoy it too.