Compelling television is the sum of parts: Good acting, suspense-building directing, an intriguing storyline, and now, the addition of virtual reality (VR) technology and 360-degree videos.
It’s not just another newfangled way to get you hooked. Any gamer will tell you that 360-degree videos and VR scenes heighten the viewing experience, providing a fully immersive experience by engaging all of the senses.
One company making full use of this is Vostok VR, an award-winning VR film production company founded by tech entrepreneur Vitaliy Nechaev. The company is also behind Chameleon VR, an app that showcases Asia-focused 360-degree films and experiences, such as Happyland360 about a slum in Manila, and the award-wining short film Abandon that is set in Bangkok.
Its latest project, Missing VR, starring actors Pierre Png and Rebecca Lim, was done in collaboration with Mediacorp Channel 5 and local independent television production company Wawa Pictures.
“This is the first Singapore-Thailand production on Channel 5 that involves partners from both countries. Adding the element of VR enhances the viewers’ experience and adds a sophisticated and exciting dimension to the show,” said Ms Michelle Chang, lead for Content, English Audience, Mediacorp.
EXPANDING THE DRAMA UNIVERSE
A drama series centering on cross-border crime, Missing VR shows how the detectives from both countries collaborate to solve missing-person cases.
Vostok VR took the 15-episode English drama series a step further by “expanding the drama universe so people can watch it on TV, then switch to mobile and immerse in the eight hand-picked scenes created exclusively for VR”, said Mr Nechaev.
Here, both VR technology and 360-degree videos were employed to amplify the various storytelling elements.
“VR allows the viewers to feel as though they were at the crime scene witnessing the story unfolding. This makes viewers follow the story and characters better,” said Mr Molby Low, chief creative director of Wawa Pictures.
A project 18 months in the making, filmed in both Singapore and Thailand, Missing and Missing VR were not without their own set of challenges both on and off the set.
“Four out of the eight episodes of Missing VR were staged in Singapore in the 1990s. It was hard to do this in 2D, and extremely hard to do it using 360-degree video as Singapore has changed so much within the last few years,” shared Mr Nechaev.
“We had to stage some shots to disguise the modern changes and create an independent story that complemented the main TV show. While it was important to introduce some major events in the plot using VR, we had to make them serve more as complementary pieces, rather than scenes that are necessary for viewers to understand the plot. This is because most viewers will still watch the show on TV, rather than use VR googles,” he explained.
The adoption of VR and 360-degree video technology, however, proved to be exactly what was needed as the VR back stories enhanced the storylines from the main TV series.
NEW FORMATS, NOVEL EXPERIENCES
A lot of thought was also put towards enhancing visual and audio elements, especially for key scenes such as the children being kidnapped, as well as the action sequences.
Said Mr Nechaev: “The VR experience is a very intimate experience, so you want viewers to be comfortable with the actors. We also worked with Wawa Pictures to find interesting places in Singapore that would complement our script.”
“For audio design, we did a lot of binaural recording using special microphones so viewers would have a more natural feel of the scene’s ambient environment,” he added.
According to Mr Nechaev, Vostok VR is one of the few studios in Asia that can do “any type of VR moving shots”.
“We use five to six different devices, such as a rover, a wirecam and a dolly, to create a camera fly-through effect and enhance the production value,” he said.
Missing VR is the latest content uploaded to the Chameleon VR app. The free-to-use app requires no subscription and is accessible on most devices. Plus, the content can be downloaded, making for easy viewing on the move.
Also available are other 360-degree projects backed by Mediacorp Channel NewsAsia about the mind and body of a dementia patient, as well as an action-packed short film about a man who uses cyber attacks to thwart his ex-girlfriend’s future dates. Up next, a special project with Spanish avant-garde artist and cyborg activist Moon Ribas on her work and how it is affected by seismic activity.
“I believe that Missing VR is a stepping stone for Mediacorp to try new formats and to build proof-of-concepts that can be shared with the other channels,” said Mr Nechaev.
Ms Chang added: “We believe we should continue to co-create novel experiences for our audiences and raise the quality of all our productions. We are very pleased with the outcome and look forward to more collaborations in future.”
To watch Missing VR, download the Chameleon VR app (Android/iOS) at chameleon-vr.com or access the Toggle 360 video library via desktop. Missing the TV series is available on Channel 5 from Monday to Thursday at 10pm and on Toggle.