Cinematic Virtual Reality: Inside the Story

Cinematic Virtual Reality: Inside the Story

Brian Seth Hurst
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-2433-6.ch012
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This chapter presents a case study of the groundbreaking PBS digital studies cinematic VR film My Brother's Keeper. It covers all aspects of cinematic VR from conception and writing for the medium to ensuring the technology serves the story, filming, and postproduction. The piece set a bar for innovation in cinematic VR as the first production to combine 360- and 180-degree stereoscopic image capture to forward story and character interaction, the first to use true slow-motion 120 frames-per-second in VR and the first to establish intimacy with camera movement and close-ups, among other innovations. Six key videos are discussed, illustrating and demonstrating the principles of filmmaking innovation articulated in the chapter, as well as insights from behind the scenes interviews with the directors, producers, cast, and technologists talk about the making of the piece.
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I am a storyteller. And I know now, it has always been that way. The imaginary worlds that children create and inhabit may be child’s play for others but for me, it was training. I had one of those mothers who proudly saved everything I wrote growing up. Not long ago, in digging through the “archives” after her death I found a short story written on construction paper called The Lonely Petunia. It was the story of a beautiful sole petunia growing up in a rose garden. Setting aside the probable autobiographical aspects of the second grader who wrote it, the story world created was rich, and colorful, the characters well defined, the cannons of gardening duly observed and an ending that was well, tragic and yet poignantly impactful. As the writer, I wanted people to “immerse” themselves in the story I was telling; perhaps more importantly I wanted them to feel what it was like to be that petunia.

Hindsight being what it is I can see how the training progressed over the decades. It seems to me that it is never the “what” of storytelling that changes. All those prime elements of the fine art of story remain essential: great characters, a rich world in which they come to life, a story that absolutely must be told, and of course the opportunity for the audience to imagine themselves as part of that story and storyworld. It is the “how” of storytelling, thanks to technology, that changes. From the printing press, to the motion picture, from television to the internet, from 2D to 3D, advances in technology continue forward giving creators more and more tools to author story-driven experiences for the audience.

Mastering new technologies of storytelling will forever present both the challenge and the excitement of innovation as well as numerous cautionary tales of making sure that technology serves the story rather than the other way around. While experience is said to be the best teacher, sometimes you must set aside what you know and approach the “new” with both wonder and deliberateness at the same time. Recently, while working with a very accomplished and award-winning director of what we now have come to call “traditional” media, I put it this way. “I truly respect all that you know and all that you have done in this industry. Now, here, can you, if only for a moment, forget what you know and what you have done before and the way you have done it? And, can you resist, again just for a moment, comparing the technology or the process to anything that has come before? With an open mind you will ‘get’ this. And once you do, you’ll be able to bring back everything you know—all of your experience. You’ll experiment and bring your wealth of knowledge to the platform. You’ll see what works and what doesn't. The more open you are to the technology the more open the technology will be for you.” I didn't tell him about the potential for motion sickness. That would come later. And there, experience would be the best teacher.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Dark Ride: An attraction at a theme park that audiences experience in an immersive, dark space, such as a roller coaster racing through a space-themed environment.

CamBLOCK: CamBLOCK is a brand that has a product line of “portable motion control systems for cinematographers” ( AU20: The URL has been redirected to Please verify the URL. ).

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