WHIST – The Innovative Freudian VR Play That Challenges the Mind and Body
For such a tech-focused VR production, Whist has a surprisingly lo-fi sensibility on first impression. It’s an experience that uses real abstract sculpture as a core element. These abstract sculptures trigger virtual experiences, transporting viewers between reality and the virtual world of the play. The experience was conceived and created by Artistic Directors Aoi Nakamura and Esteban Fourmi, founders of Ashford-based dance company AΦE and was initially featured as part of a temporary pop-up in the V&A.
Through Aoi and Esteban's joint vision to bring the art of dancing closer to audiences, participants became enthralled Whist and it has since amassed a following beyond the art crowd and made its world debut at the Gulbenkian Theatre at Kent University in April 2017.
Whist combines production, sound, music, dance and movement in a provocative way that allows the viewer to make it their own. In the world of this virtual reality play, we are no longer the bystander, we create our own stories.
Every time a viewer looks at a sculpture with the VR headset, it initiates a dream-like sequence that challenges the viewer in a series of different ways. At the end of the experience you're given a number, which tells you about your psychological mindset during the experience, what your eyes were drawn to and why you saw what you saw.
London-based creative production agency Happy Finish have been working with Aoi and Esteban of WHIST since 2015. LBB’s Jason Caines sat down with current Whist team James Brown, Raine Osgood and David Preite to talk about how they put the project together, how the project evolved from start to finish, some of the tech elements that may go unseen in the project and some of their personal experiences with the play
LBB> When and how did you get involved in the WHIST project?
JB> I was involved in the first stage and early conception of the piece. Meeting Aoi & Esteban, who run AΦE, the Ashford based dance company who composed all the movement in the play, they showed a clear understanding of how to translate their contemporary dance skills to utilise 360 degrees of space when filming. We helped them plan out each shot over the course of the three-day shoot. My role was to consult on the current technology available when shooting and act a as a DOP / VFX on set.
RO> I joined WHIST’s creative journey back in September 2016, when post production began. It has been a truly collaborative process; our internal team of 360 editors, VFX artists and developers worked alongside 1.618 Digital (sound design) and the product designers to bring Aoi and Esteban’s creative vision to fruition.
DP> I started working on whist in October 2016 as a VFX VR Supervisor so I’ve currently been working on it for around 5-6 months
LBB> How long were you working on the project for?
JB>The project has spanned a couple of years, the complexity and the volume of work has led to some challenges but we’re very happy to see its final manifestation.
LBB> Combining movement, sound and action in a controlled 3D filming environment sounds tough, what were the biggest obstacles in your particular field?
JB> We had multiple rigging challenges to consider. Head mounted shots, ceiling suspension and multiple compositions being later merged together required meticulous planning. Aoi & Esteban worked tirelessly to pick out the best performances and timings. This was mapped out with a decision tree to later link together. Although a fragmented process, they worked well to keep hold of the overarching vision. Working in 360 has many different challenges to consider. Large file sizes and the sheer volume of footage meant long evenings of renders.
DP> The main challenge was to find the best technical approach for the creative requests in a 360 space, rich in details and events to emphasise the audience's feelings.
LBB> The WHIST experience has 76 different pathways that a participant can take - How did you program this into WHIST?
DP> The procedures are the same as any traditional feature film/advertising project, the whole experience has been divided and managed into individual shots.
LBB> How has this project grown since it initially started in 2015?
JB> The technology has changed very quickly, the quality of the headsets has improved and we now have a much larger toolset for stitching and applying VFX.
LBB> How did you manage to get a live feed of the room through the VR headset?
RO> Our developers used a tool called Vuforia to allow users to easily switch between reality and the VR world. Vuforia uses the camera feed of the device to identify a given pattern on-screen. That pattern then provides information about what video needs to be played next within the app. It would be great to fill this purgatory-like moment and extend the WHIST narrative through AR.
LBB> Any notable challenges that you can remember? How did you overcome them?
DP> One of the most challenging shots was the point of view above the table due to the extreme parallax. The stitching has been improved with The Foundry's Cara VR tools.
RO> Trying to coherently explain the 76 possible pathways to our developers was a memorable moment of the project! It was a challenge to create a malleable app that could host a number of large video and sound files, whilst maintaining good playback and resolution on Gear VR.
LBB> The psychological and sexual element of WHIST puts it somewhere between horror/eroticism - any memorable visual or audio references that stick out to you?
DP> I think Whist offers a unique mind blowing VR experience. Way different from many others I have worked on in the past few years. It is really focused on storytelling and drama. When the character comes out from the box and starts writing everywhere, I mean it was weird. Plus the white mannequins...an amazing combination with the "360 ink reveal" effect.
Upcoming Whist Dates and Locations
23-25 June 2017 Ugly Duck, 47-49 Tanner Street, London SE1 3PL (as part of Real/Virtual creative season)
3-4 July 2017 Pavillion Dance South West, Westover Road, Bournemouth BH1 2BU
6-15 July 2017 Colours International Dance Festival, Stuttgart, Germany
Category: Events , Sports and leisure
Genre: Experiential , Storytelling , VR , choreography