April 28, 2017
Oculus Story Studio founder/technical director Max Planck was invited to the ETC conference on AR/VR at NAB to discuss his company’s creation of “Dear Angelica,” a 13-minute dreamlike VR tale of how we remember our loved ones. The film, which played to great acclaim at the last Sundance Film Festival, is notable for the fact that it was entirely hand-painted inside VR space, by illustrator/art director Wesley Allsbrook, and written and directed by Saschka Unseld. Planck described how the inspiration for the film came out of graphic novels.
“We will have to steal from other storytelling medium to create a new thing,” said Planck. “The idea of making a VR graphics novel was what led to making our first VR film, ‘Lost’.” The studio next made “Henry,” and Planck said they “began to see the concept of VR movie studios popping up.”
“We experimented,” he said. “We wanted to get into this illustrated VR look and we were trying many things.”
The Studio brought on noted illustrator Allsbrook, and when the Touch prototype came out, engineer Inigo Quilez had an idea. “He said, why can’t she [Allsbrook] work in the space that we want it to be in, rather than translate 2D artwork into 3D,” said Planck.
Quilez created a prototype of what would be called Quill that would allow Allsbrook to do exactly that: draw in 3D VR space. “Within two weeks of starting to use it, she was drawing amazing stuff,” said Planck. “It was no longer constrained by 2D, and we used that information to create a story.” As needed, Quilez continued to create tools for Allsbrook. “Wesley was one of the first people to work in VR five hours a day,” said Planck.
The company also streamlined the pipeline: Oculus Story Studios’ tool Quill to SideFX Houdini to Unreal Engine. “It was that simple,” said Planck. “Our art director created the assets, which were adjusted in Houdini and then Unreal. Wesley got so fast that Saschka could give notes to her rough sketch, and she’d turn it into a finished piece and we’d have it right in the experience.”
The finished piece has nods to iconic films, including “Gravity” and “Thelma and Louise.”
“One of the hardest thing to do in VR now is dailies,” said Planck. “It’s still a problem we’ll need to solve. We developed a way to scrub back and forth on the VR experience, so everyone knows what the person in the headset is talking about.” But, noted Planck, another thing that came out of the production was the new tool, Quill, that the company is now using as a way to storyboard new projects.
“For ‘Dear Angelica’ we took static illustrations into Unreal to add animation,” said Planck. “In Quill, we can now create layers that are hierarchical or time-based, meaning you can put together animation in Quill. Our hope is that this will enable a storyboard artist to pitch it like any storyboarding tool.”