Screen Training Ireland Immersive Content Creation Blog: Sorcha Loughnane

The Real Secret to VR Storytelling

Screen Training Ireland, in association with the Audi Dublin International Film Festival, has just hosted a weekend exploring immersive content creation.  The event was designed to bridge the gap between creativity and technology; to explore how the “traditional’ craft of storytelling can enhance new immersive technologies and the content that drives them.  In designing the event, we had a vision that multidisciplinary teams would connect with each other and spark ideas; that the “arty” and “techie” tribes would come together and explore new and innovative storytelling paradigms.  But our core premise was fundamentally flawed; it reinforced a false dichotomy between creativity and technology.  Over the course of two fascinating and inspiring days, the persistently reinforced message was that creativity and storytelling are inseparable from technology; technology is simply the storyteller’s tool, whether that storyteller be a writer, director, designer or programmer.

Day one, in the creative surroundings of the RHA Gallery, was opened by Michel Reilhac, a thought leader for hybrid storytelling forms.  Michel’s compelling keynote set the tone for the weekend, as well as providing a call to arms for the creative community to take ownership of VR as a medium.  

The various panels over the course of the day, covering topics from the market for VR, to how different creatives such as composers and production designers are working in VR, also reinforced the notion that immersive technology is a platform in search of great stories.  

The afternoon presentation by VR pioneer Stefan Grambart was not only a whistlestop tour of creative content from painting to VR, but a frank and convincing exhortation:  “The real secret to VR storytelling?  Tell a good story.”  Stefan’s presentation encapsulated the notion that technology is simply one type of enabler for storytelling, interaction and creativity that takes many digital and physical forms, from VR to theatre to Live Action Role Playing.

Day two of the programme, hosted by IMRO, invited participant teams to take part in a VR Story Hackathon, with a prize of €30,000 development and production funding from Audi Ireland and Screen Training Ireland on offer.  Guided by Stefan Grambart, Tanya Laird and Camille Donegan, the teams brainstormed ideas for a short VR piece.  We asked participants to consider the hackathon in terms of creative development as opposed to technological problem solving.  There was that false dichotomy again:  hackathons, by their nature, are creative, regardless of the type of problem or idea they seek to address.  The event was akin to a VR writers room, where teams developed a story, but considered the ways in which the story would be consumed by the user.  Remember that secret to VR storytelling?  The winning team - Niamh Herrity, Aoife Doyle and Denis Ryan of Pink Kong Animation Studio - nailed it. Writer Denis Ryan asked the audience to close their eyes while he told a story.  The story was simple, but visually evocative and absorbing for its mood and nuance.  The winning pitch reminded us that storytelling IS immersive and always has been. The specific craft of a good story is, by its nature, immersive.

Debate around VR spends an inordinate amount of time talking about how technical processes can make our stories more immersive, but immersion is mostly achieved by great storytelling. It's not just technology, or for that matter, immersive technology, that is dependent on compelling storytelling. It is fundamental to a range of areas from marketing and business strategy, to education and parenting.  As digital production techniques and delivery platforms enable ever more elaborate interaction, immersion will most effectively be achieved through simple, engaging storytelling.

These ideas aren't new; the interrelationship between creativity and technology is and always has been fundamental to innovation. It's why the Creative Ireland programme places a emphasis on technology as central to the enhancement of Ireland's creative society and reputation. The VR/AR and Immersive Content landscape epitomises the transformation of STEM to STEAM, and that "A" is critical to the wider adoption of these platforms.

Forget about headsets, haptics, AI, stitching, 360 cameras and controllers, at least to begin with.  Just tell a good story.

 

 

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