We got a run down of the project from Producer Carys Rowan and Juliet Tzabar, MD of Plug-in Media
Can you sum up the project for us?
Angie’s Party is an short animated sitcom that’s set at Angie’s 16th birthday house party. Delivered in virtual reality for Google Cardboard, the experience allows the audience to choose the most compelling storyline to follow by switching between characters at key points in the narrative.
What was the process for making it?
The end product is effectively a hybrid between an animation and a game. In many ways our production process followed a traditional 3D animation pipeline only with the final stage taking place inside the Unity game engine. Every stage of production had to take into account the multiple, simultaneous narratives of 4 main characters whose stories are interwoven at key moments. This made the scripting stage of the project particularly challenging and also meant that we had to thoroughly map each character's movements and the points at which they become ‘selectable’ within the storyboards.
As the viewer controls the POV (point of view) on the scene, everything we built needed to be viewable in 360° - which made building the scenes themselves far more complex than illustrating the background of a traditional animation. Finally, we had to consider how to signpost the audience interactions - designing an interface and user experience that feels natural to the experience.
How is this different to what you normally do?
This project wasn’t a world away from what we do day to day, but what was different for us, was a) working on a VR project - we’ve done some prototyping in VR previously but this is by far our most ambitious undertaking; and b) working on a project targeted at an older age group (we make a lot of content for kids).
How was it built?
We used a 3D animation software called Maya to make the character models and room environments. We then used the game engine, Unity, to composite the animation, add the interactive features and to output to the desired VR platforms. We used a 3rd party editor plugin to help us sequence character animations in time to scripted audio (Cinema Director).
What is the potential for storytelling in VR?
VR has a lot of potential to tell stories in new ways be they interactive or linear. It enables a participant to sense ‘being there’ in a way that has never before been possible; it wholly immerses key spatial senses of sight and sound, inviting users to explore environments from the inside. It can motivate a user to question things deeply, empathetically, and to consider their current perspective in new ways. It also presents a unique set of challenges - which arise particularly through giving the audience so much control over their experience - but it’s only by pushing the boundaries that innovation in media is truly achievable. Prior to 1929, who would have thought that cinema might be better told with sound? It seems that we’re at a new frontier!
What have you learned from this project?
If we were doing this again we’d add more time at the start of the project for scripting - telling 4 simultaneous narratives that you can switch between took longer to get right, than we thought. Although we were always going for a lo-fi look, we’d approach character design a bit differently next time - our characters are currently 2D billboards (like paper cut-outs) and with more time and budget, we would have created them in full 3D in order to fully utilise the VR environment. Our intention was to iterate on the classic, choose-your-own-adventure format - however, next time we think that the format could support a more engaged, game-y interactivity so that the viewer is more implicated in the action.