Although directors can lounge behind the camera while making a typical film, American University graduate student Emiliano Ruprah faced a laundry list of problems when he attempted to create a movie designed for virtual reality devices.
Ruprah ended up creating a role for himself in the short film so he could direct from the set while not ruining viewers’ suspension of disbelief. Microphones were hidden under chairs and tables. For lighting, he chose natural options, be it shooting on a sunny day or relying on existing light fixtures in the buildings he used.
Ruprah has dived into a nascent field: virtual reality filmmaking. Some observers, including Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg — who spent $2 billion to acquire the virtual reality company Oculus Rift — believe that virtual reality is the future of storytelling.
Ruprah is one of the first to deliver a cinematic story via virtual reality. He was drawn to the space after trying out a friend’s Oculus Rift.
“I was, like, wow,” Ruprah recalled. “If you can do this with a video game, you can certainly do it with a live-action environment, and this is going to change the way we record and share media on many levels, not just in cinema.”
This year, Ruprah partnered with government contractor GXM Consulting to shoot and edit the film’s trailer. Now he’s looking to raise additional money, perhaps through Kickstarter, to complete the project. The trailer can be downloaded and watched from his Web site.
“It’s short and it’s somewhat rough but Emiliano’s artistic creativity is something that . . . opens your eyes to the possibilities of how you can be entertained as a consumer that weren’t there before,” said Chad Vanderslice, partner at GXM Consulting.
Ruprah doesn’t expect the final project to be especially long, given concerns about audiences growing weary of the experience.
“I think you have a complete experience in 15-20 minutes. Eventually younger generations, I think, will be able to watch two hours worth of stuff. But right now it’s going to take some time,” he said.
Ruprah and GXM Consulting were reluctant to explain in detail how they shot the film, citing competitive concerns, but here’s a rough idea of how it works. A group of cameras are rigged together in a circle, facing outward. The cameras are placed on the set where Ruprah would like the audience to stand. The cameras shoot footage in all directions, and Ruprah stitches it together in the editing room.
When viewers wearing a virtual reality headset move their heads upward, they see the sky or a ceiling. When looking down, they see the ground. It’s a fully immersive experience.
Ruprah wants to use additional funding to elevate the sound with 360-degree mapping. In the current trailer, the sound isn’t distinct depending on the direction one is facing, but the potential exists to elevate how real the experience seems. If a character fires a gun when the viewer is standing to his or her right, that’s the direction from which the sound should be loudest.
Ruprah wrote the story for “Snake River” in five days. The government misplaces a biochemical weapon and foreign mercenaries are hired to retrieve it. But they end up being caught by a Russian mobster, and must figure out who ratted them out.
Last week I watched as Ruprah gave strangers a chance to watch the trailer. With a few exceptions, most were wowed by the experience and said they want to see more films in the format. Virtual reality storytelling is young, but it has a bright future.