Cutting Edge

Team Size: 6

Timeframe: 4 months (+1 month of pitching beforehand)

Platform: Oculus

Role: Narrative Designer, Playtesting, Composition

Pitch: Develop a 3-5 minute animated experience showcasing 5-7 different types of cuts and transitions in the VR space.

Team Cutting Edge is a pitch team, so instead of having a given prompt, we developed an idea that interested us on our own in October 2018 and then pitched this idea to the Entertainment Technology Center faculty.  Our pitch was approved, which granted us the following semester to explore our project focus.

We have noticed that in the cinematic language, there are different types of edits, cuts, and/or transitions that can take you from one scene to the next.  There are straightforward cuts but also more complicated ones, such as match cuts on action or montages.  Some of these cuts exist as well in the VR space, but like film are usually simply used to passively take you from one scene to the next.  We wanted to explore how some of these more nuanced cuts could be used by guest-triggered interaction (i.e. a cut being actively triggered based on something the guest does) and if they can support an emotional narrative.

In total, we ended up exploring around 6 cuts which we showcased in an animated narrative experience that we developed for the Oculus:

Our Process

Early in our semester, we researched a series of different types of cuts from games and movies that interested us, and then prototyped “VR versions” of these cuts, which we called “goldspikes”:

  • Using a player’s head movement to trigger a cut: Inspired by Satoshi Kon’s Millennium Actress, this transition was recreated using the player’s head movement to trigger the transition, which progresses as the player’s head turns.

  • Using a player interaction with an object to trigger the cut: We recreated the madeleine scene from Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, wherein the player staring at the madeleine triggers a memory from the past.  The player’s interaction with the object might be to pick it up and lift it to their mouth as if to eat in, or simply pick it up, and the scene would change from the character’s home to the character’s aunt’s house, according to Proust’s writing.

  • Brief forced camera movement in VR: We recreated a scene from the game Virginia, where the main character dreams of hitting a child while driving and immediately jolts awake.  In the game, the camera shakes the mimics the jolting sensation, and we wanted to see if this could work in VR without causing too much dizziness.

  • Montage in VR: We recognize the montage sequences are a staple of cinematic language, and wanted to see what it would feel like in VR.  This particular scene was also inspired from Virginia, wherein you are skipping ahead in the journey while driving a car.

At the start of our process, our plan was to find a short story or a sequence of scenes from a longer story to then adapt to the VR space.  We would use our findings from our “goldspike” experiments to inform on how to do transitions for the larger narrative.  We knew that we wanted to develop a story around the idea of memory, because showing a series of someone’s memories lends itself to a series of cuts, and then the story would provide emotional context for the cuts.

However, we realized that we already had 4 prototypes of these cuts, and that our story could be anything as long as the focus was on the cuts within it.

So, we decided to design a narrative around the four “goldspikes” that we already had.  To do this, we brought in playtesters to test our prototypes and think aloud as to what stories were going through their minds as they experienced our prototypes.  The emergent themes that came out of this playtest session were: lost relationships and loneliness.

From here, we developed art assets, sound assets, a narrative script, and programmed our transitions.  We also researched a few additional types of cuts (namely match on action cuts) to fill out our narrative, culminating in our final narrative experience (seen above).

Additionally, as part of our deliverable, we developed a series of documentation videos showing our process and lessons learned, specific to each type of cut we explored over the course of the semester.

 

Lastly, our technical tool package detailing the techniques we used for our cuts and transitions is available on GitHub: https://github.com/sherryfan/CuttingEdge-VR-TransitionTool

My Role

Narrative

As one of two narrative designers on the project, my role was in developing the story that would be shaped around our cuts.  At the beginning of our process, I was researching short stories (i.e. Ficciones, An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge, The Necklace, Memory Wall) that could be potentially adapted to VR.

When we shifted gears to developing our own narrative, I took lead on developing a series of possible outlines based off of our emergent themes, which then were condensed into a final step-by-step narrative outline for our experience.

Playtesting

I also took lead on organizing playtesting sessions over the course of the semester, two examples of which can be viewed below.  The first session was hosted to test usability and for story.  During the second, we tested usability and engagement.

Sound Design

I also contributed in the music composition for our background music (BGM) soundtrack, developing three separate music pieces for our experience.  I used the singular Db-Gb-Bb-Eb-Db-Bb refrain to anchor all of the pieces and act as a theme to return throughout the experience.  For the second piece, meant to evoke a period of joy, I sped up this refrain and added more upbeat harmonies.  For the third piece, I removed all harmonies and held for more pauses, as if the music itself were lonely and despairing, and also added a series of minor intonations.

For all of the pieces, I also experimented with different instruments using Logic Pro X to find which specific sound felt the most natural for the given moment:

Design Blog

Lastly, I was in charge of writing the development blog for our team website, which can be viewed here.