Producing VR is no easier than making a movie, but you’re managing a much different group of people. Where as cinema tends to artists, software developers and game engineers are more technicians. Even the techies designing the computer art have some ingrain STEM quality to them. I find these hybrids of 3D modelers, graphic artists, animators and others that focus on the creative digital disciplines to be the most agreeable. They think somewhere between the fully binary code-monkeys who know no grey and the visionaries living on some lofty planet where the sky swirls in the hues of their imagination.
To get started, all you need is an idea, money and a team of competent people. Many different industries are converging, but software developers reign the leaders for making content while cinematographers are elbowing their way. Because the movie directors don’t need a concrete monetization plan, while developers tend to want to know the ROI based on conducted research, the artists are first out of the gate. Thus far, they’ve developed 360-video, but this is far from delivering the immersion VR and AR are capable of, as you feel like ghost passively watching grainy people for a predetermined elapsing of time. The Software developers create an environment for you to exist in with infinite replay value.
It is the combined mentalities and efforts, with teams of competent people and dollars that are popping up as “studios” around the world bringing together the super-artsy and the ultra-techie design alternative digital worlds for us to play in. But no matter the vision it’s the money that talks. He who has the dough who makes the decisions. A fine hierarchy if you’re hiring someone to realize your VR idea on your behalf. if you’re the one making VR for hire, prepare for the impossible task of convincing visionaries who want their idea realized at all costs to realize that every feature they want seriously costs. Their pockets are never limitless; despite what they vaguely suggest with fairly confident poise at the start of the agreement.
Get the cash up front, because the only thing worse than building someone else’s dream is also paying for it. Money makes the world go round and in this case, coded. Be reasonable with how many dollars you want before any milestones are hit, but in a perfect world you can be paid in full before beta testing. Sometimes the producers will see 50-75% of the entire investment up front, because rarely do they want to take the risk on someone else’s vision, but it all depends on the partnership. Cash in advance is standard.
In the preproduction we draw up a plan. People love to claim “making VR is such a challenge because no one has done it before” but great people through history have always carved their own, new path, and usually didn’t waste time complaining that the terrain hadn’t been previously transverse. Creating VR and AR have their challenges, but nothing insurmountable and not nearly as challenging as what other professions endure in regards to “unchartered territory”. Imagine being a medical researcher? Lives are on the line, VR/AR is just play.
Like any entertainment production, we start with the crazy idea the money-holder wants and then we begin to come up with ways we can satisfy their main, over-arching goal or “objective” and some of the features being insisted upon. Then, we try to figure out which ideas are necessary and which are the cool ideas they didn’t technologically think through and we will all be better off abandoning. Without telling the client parts of the initial plan are silly, we try to reel everyone into reality and remind ourselves that just because it is possible doesn’t mean it a good idea. We stay focused on the objective, the parameters of time, money, audience, and bring-to-market strategy, then forge our way further along.
Once everyone is on board with the vision we can hire the team. Creating a team that works together is no simple task, it is the combination of personalities and mentalities that come from different walks of life, nations, backgrounds, essentially they come from entirely different worlds. The producer needs to be the unifying leadership that connects culture and creates an environment that cultivates and nourishes the project’s success. Once we have our line-up and pecking order we can develop concept art, sketches, and initial digital designs. How are we going to capture content? Will we be using techniques of photogrammetry, volumetric video, or graphical art? There is a fat arsenal of weapons we can deploy for the content we seek to produce, and now is when we start to decide. I say start to decide, because after experimenting, we might change our minds. Some paths are dead ends. Once we review our drawings and imagery and compare them to our technical abilities and resources, we can vet the look, feel and style of our VR build.
The production executives of course get their names highlighted on top of the credits, but they are also the charismatic leaders that go between the Game Designers, Instructional Designers and the subject experts to keep communication flowing, deadlines met and the constant volleying of ideas reasonable so that we can soon test the look, feel and style we think we want.
After this first phase we start really writing the code and are in full-fledged production mode. Here is when the team gets together in a sprint of creation, taking 15-minute meetings and reporting back within twenty-four hours! Then, back to work! And within five days we’ve accomplished our agreed upon goals, and on to the next set! This is a framework that has become hugely apart of the code-building culture is called scrum. Game Producers, Engine Developers and the alike use this workflow structure which is an interactive and incremental agile software framework. The objective is to move quickly and effectively.
So now that everyone has been hired and the artists, programmers and technology directors are all hard at work to make fast iterations of the world to be review and rewritten until presentable, we float between and keep the gears greased. Once we have a viable option for testing the development gets put into the hands of professional testers, beta testers and educational testers.
Throughout the process the director and producer are focused on two things, the physiological comfort and the environmental comfort. The space needs to be optimized for the best user experience and how the area is space, the colors and the way objects interact all contribute to the users’ total level of comfort.
The first iteration is going to have bugs, many of them. That is why we do the testing and it is key to make sure our testers are providing the right feedback to solve any issues of discomfort. This might take acute attention by the production team, it is easy to want to move towards release, but take the time to really value their feedback and understand where the flaws are. The technicians will do their best, but it will likely take the producer’s innate softer skills to uncover some of the pain points. Also, there is less emotional investment in the time it took to design the world with the lighting that is subtly causing mayhem. The objective eye is keen.
Now we present it to the client and get them excited. Showmanship is a must! You just built a new world with them, feel the excitement, let the energy pulse through your veins like it is fueling the fire that keeps the core of the Earth molten! Be proud of the work, be glad to share the success, and be organized in your demonstration. It is easy to let ourselves jump ahead and leave the client uncertain of what is happening. A confused mind says “no”. Make sure we are clear and it is easy to digest. And listen for any concerns the client might have and get those mitigated immediately. Look to smooth all issues so they can provide expressed and written agreement that this project is a green-lighted. Otherwise, they will likely insist on iteration after iteration of re-doing the work, where they just start changing their mind and the costs come out of your pockets.
Producing AR and VR is no walk in the park. It takes leadership, vision and the bringing together of different worlds. You will be combining art and technology with more integration and complexity than any previous medium. At the end of the day though, it is just another challenge and all the skills that have gotten you thus far in your life will carry you through any production challenges you face. Listen, care and be decisive – it is your name on the line, make sure you’re putting forth a strong effort to succeed, and you will.