The MR ROBOT VR movie that released at the start of season 2, to me is the first real strong serious attempt at a piece of VR filmmaking. It wants to be taken seriously as top tier content. It has a real shot at accomplishing its goals. It’s a known property. It’s MR ROBOT, which is considered to be excellent. It’s the same great content and characters.
Much credit is due for the effort. But ultimately, the technical problems manage to make it very hard to watch.
Creatively, it’s very interesting. Since most of the production design and characterization is already well established by the TV series, the VR specific creative decisions are really very easy to pick out and critique. And while they make for interesting critical fodder, they’re not all that successful.
The piece is well written and well performed. The production design is impeccable. Nothing looks wrong. Nothing is out of place. The set dressing is really exemplary. The use of locations, excellent. Looks like a shitty NY apartment to me. I spend time in them. I know.
Unfortunately, the camera direction is just plain weird. More on the technical components in the technical analysis. But creatively, it just doesn’t work out.
The decision to boom the camera around the space in Elliot’s apartment takes you out of the space. It’s quirky and fun when Elliot himself comments on it. But it serves no real purpose. I’m suddenly made aware that I can’t just observe. I am being moved. And I don’t like it. My understanding of the scene is not heightened by me being higher. It just feels much better to be at eye level, and backed off a bit.
In the ferris wheel, I feel awkward. I’m too close. I don’t at all enjoy being practically between two people sharing a very personal moment. I could use a little more distance. I feel like a 9 year old that shouldn’t be in there at all. It’s true that MR ROBOT provides ample diegetic crosstalk to justify me, the observer, who is also one of Elliot’s personalities, to intrude and feel awkward. But I think it’s a stretch to let that potential excuse run rampant over the piece and excuse the camera placement issues. I can’t at all just watch passively.
On the boardwalk, it’s very contrived to have the characters obviously play to the VR and run perfectly around me. And ultimately it’s pointless. Making me turn round awkwardly doesn’t do anything to wow me. I get it. There’s space behind me. Why am I more entertained by being made to turn round for a moment? What did I learn from turning around? Nothing.
Oddly, the motion-graphics component of the piece, on the sphere, is great. It’s interesting. It’s a purely designed space and it works well.
The time hovering over Eliot’s bed is just disconcerting. A top shot works fine in cinema. A top shot is incredibly weird in VR cinema. The other options are not much better. I certainly don’t want to be in the bed with them. I don’t want to be far away and unable to hear them. Perhaps this simply points out that our ideas about how great VR cinema is going to be, are horribly mismatched to the truth of it. A scene with two people in a bed can be shot a myriad of ways in traditional cinema and even stereoscopic cinema. But in VR, we’re struggling to find one that works at all. Much less can we start choosing which one best suits the piece at the moment. It turns out, a lens’ ability to punch in with the help of editing, is really useful. It’s a shame we can’t use that.
I watched the piece in downloaded form (not streaming) on a HTC Vive. Clearly the piece was purposely limited to a VR feature-set that would allow it to be viewed in a Google Cardboard, or equivalent headset, as a lowest common denominator. And as such there is no position tracking functionality in the piece. Some of it is stereoscopic and therefore has some depth.
My Vive of course has superior tracking accuracy and graphical horse-power behind it. It is an ideal viewing apparatus for the content, given the obvious target platforms.
The stereo, which is notably absent from the apartment, was painful when present. I don’t know what they did, but they broke it. And in turn, they broke my eyes and head.
I have been somewhat skeptical about stereoscopic VR capture for some time. And this did nothing to make me more of a believer. I have watched multiple technical seminars on light-field approaches to depth in VR capture. And maybe in the future, we’ll have a better set of cameras and technology with which to capture a rich enough light-field to handle variable inter-ocular distances, and optical-centers. But this attempt is just broken and very hard to ignore.
There is a lot of invisible work that went into this that should be lauded. There were clearly cranes and dollies and other camera-gak that was expertly removed by some one. Probably a dedicated VFX team. And really, that work is very well done.
The booming and tracking camera made me sick. Or at least, it did in the apartment. However, it did not make me sick on the boardwalk. Probably because it was an established motion upon entering the scene, and was constant. As in: there was no acceleration. Just a constant velocity.
Also, in the ferris wheel, I didn’t mind that the camera was moving either. You might say: “no Brad, it was a lock-off.” It was not. It was stationary relative to the benches. But the entire carriage was moving was it not? The park outside was moving. We were swinging. Yet, there was no motion sickness. Interesting phenomenon no?
The serious VR creative who someday wants to innovate in this field should watch this piece. And then tear it apart themselves the way they would a student film.
The MR ROBOT fan who MUST consume all things MR ROBOT, will need to watch this. But should be warned they might throw-up.
While this is a great and important stab at getting VR cinema right, it’s not good. It’s not ready. Despite grade A content to base it on. But the industry had better evolve quickly. The video-game industry, by comparison has truly compelling and professional content out there for VR right now. If Hollywood doesn’t figure this out quick, they’ll lose VR to the video-game industry. And they may never recover. The audience, meanwhile, might be perfectly happy with that outcome.